Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I could write a book about coleus . . .

so I did, with my good friend, Richard Hartlage, as the principal photographer, and Timber Press as the publisher. It's the only book in print on coleus, and I - no bias here! - think it's packed with useful information, dazzling photographs, and a few amusing bits of prose. Here's the front cover:

The book contains 404 full-color photographs and presents 225 cultivars in the encyclopedia section, which is organized along the lines of plant habit and leaf shape/color. Three major chapters present the ins and outs of culture, propagation, and problems we might encounter along the way. Other chapters cover history, designing with coleus, coleus in containers and in the garden in general, and sporting and reversion.

Check out the detailed page Timber Press includes on their website. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get any web links to post on this blog today, so please Google Timber Press and type the word coleus into the search box. You might also like to Google the nurseries mentioned later in this blog post

Brave souls reading this blog might want to see what I look like in the author's photo on the Timber page about my book.

OK, the above could be considered the "boilerplate" text that offers the basic facts about the book. But now I'd like to relate a few behind-the-scenes facts to give you a better sense for how this book was created.

Many of the coleus pictured in the book were grown at Atlock Farm in Somerset, New Jersey, the nursery where I play. Quite a few were stock plants that Richard (the photographer) and I fussed over for the foliage closeups and specimen shots, taken over a dozen or more photo shoots. Check out the breathtaking shot of one of the Atlock greenhouses on pages 60-61, which shows hundreds of coleus topiaries in production.

Other coleus were shot in the garden of Bob Pioselli, coleus grower and collector extraordinaire, whose garden in the lower Hudson Valley of New York State contains (at last count) 280 different cultivars. A small portion of Bob's garden appears on page 70.

Richard and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Albert Lea, Minnesota, to visit with Vern Ogren and shoot his collection. Vern is the father of the modern coleus movement, if you will, and has released many superb coleus into commerce through his business, Color Farm. Fittingly, the book is dedicated to him.

In addition to my own notes made over three years - in the Atlock greenhouses and gardens and at several other locations - I interviewed some of the Biggest Names in the coleus world. Besides Bob Pioselli and Vern Ogren, I corresponded with Allan Armitage from the University of Georgia, world-class plantsman, author of many books, and force behind the Athens Select plant recognition program; Chris Baker of Baker's Acres in Alexandria, Ohio, who produces a very entertaining catalog that contains many of his own gorgeous coleus introductions; George Griffith of Hatchett Creek in Gainesville, Florida and the Hurricane and Solar coleus; Pam Baggett of Singing Springs Nursery in Cedar Grove, North Carolina (sadly, no longer in business, but I understand Pam is still involved in releasing coleus); P. J. Klinger of the Lake Brantley Plant Corp. in central Florida and the Florida City coleus series; and Rick Schoellhorn of Proven Winners, producer of many zillions of coleus offered for sale across the continent.

Many other people offered information, assistance, photographs, and other valuable contributions to the book, and they're all listed in the Acknowledgments. Thanks again to every one of you!

Please give the book a look if you haven't already done so. I hope you'll find it a useful companion for your coleus adventures. Of course it's available through Timber Press and at many bookstores, but you can obtain the book from me as well. I sell it for $25.00, which is $4.95 off the list price. Postage and packaging bring the cost back up to $30.00 (forgetting that nickel makes things so much easier), but for that amount you'll receive an autographed copy, and I'll be happy to add a personalized inscription if you'd like. Contact me at for more information and/or to place an order.

Thank you for reading this commercial message. My next blog post will relate more directly to growing the plants we all love, I promise. Coming over the next few weeks: Coleus 101 (inspired by Margo, a reader of this site) and of course plenty of coverage of the plants that will be showcased before, during, and after Coleus Day at Atlock Farm on September 13.