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September 27, 1987|Barbara Saltzman

THE RHS ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HOUSE PLANTS INCLUDING GREENHOUSE PLANTS by Kenneth A. Beckett (Salem House: $34.95; 492 pp., illustrated). The serious indoor gardener already has dozens of books to choose from on the care and feeding of house plants, but few match in scope, authority--and sheer volume--this offering from the Royal Horticultural Society. It is a staggering and impressive venture, detailing roughly 4,000 plants, more than you'd ever find in your neighborhood nursery, and picturing--in beautiful, true color--1,000 of them. There are brief, readable histories of house plants along with a discussion of how to select, propagate and prevent pests and disease from ruining them, but the heart of this hefty volume is its 442-page "House Plants From A-Z." Along with a description of the plant's genus, origin and special characteristics are symbols detailing the plant's proper environment, temperature, light and watering requirements and its habit and shape. Though there has been an American consultant, many of the plants discussed as suitable only to a greenhouse or sun room do quite well outdoors, and indoors without a glass enclosure, in many of Southern California's microclimates.

While this is a definitive volume, its sheer weight tends to make it unwieldy, though it surely deserves a spot on your gardening bookshelf, alongside the indespensible house-plant care book from Dr. D. G. Hessayon, "The House Plant Expert," which specifies what can go wrong and what to do about it for 550 plants, an invaluable area that this encyclopedia doesn't cover, its one failing.

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