So out of nowhere this stunning 500-page fact-and photo-packed
reference arrives at my door, sent to me by the good folks at the
American Horticultural Society. THANKS! See, I attended a press event
for new plants at their headquarters in Virginia and gave them my
address, and now I’m fully prepared to step up to the plate and
recommend that everyone buy their book. See how easily I can be bought?
Kidding! If I hated it I’d just give it away and never say a
word. But au contraire – it’s the reference book I’ve been looking for
all these years.
First, how can it fail when it’s edited by the top-notch garden writer Graham Rice (a Gardenrant reader!) and Kurt Bluemel,
the Maryland plantsman of ornamental grass and perennial fame? (If
you’re anywhere near Baltimore, visit his nursery, like this week.)
But more than a fine-print collection of hort arcana, this
encyclopedia inspires – with its gee-orgeous photos, of single plants
and of whole beds and everything in between. Nothing like those
abominable extreme close-ups we see in catalogs that show us nothing
about what the plant actually looks like. And there are terrific
sidebars – listing sun-proof hostas, even slug-resistant hostas, or
suggesting ways to design with various perennials, like turning us on
to the to-die-for combo of blue hostas and ferns – in drifts. Even the dark side
of perennials is revealed – think powdery mildew on Monarda – so this
is not the usual advertising copy put out by growers.
Finally, I appreciate the editors’ insistence that information about a plant’s origin mean something.
Thus we learn that Penstemon is native to open plains and alpine areas in
North and Central America and Begonia grandis to shaded banks or
woodlands at high altitudes in East Asia. Nothing like the useless
"Native to the U.S." we’re seeing more of these days. (Like the silly nationalism of no less an authority than the USDA in their on-line plant profiles. Separating out the immigrants in our post-9/11 world?)
And to respond to the nice offer in the press package enclosed with
the book – yes, I’d love an interview with either Rice or Bluemel –