There are many kinds of perennial books. Three easily recognizable types are:
- The type that tells you how to care for perennials
- The type that describes a wide variety of perennial flowers, to help you decide which ones you might want to grow
- The type that tells you how to design with perennials
We garden writers are only human, and our content is bound to have occasional flaws in it. Surprisingly, I could find little to nitpick about in this perennial book until the appendix. I heartily recommend the book.
But I feel the appendix may have been hastily written, since it left me scratching my head in a few places. For example, how on earth does one omit peonies from a Fragrant Flowers section? Something else in the appendix may raise an eyebrow or two: his inclusion of plume poppy (Macleaya) in the Ground Covers section (although this is subjective, most of us do think of ground covers as low-lying plants; plume poppy is a giant). Finally, I regard some of the selections in the Winter Interest section as questionable precisely because they are low-lying: once snow covers them up, they won't afford any interest whatsoever. Leave it to a New Englander (namely, yours truly) to make this sort of criticism!
Use my comments to get a feel for this perennial book and decide if it's something you want on your bookshelf (where it could serve as an excellent reference book – something you would refer to again and again for information). The comments that follow are intended to capture some of the flavor of Armitage's work.
"Don't Say I Didn't Tell You So!"
Armitage points out the flaws in particular perennials when he detects them, but often does so in a mildly humorous manner rather than being judgmental. For example, in speaking of the invasive plant, bugleweed, he says, "Some groups of plants simply perform too well for their own good, and bugle weed may be one of these." Having forewarned you, he then goes on to list his favorite cultivars for the sake of those readers not scared off by his alert.
"But I Need a Little Help With Care and Design"
Although his is not primarily a book about perennial care, Armitage offers helpful tidbits along the way. In his columbine section, he notes that the best way to avoid excessive damage from leaf miners is to "clean up all leaf debris in the fall and winter and dispose of it."
Likewise, while Armitage's perennial book is not primarily about design, occasionally he will make an observation of use to those wondering how to work a plant effectively into a landscape design. For example, regarding artemisia, he writes, "For plant designers, landscape contractors and the everyday gardener, the gray hues of artemisias are excellent to calm down screaming colors...."
"But Why Do They Call It That?"
Here and there Armitage explains the story behind curious common plant names. Did you know that a common name for Bergenia is "pigsqueak" and that its origin lies in the fact that, if you rub the leaves the right way, they produce a squeaking sound?
Or maybe you're a new gardener, unfamiliar with dead nettle (Lamium) and wonder why the heck you'd want to buy a plant with "dead" in its name? For that matter, if you are familiar with stinging nettle, you may hesitate to buy a plant with "nettle" in its name! But Armitage sets the mind at ease: "The lamiums are closely related to the stinging nettles...but since lamiums lack the stinging hairs, they were dubbed dead nettles."
"Southern Comfort With a Georgia Peach"
Readers of mine who live in the South may wish to treat this perennial book as a complement to what they read on my website. Since Armitage conducts his trials in Georgia, he can provide the Southern perspective better than I. For example, in discussing cultivars of Brunnera, he notes that 'Jack Frost' Brunnera and a few other cultivars are more heat-tolerant than many other Brunneras.
Throughout the book he comments that such and such a perennial does or does not do well in the South, as compared to how it performs elsewhere (the West Coast, the North, the Midwest, etc.).
Then there is the issue of variance in sunshine requirements between North and South. "Full sun in the North, afternoon shade in the South" for snow-in-summer, advises Armitage, which he calls one of his favorite perennials.