BOOK REVIEW on Perennials

Your Florida Guide to Perennials-

A persistent problem for Florida gardeners when trying to find a good perennial book is that more than half of the plants an author suggests won’t grow here. That list is long – Astilbe, Hosta, Peony and many versions of attractive pine trees won’t grow beyond Zone 8.

There IS a book for Florida gardeners – Your Florida Guide to Perennials: Selection, Establishment, and Maintenance by Sydney Park Brown and Rick K. Schoellhorn (University Press of Florida, 2006). This is a slim volume of 124 pages. Most of the two-inch photos are small but in color; only a few were half-page photos. Most of the book is given over to plant descriptions, hardiness zones, and both the common and latin names.

I recently learned of peacock gingers and the book has a three-page spread on all kinds of gingers. Several types of plants that have numerous varieties different from the commonly known were not given more space. I must confess to thinking they could have done a better job with this book.

BOOK: Ever-Blooming Flower Garden

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I found the best book ever for helping you with season-spanning, continuous blooms in your perennial garden design: The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden: A Blueprint for Continous Color by Lee Schneller (Storey Publishing, 2009). It’s divided into four parts:

Part 1 – Creating your blueprint and buying all the plants

Part 2 – Case studies of five gardens

Part 3 – Her plant palette

Part 4 – Her flower catalog

There are five simple steps:

Step 1 – Draw your bed to scale on graph paper (the graph paper is included in the back of the book as well as an alternative method that skips the graph paper if you would prefer to work with square footage instead).

Step 2 – Roughly divide the bed into 3 parts on the graph: tall plants at the back, then medium, and short in the front.

Step 3 – Use her formula to see how many plants you need.

Step 4 – Transfer the plant quantities to her color-coded Blueprint Form under the appropriate category – tall, medium, short.

Step 5 – Use her Plant Palette to choose plants according to their bloom time.

Over-simplified, that’s the basics of her continuous bloom garden but she goes into using foliage plants, color combinations that work well, variety in plant height and flower shape, plant placement, and plant flower habits/shape.

The Plant Palette includes a limited list of specially recommended plants that grow in each season.  It provides plant charts for Foliage, Spring, Early Summer, Midsummer, Late Summer and Fall. For each plant it shows: the plant height, how long it blooms, the blooming season, and the recommended Zones.

The Flower Catalog was limited to 220 plants she considered to be “the very best plants” that met certain criteria. Even then, she was very specific on what to use such as Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’.

The last few pages of the book was given over to an Appendix covering special conditions, plants with special problems and an index of common plant names.

I’m not sure that I would recommend the purchase of this book to a southern gardener. Instead, I would encourage them to look for this book at the public library. In limiting her selections to specific criteria, the author created a major bummer for southern gardeners. Only 31 of the 220 plants were good for Zone 9. Zones 10 or 11 had almost no plants. Nor did she include a section on tropical plants for Zones 9 – 11 in her Appendix.  Nevertheless, I still found her overall concept very useful. A southern gardener could use her basic method using a perennial “encyclopedia” such as Perennials for Every Purpose: Choose the Right Plants for Your Conditions, Your Garden, and Your Taste by Larry Hodgson (2003) which includes a heat index and Sunset Books’ Landscaping with Tropical Plants by Monica Moran Brandies (2004).

BOOK REVIEW: Perennials for Every Purpose

perennials every purpose2.

My first introduction to Perennials for Every Purpose: Choose the Right Plants for Your Conditions, Your Garden, and Your Taste by Larry Hodgson (2003) was finding the 2000 edition on the shelves at the library. 

The majority of Amazon reviewers give this book a five-star rating. I agree.

The book was written and edited by Rodale Press before they apparently fired all their editors. You won’t find annoying sentences that freeze your eyeballs in disbelief. One of Rodale’s 2011 offerings was so poorly edited that I gave up on it before reaching the second chapter. I wouldn’t have given it half a star. I don’t blame the writer. The job of an editor is to fine tune an author’s work to best represent both the writer and the publishing house.

With “more than 700 perennials,” Rodale Press accurately depicted Perennials for Every Purpose as encyclopedic. Each perennial has a two-page spread with a color photo of the plant and flower. Also included are growing tips, companion plants, problems/solutions, recommended varieties and a sidebar Plant Profile with vital statistics such as bloom color, bloom time, length of bloom, height, spread, methods for use (container, cut flower garden, meadow, etc.), light and soil preference, how to propagate and – DRUM ROLL – info on both the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and the AHS (American Horticultural Society) Heat Zones. The heat zone information is particularly valuable to gardeners in the deep south. In other words, a plant may be hardy but not heat tolerant in the southern zones of Northeast Florida and even further south. The inclusion of this information is the reason I bought the book.

In Part 1, author Hodgson covers starting your garden, picking the perfect perennials, designing your dream garden, and plant care. In Part 2, he covers ever blooming, spring blooming, summer blooming, fall blooming, no care, low care, drought resistant, water-loving, shade loving, fab foliage, ground cover and pollinator perennials. Great book!

BOOK REVIEW – The Seed Underground

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Janisse Ray’s new book, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012) has an important message. She says it’s not enough to grow our own vegetable gardens. We need to plant open-pollinated seeds, save them and share them because our “food supply is being stolen from us” by corporations determined to control the world’s seed supply. Ray says 94% of fruit/veggie varieties vanished in the last century because “traditional ways of growing food have been stolen by corporations and replaced with chemicals and radicalized seed. Anyone who does not grow food will become a slave to corporations.” She refers to “Monsanto as the bad genie that’s out of the bottle” even though they are not the only corporation trying to control seeds.

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I think everyone who has ever planted a seed will agree with her that seeds are “miracles in tiny packages. Magic. Just add water.” I know that I have used that same word – magic. Ray believes that “The ability to feed ourselves ensures our freedom. As Eliot Coleman (author of Four Season Harvest and other books) said, “Small farmers are a threat to the consolidation of absolute power.”

Ray wants us to “farmer up” to protect what’s left of our seeds and “develop the heirlooms of the future.” The appendix in her book suggests how we can get started. Marvelous book, please read it.

Imagine saving a world by saving its seed — Janisse Ray

Interestingly, right after I finished reading her book, Facebook’s Grow Foods, Not Lawns posted an article by two Australians entitled 6 Ways That Food Is Being Used As A Weapon Against Us. The section about using the weather as a weapon seemed a little far-fetched but they backed it up with a link to a 1996 document that was supposedly presented to the Air Force.  I was able to find that document without using their link and there were several other links on the subject. The document had a disclaimer, “This report contains fictional representations of future situations/scenarios.” However, if they were thinking about using weather as a weapon in 1996, they have probably been working on it. The article is enough to make you lose all hope in the corporations and politicians who run this country.

BOOK REVIEW – The Frugal Gardener

Frugal gardener-
Best image I could find on the web

I discovered this gem on the library shelf and having met a kindred spirit, it all but jumped into my hands. The Frugal Gardener: How To Have More Garden For Less Money by Catriona Tudor Erler (Rodale Press, 1999).

Although published thirteen years ago, it’s a classic book with timeless ideas. A few of the golden goodies: annuals and perennials for drought conditions, building your own fan trellis, charts of veggies that quickly add up savings or offer high yields, how to pick the best garden tools and sharpen them, economically multiplying your plant collection by division, rooting or growing from seed, plant swaps and treasures out of trash.

There is probably at least one idea in this book that you haven’t thought of on your own.

12/8/12 P.S.: This book is very economical on Amazon because it’s older. I just ordered my own copy because I think it will be useful again and again.