The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer: The Essential Guide to Creating Simply Sensational Gardens

by Stephanie Cohen and Nancy J. Ondra (Storey Publishing, 2005, 310 pgs.)

In the first of their two collaborations, gardening experts Stephanie Cohen and Nancy Ondra provide a wealth of information and an overview of perennial gardening. The book is based on 20 suggested garden designs that address various gardening challenges, such as creating a shade garden, minimizing garden maintenance tasks, dealing with dry or soggy soil, or choosing a color theme. Suggested landscape plans and color photos appear throughout.

Part One walks the reader through planning a perennial garden from scratch. Chapter 1 discusses planning a garden, including analyzing the garden site and making a plant wish list. Chapter 2 covers plant selection, including considering plant size, shape, color, and zone. Chapter 3 addresses selecting perennials that work well together. It also covers adding bulbs and/or shrubs to a perennial border. Chapter 4 discusses the process of sketching out a landscape plan. Chapter 5 addresses various design details, such as paths and walkways, lighting, trellises, fences, and garden ornaments.

Part Two covers specific perennial-gardening topics, such as finding solutions for problem sites and choosing long-blooming perennials. Chapter 6 addresses potentially difficult planting sites, such as soggy or dry soil, shade or full sun, and very small or very large gardens. Chapter 7 discusses the use of color in a perennial garden. Topics include color-theme gardens, handling strong colors such as red and orange, and utilizing white and pastel flowers. Chapter 8 covers perennials with long bloom seasons. Gardens with specific themes are covered in Chapter 9. This includes low-maintenance plantings, cottage gardens, formal borders, containers, and native plantings.

Part Three addresses three phases of gardening: putting in a new garden, expanding an existing garden, and reworking an old garden. Each of the three chapters includes design considerations, a sample garden plan, and a summary of what to do in the garden throughout the year.

The book’s appendixes include a planning chart that provides such information as light and soil requirements, bloom season, height, and foliage color for a wide assortment of perennials.

The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer is an easy-to-understand, well thought-out, and comprehensive guide to getting the most out of perennials. The chapters on handling potentially difficult planting sites and on utilizing color in the perennial garden are sure to prove particularly useful.

Andrea Kingston, RCGC library volunteer, January 2012.