University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

Dream Plants for the Natural Garden.
Henk Gerritsen & Piet Oudolf.  2000. Timber Press, 144pp, hardcover.

Another foreign import, written by a couple of excellent authors and well-known designers from the Netherlands, this new translation is an excellent addition to the library of experienced gardeners.  Originally published in the Netherlands in 1999, this was rushed into translation and publication in English this year.  The result is typos one hopes not to find in such a nice book (such as "perrenials" at the top of one page), terms more common to the UK and continent such as "green flies", and many cultivars not yet available in the U.S. nor commonly seen.  Yet these problems aside, the brief descriptions (height, width, time of bloom, symbols for light) appear accurate, as do most hardiness zones.

The brief plant and cultural descriptions I agree with in some cases, and not others--but this is the way with horticulturists and different growing conditions.  Yet this is a bit much for a novice to sort out, hence the better applicability for the more experienced perennial gardener. For instance they mention Gaura 'Whirling Butterflies" as not passing the test, needing replanting yearly.  For me in Vermont this is the case, however, many other areas of the U.S. can grow this fine and in fact it is a contender for Perennial Plant of the Year.  On the other hand, they mention Echinacea as similarly short-lived, not withstanding competition.  For me it is one of the toughest (and I give it plenty of competition stress!), and self sows prolifically.  Where they mention some good cultivars of many species, many are European and good ones available in the U.S. are not listed.

Yet for the serious perennial gardener this is a good book with many beautiful and artistic photos.  While some perennials may not be familiar, there is value in the fact this will hopefully expand our ever increasing palette of choices in the country.  These include genera such as Succisa,  Molopospermum, and Leucanthemella.  All too often we may succumb to parochial vision, but this helps us keep in focus just how many more perennials there still are out there to obtain and try.

Perhaps the greatest value of this book, is in its plant groupings, not just from A-Z but rather by uses and habits and traits for the hundreds of species and cultivars.  There are the tough, those withstanding competition and low maintenance, be they perennials, grasses, ferns, bulbs or shrubs.  Then there are the playful--those perennials for "colour" schemes, tender perennials, even annuals to combine with perennials.  The title "soap bubbles" in this section caught my attention, and refers to those fleeting flowers who we work so over, only to have a brief burst of bloom as a soap bubble bursting.  Often this is due to climate, and nothing we do.  This page is one of several, adding a brief insight into a perennial garden topic or aspect.  Another is food for all-- how and why our gardens should help wildlife, even those we usually despise.  A few plants are listed for winter silhouettes on another page.

Then there are the troublesome perennials--the invasive and demanding ones.  There's even a section on capricious ones--perennials that are unpredictable, perhaps reliable for some but not for others, perhaps some seasons and not others.

The authors are well known for their naturalistic and award-winning gardens throughout England and Europe, from private gardens to parks.  This book is a reflection of their naturalistic approach to plants.  And the style is a reflection of their balanced approach to gardening.  In the section above on food for all in the garden, including the pests, their attitude is that "A garden was meant to be enjoyed, not worried about.  Let there be food for all!"  And in this same section on weeds and pest control, reflecting a more holistic view to the garden, a realistic attitude and one more in tune with the environment, they question whether one can ever be master of the garden.  "Perfection is an unattainable illusion.  If what you want is total control, you should tarmac your garden now and stick plastic trees in it."

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