The Nonstop Garden: A Step-by-Step Guide to Smart Plant Choices and Four-Season Designs

by Stephanie Cohen and Jennifer Benner (Timber Press, 2010, 248 pgs.)

 In The Nonstop Garden, authors Stephanie Cohen and Jennifer Benner provide  a wealth of easy-to-follow advice on adding and maintaining year-round interest in a garden. They emphasize the importance of utilizing a mixture of different types of plants¾annuals and tropicals, herbs and other edible plants, woody plants, and perennials¾to extend a garden’s seasonal interest past spring and summer.

 Part One of The Nonstop Garden, “The Nuts and Bolts,” is devoted to a basic explanation of what a nonstop garden is all about. The first chapter provides an overview of the benefits of creating year-round garden interest through plant diversity. Aside from the obvious¾having a garden that can be enjoyed throughout the year¾Cohen and Benner point out the importance of providing a habitat for beneficial wildlife, the convenience of implementing labor-saving techniques, and the benefits of reducing the impact of troublesome insects and diseases. In Chapter 2, the authors introduce some creative yet simple garden design strategies, including selecting the right plants. They recommend a proportional approach to plant selection, for example, using 30% perennials, 30% trees and shrubs, 20% annuals, and so forth.

 Part Two, “The Main Attractions,” contains one chapter devoted to trees and shrubs and another that discusses perennials. If you follow the authors’ basic recipe for garden design, the plants covered in these two chapters will make up about 60% of your garden. Chapter 3 contains informative descriptions of various trees and shrubs with long-term garden appeal. These include maple, redbud, various conifers, dogwood, crabapple, smokebush, witch hazel, hydrangea, ninebark, viburnum, and more. Chapter 4 is devoted to low-maintenance perennials with long bloom seasons and/or appealing foliage. These include amsonia, artemisia, baptisia, echinacea, iris, rudbeckia, salvia, sedum, astilbe, hellebores, hosta, and more.

 Part Three covers other plants that might play a role in a nonstop garden: bulbs, annuals and tropicals, edible plants, and vines. Chapter 5 is devoted to early-blooming and long-blooming bulbs, such as allium, crocus, and snowdrops. Chapter 6 discusses annuals and tropicals that can extend a garden’s season with fantastic foliage and blossoms. Tropicals in particular can add bold color and structure to a nonstop garden. Dramatic plants like elephant’s ear and angel’s trumpet are standouts, as are less common plants with stunning foliage, such as variegated tapioca. Chapter 7 delves into vegetables and herbs that are ornamental as well as edible and/or aromatic. These include chives, lavender, basil, thyme, kale, and nasturtiums, among others. Vines with long blooming seasons and/or appealing foliage are discussed in Chapter 8. These include trumpet vine, clematis, honeysuckle, climbing roses, wisteria, and more.

 Part Four discusses other components of a garden with year-round interest, including garden ornaments, containers, and structures. In Chapter 9, various approaches to decorating a garden with garden ornaments are discussed. These range from the kitschy, like garden gnomes, to the artistic, like custom sculptures. Chapter 10 is devoted to container gardening. Strategically placed containers can extend the life of a garden and add structure and form to a garden design. Garden structures are covered in Chapter 11. These range from large plant supports to walkways and patios. The authors’ approach to maintaining seasonal interest and long-lasting visual appeal is summarized in Chapter 12.

 There are some handy charts and tables at the back of The Nonstop Garden, as well as a glossary of terms. These include a chart that tracks the peak performance of various types of plants, a list of invasive plants, metric conversion tables, and a chart of hardiness zones. The chart of peak performance also notes whether the plants have notable fruit or seed heads or long-lasting foliage.

 The Nonstop Garden is a handy resource for those of us who want to get the most out of our gardens. The authors’ emphasis on plant diversity and its role in garden design is combined with a down-to-earth approach to understanding the domestic landscape. That combination makes this book a pleasure to read.

 Andrea Kingston, RCGC library volunteer, January 2012.