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A Northwest Native
The plant-lovers' publisher, Timber Press stands tall
Nearly 20 years ago, when I began building a library for gardeners at the University of Washington, my goal was to line the shelves with every book ever published by Timber Press. Starting with J.D. Vertree's "Japanese Maples," Timber books have formed the core of many a gardener's library. And no wonder; the Portland publisher has produced more than 400 titles on subjects ranging from botanical Latin to tree bark. Gardeners are readers — and our keen enthusiasm for plants combined with our willingness to buy quality books keeps a specialized publisher like Timber Press growing.

So raise a trowel to celebrate Timber's 25th anniversary as the premier publisher of gardening books. You can always count on Timber to come out with the definitive book on primroses, ferns or rock gardening just when you need it most. Increasingly, we look to Timber for garden-design and maintenance books as well, as they expand their scope to encompass the whole world of gardening, including Northwest natural history. What hasn't changed over the past 2½ decades is the quality of Timber's titles, which is reassuring in this age of Internet resources. Sorry to sound like a grumpy librarian, but the information you find on the Internet isn't always dependably authored or even accurate. Books, especially from a publisher such as Timber that prides itself on its authors' expertise, are far more reliable.

"We're finding a niche in the U.K. and attracting top-notch English authors," enthuses Timber publisher Jane Connor. In part because of the European market's demand for color photos throughout, the publisher is producing books that are a little less text-heavy and more visually appealing. While Connor points out that Timber's books will always be distinguished by their substance, it's clear that Timber is paying more attention to the look of the books.

It's also clear there's a shift from buying through its catalog to buying through channels such as and bookshops, says Connor, which can only mean Timber books are selling better and influencing more gardeners than ever.
Illustration Now In Bloom
Franklinia alatamaha is a deciduous tree with fragrant flowers that open as summer ends. Named after Benjamin Franklin, these little trees are native to Georgia, but haven't been found growing in the wild since late in the 18th century. The 3-inch showy flowers have creamy white petals centered with a mass of golden stamen. Growing slowly to 10 to 20 feet, often more shrubby than tree-like, Franklinias have large and shiny oblong leaves that turn orange-red in autumn. They need little or no pruning and prefer a warm, open location and well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
Housed in the rehabbed 1893 Haseltine Building in Portland's Old Town neighborhood, Timber was founded by bookseller/supplier Richard Abel in 1976. Encouraged by the fact that gardening was becoming an increasingly popular and sophisticated pursuit, and that "Japanese Maples" sold briskly despite its $40 price, Abel was convinced of the market for specialized horticultural books. In 1989, Bob Conklin, corporate lawyer and devoted gardener, bought Timber Press from Abel, sharpening the focus on ornamental horticulture.

While Timber still publishes hefty reference books and niche monographs like "Hawthorns and Medlars," the editorial scope has broadened considerably in the past decade. There's "The Gardener's Guide to Growing" series for the practical-minded. Reissues of classic gardening literature, by authors such as Gertrude Jekyll and Beverley Nichols, have been greeted gratefully. And for every specialized title on Vietnamese slipper orchids or poisonous mushrooms, you'll find books on water gardening or climbing roses.

What will Timber unveil this 25th autumn of their publishing reign? While I haven't seen any of these yet, I have high hopes for "Flora: A Gardener's Encyclopedia," ($99.95) a fat, full-color tome describing 20,000 plants from around the world. "Planting the Natural Garden" ($34.95), the newest book from Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, looks as if it will be beautiful. I'm looking forward to new titles on bromeliads and tropical flowering plants, and can't wait to glean practical tips from "Water Features for Small Gardens: From Concept to Construction" by Keith Davitt ($29.95). It's no small thing to say I've come to await the Timber Press catalog as eagerly as I anticipate the arrival of my favorite nursery catalogs. To receive a free catalog, call 800-327-5680. Check out for a list of titles.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is

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