The last time I recommended gardening books, I looked back at my history with gardening and love for plants. This time around the choices are more about specific plants and reference choices, rather than nostalgia. Because I'm a packrat when it comes to books, I tend to collect all different kinds and some of the following choices are no longer in print. Luckily, used bookstores, libraries and even internet sources will have them (no especially rare books here).
Daylilies are some of my favorite perennials and I've collected a number of books that focus on them specifically. There are two books I've come to refer to more than the others and I consider them important additions to any collection.
1. The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies: More than 1700 Outstanding Selections, by Ted L. Petit and John P. Peat. The title tells it all, really, it's a massive collection of daylilies from species plants (the originals), to early hybrids, to more modern selections. Chances are, if you're looking for information about a specific plant, you'll find some here. Each description lists if the plant is evergreen, semievergreen, or dormant and also includes plant height, flower size, and bloom time. Many pictures accompany the descriptions and they are fantastic. I must say, many of the more modern hybrids are a bit too fluffy for my tastes (looking more like a hibiscus than a daylily). Overall, it's one of my most commonly used resources.
2. Daylilies: The Wild Species and Garden Clones, Both Old and New, of the Genus Hemerocallis, by A.B. Stout. The copy I own is the 1986 reprint edition. Although not nearly as impressive in scope as the first book I've listed, this book has proven valuable for the information it has on early hybrids. There are a number of early plants that just aren't seen in the trade these days and being something of a plant preservationist, I'm interested in learning more about these older varieties. Stout did a lot of early work on hybridizing daylilies and his work certainly paved the way for more modern hybridization. Sadly, the book is out of print now, but not that difficult to track down.
Other Useful Titles:
Hemerocallis: The Daylily, by R.W. Munson (Another important grower, more recent than Stout, his daylilies are known for their special eye zones and water marks). Currently out of print, but easily obtainable online.
The Gardener's Guide to Growing Daylilies, by Diana Grenfell. Excellent book. Out of print, but easily obtainable online.
Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial, by Lewis and Nancy Hill. Another excellent choice. Currently in print.
Perennials are an especially important addition to the garden as they offer up colors and textures throughout the growing season (and sometimes even in winter). Some are especially common now, while others rest by the wayside waiting to be rediscovered. Other perennials are just difficult to grow in the average garden and need more tending than most are willing to provide. So how do you choose which varieties to add to your garden (besides daylilies, of course)?
1. The Well Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. I just purchased this book in January of 2013 after seeing it as a recommended book in a copy of "Gardens Illustrated" magazine. Since then, I've read from it a number of times and consider it an essential addition to any gardening library. The author discusses everything from planning out the garden, to revitalizing an existing garden, to general maintenance such as pruning and dividing. There's also a lengthy plant encyclopedia at the back. The book is in print and should be easy to obtain.
2. Understanding Perennials: A New Look at an Old Favorite, by William Cullina. Unlike general purpose books on perennials, this one starts off focusing more on botany and explains the reasons why perennial plants are the way they are. It also discusses plant pests, diseases, and has some excellent pictures of dividing perennials. This book has the most in depth information I've come across that's written in a user friendly way. It is still in print.
3. The Explorer's Garden: Rare and Unusual Perennials, by Daniel J. Hinkley. The author of this book focuses on specific plant families and the less common varieties within those families. There's an especially interesting section on Epimedium (a fantastic plant for shade), and other entries of plants native to North America. The book was originally published in 1999, so some of the plants mentioned aren't quite as rare as they once were. The entries are enjoyable to read and there are many perennials listed that I'd like to add to my own collection at some point. This book is still in print.
Other Useful Titles:
Taylor's Guide to Perennials: More than 600 Flowering and Foliage Plants, Including Ferns and Ornamental Grasses, by Barbara Ellis. An excellent book for beginners which includes great plant descriptions. In print.
There was a time when I scoffed at the idea of using native plants. There were just too many far more interesting plants out there. Over time, my opinion changed; especially when I realized that many native plants are fantastic additions to the garden and will often grow where other plants will not.
1. Wildflowers: A Guide to Growing and Propagating Native Flowers of North America, by William Cullina. Sadly, this book is out of print. However, if you're interested in native wildflowers it's an essential text. It offers an encyclopedic list of plants that includes basic plant descriptions along with the best methods of propagation. Sadly, some of our native wildflowers are especially difficult to propagate, but even those are included here.
2. Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation, by Donald J. Leopold. This is an excellent overall guide to native plants of the northeast. It focuses on all types of natives, from flowers to trees and provides information about growing conditions and even propagation. Best of all are the lists at the back of the book which categorize plants by their preferences. If you're looking for plants that grow in dry conditions, there's a thorough list. This book is in print.
Other Useful Titles:
Orchids of New England and New York, by Tom Nelson and Eric Lamont. My experience with native orchids was limited to our common lady slippers. Then I found this book and discovered that New England has many different native orchids. An excellent book for identifying these plants should you encounter them on a hike or walk. This book is in print.
Trees and shrubs are the backbone of a landscape. Luckily, there's one book that basically covers it all...
1. Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, by Michael A. Dirr. If there were just one book on trees and shrubs to collect, this would be it. I've referred to various editions of this book an incredible number of times. It is more expensive than some of the books I've recommended, but it is jam packed with information and color photographs. It's also possible to still find copies of a previous edition, Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, which is also excellent. He's also written the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses. This is essentially his textbook on trees and shrubs. It does not contain color photographs, but does have excellent descriptions. For most gardeners, however, this manual is not required. I still have my 1993 edition of the manual which I purchased back when in the nursery business and do refer to it from time to time.
There are many additional books to recommend, but I think this is where I'll stop for now. These books should keep an intrepid gardener busy for quite some time.
Recommended Plant: Porteranthus trifoliatus. Also known as Bowman's Root and formerly listed as Gillenia. This native perennial creates a billowing mound of white, star shaped flowers. Once it finishes flowering, the small seed heads offer visual interest and the foliage keeps well throughout the summer. In fall, the leaves and stems turn yellow. There is a pink flowering version of the plant as well, although I'm not certain it's a version that appears in the wild. It prefers full sun or partial shade and average soil moisture.