Perennials for Every Purpose:
Choose the Right Plants for Your Conditions, Your Garden and Your Taste,
by Larry Hodgson;
Rodale Organic Gardening Books;
hardcover; 502 pages;
For beginning gardeners facing a bewildering variety of perennials in nurseries and garden centres, this book is a handy guide for narrowing down the search to a few likely candidates, and the writer focuses on the importance of choosing the right plants for growing conditions. Readers will find a chatty, accessible style that comes across a bit like talking to your more advanced gardening neighbour over the backyard fence.
Unlike other books that list perennials in alphabetical order, this one groups selected plants based on such features as ease, use and location, under various headings including water-loving, cool climate and ever-blooming. Most sections include about a dozen plants.
Comprising most of the thick volume, this section on choosing what Hodgson calls the best perennials is also the best part of the book. Each plant gets a full two-page spread that includes handy growing tips, companion planting ideas, problems and solutions, his favourite variety or cultivar, and alternative recommendations.
Northern gardeners fed up with impractical USDA Hardiness Zone recommendations from American experts can take heart from Hodgson's experience in Quebec's no-nonsense Zone 3. (A minor quibble with the plant hardiness zone map in this book: I found myself scratching my head over southern Canada until I realized that the pink Zone 3 on the map corresponded to a deep green'and obviously misprinted'box on the accompanying legend.)
On the other hand, Hodgson hasn't neglected warmer gardening conditions. Recommendations based on a heat-zone map developed by the American Horticultural Society are included. Unfortunately, this map ends at the 49th Parallel, so Canadian gardeners will have to take his tips about AHS heat zones with a grain of, er, sun or frost.