14 December 2009

More musings on books: Planting and planning

How is a plant obsession born? Do we wake up one day and decide arbitrarily that we're hooked on hostas, or delirious about daylilies, or excited about echinaceas? I don't know the answer to that except from a personal perspective. I like plants that do well in my climate, are easy to care for, strikingly beautiful in flowers or foliage or winter interest, are unusual, or native, or new...okay, I admit it, I'm a plant collector. And I'm all right with that.

I do find that the longer I garden, the more I develop an appreciation for various genera and species of plants. Take viburnums, for example. There's been a highbush cranberry (V. trilobum) in our garden since before we came here. It's a handsome, energetic shrub, with lovely lacy flowers followed by luscious-looking red fruit beloved by birds. I've long been acquainted with witherod, or wild raisin (V. cassinoides), also native to our area, and planted several here in our garden. Then I got to know the fragrant viburnums and something clicked in my brain. I wanted more of them, and wanted to know more about them. So I was very glad that Michael Dirr, horticulturist par excellence, shared my passion and kindly wrote a book about these lovely, versatile shrubs. For those who have the woody bible, Dirr's Manual of Woody Plants, his Viburnums book (Timber Press) is much more conversational and far less of a reference textbook. I think viburnums are like potato chips and you can't have just one. Or two. (I'm up to six different species, I think, and counting).

Let it never be thought that I'm a plant expert. Plant addict, yes, but I soak up information about plants like a sponge, and there is always a stack of books beside my desk, for me to consult with when I'm writing about plants and gardening. One of the volumes that hasn't strayed back to the bookcase since I got it is Tomasz Anisko's When Perennials Bloom. (Timber Press) Subtitled An Almanac for Planning and Planting, it's a hugely valuable reference for gardeners of all skill levels. Want to know when Astrantia (masterwort) will flower? How to plant it? The book profiles well over 400 perennial species, giving their bloom periods based on calculations and averages made around the world. So this is a useful book whether you live on the windswept Fundy, on the exuberant prairies of the midwest, or in Europe and beyond.

We are blessed with an abundance of space on our property--seven acres, much of it pasture, but a good chunk of it planted out by me with help from my longsuffering spouse. So we have room for big plants, and we grow a number of them. If you like plants with oomph-impact, then you'll love Tall Perennials, by Roger Turner (Timber Press). You don't HAVE to have an expansive acreage to carry off a few impressive-sized plants, either; Turner gives useful tips on how to garden effectively with tall- or wide-growing perennials, as well as a substantial list of recommended plants (noting caveats where necessary).

Turner gets the distinction of having a second book in this list, also published by Timber Press, a slightly older volume (2005) called Design in the Plant Collector's Garden. It's subtitled 'From Chaos to Beauty', and it's helping me to create a little more beauty and a little less chaos in my ongoing experimentation with plants. I just got my hands on this book a little earlier in the fall, so I haven't yet put what I'm learning into practice. Ask me next summer how I'm doing mixing the trialing of plants with creating a nice-looking garden rather than a hodgepodge. It's a work in progress, always.

Finally, here's my must-have recommendation for this year, for those who are into growing perennials: Our own Nancy Ondra's Perennial Care Manual (Storey). Actually, I recommend any book by Nan that you can get your hands on, because she is THE quintessence of a good garden writer: informative yet encouraging. (I have her Fallscaping and Perennial Gardener's Design Primer and love them both). This latest offering tells you everything you need to know about creating a good perennial garden and Nan profiles dozens of perennials, providing information on how to grow the plants, what problems exist (and how to cope with them)...or as the subtitle says, 'What to do and when to do it." I know other bloggers have recommended this book as well, and I'd just like to add my voice to that chorus of positive reviews. If you're a perennial plant lover, you will need to have this book in your library.

And probably you'll need more bookshelves too. I remind my spouse that my three bad habits are plants, cats and books, and that he should be thankful. I think he is, except for when one of the cats knocks over a plant and then sends books cascading onto the floor too.


  1. Jodi, I laughed out loud with your last sentence. You had me captivated all the way with your wit and fine writing. You truly are a gifted writer... a joy to read. When you write about Viburnums I really take notice, as I too love these generous shrubberies. I am inspired to buy the book, but may just check it out of the library first. Thanks for the recommendation. Carol

  2. I enjoyed your reviews, Jodi, and second the recommendation for Nan's book. Yes to more bookshelves for garden books!

  3. An excellent list...I am especially intrigued by Tall Perennials...a few more architectural plants would be helpful in this garden...and i added Nan's book to my Christmas wish list.

  4. I have Michael Dirr's Viburnum book - great info in there! You've given me a few more to look at! I am very curious about the Tall Perennials book.

  5. We keep Michael Dirr's books at the garden center and often refer to him as 'Dr. Dirt'. I've been a big Viburnum fan for a very long time; especially the Viburnum plicatum 'mariesii ' that was once the focal point of my garden.

  6. Very informative book. Specially the one titled "When perennials bloom".thanks for your review and sharing these wonderful books with us.

  7. I need the book Design in the Plant Colletor's Garden. I would like to have the book about tall Perennials. Thanks for the reviews. More for my Xmas wish list. tee hee...

  8. I have read about several viburnums on your blog and others and I think I really need some - so I'm adding Dirr's book on Viburnums to my wish list. And since I have 3 acres to plant, I'm adding Tall Perennials. Thanks for the great list.

  9. MORE great books, Jodi! Thanks for all, especially Nan's latest and Mike Dirr's viburnum book. They're both great people as well as great writers/experts! I'm intrigued by the tall perennials book, too. And, ahem, we have a bit of a problem with bookshelf space, cats, plants and books here, too. When cats and plants/stacks of books collide...

  10. I love reading these types of book reviews. I LOVE gardening books and am always on the look out for more. I had just seen 'When Perennials Bloom' and wondered if it was worth getting, sounds like it is.
    I've got books stacked and piled all over, I'd love a bookshelf just for my garden books.


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