Essential Perennials…You Gotta Have It.

Essential Perennials…You Gotta Have It.



Are you ready for another great Garden Rant Giveaway? Now’s your chance!

You could be the lucky winner of Essential Perennials: The Complete Reference to 2700 Perennials for the Home Garden.

Post a comment below and tell us what your favorite perennial is and why you like it. We’ll have the grand drawing next week.

The first line of the introduction to Essential Perennials drew me in: “Any experienced gardener knows that perennials—herbaceous (more or less non-woody) plants that go dormant in the fall and then return in the spring—are the main fabric of an ornamental garden.”

Essential Perennials, co-written by Ruth Rogers Clausen and the Garden Rant’s very own Thomas Christopher, shines a light on perennials—my favorite garden subject.  So I take notice when something useful and well written comes along that spreads the love of perennials. It does not hurt, either, that the photographs by Alan L. Detrick and Linda Detrick are beautiful.

I’ve grown and marketed perennial plants and seeds for 35 years and still refer often to Clausen’s original perennial book, Perennials for American Gardens, co-written with Nicholas H. Eckstrom, and published in 1989.

Essential Perennials includes over 2700 perennials, a bit short of the original perennial book’s 3,000 species and cultivars. The authors could have padded it with a boring recitation of new introductions of hundreds of echinaceas, heucheras, daylilies and hostas, but they didn’t, and for that I am grateful.

Clausen and Christopher suggest a sufficient cultivar list of each of these popular genera. Otherwise, gardeners will sift (as we are wont to do) through the growing pile of new introductions by trial and error or by word of mouth.

Save the book’s handy A-Z list of perennials for later.

Pay close attention first to the small print of Perennial Basics in the opening 18 pages of Essential Perennials. This is the essence of the book, a topnotch primer. Subjects covered with great clarity include nomenclature, plant attributes, ground preparation, shopping for perennials and the big bugaboo: maintenance.

Most successes and failures of perennial gardens will be marked significantly by personal responsibility. (I’m sorry if this sounds like Republican dogma, but it’s true.) Insect and disease calamities and the vicissitudes of regional climates will be a menace, too—it’s just a matter of time. Essential Perennials covers all of this. Clausen and Christopher don’t mention “seasonal fatigue disorder” (garden abandonment in August), yet I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one who begins to collapse, in tandem with my garden, in late summer.

I looked critically at Starting from Seeds concerned that the authors might get tripped up. (I am a seed guy and love sowing perennial seeds.) The book provides a good summary. I would only argue that seeds can be started in ground beds or directly in the garden. I don’t bother often with sowing perennial seeds in pots anymore. (Chalk it up to laziness.) On the other hand, I might not get the germination percentages had I fussed over seed trays indoors. Still, generally, what Nature does on its own, gardeners can do, too.

Essential Perennials provides: “…a toolbox of the truly essential perennials…” I appreciate the co-authors’ honesty: “Not all the plants included in this guide are equally exceptional in all categories.”

The number of available perennials has exploded over the last 30 years. It’s tricky terrain to make sense of what’s possible.

There is little that is carefree about a perennial garden, but Essential Perennials will point you in the right direction—toward a home garden that brings years of pleasure.

Posted by

Allen Bush
on April 2, 2015 at 7:55 am, in the category Books, CRRRITIC.


    • Chris N
    • 26th September 2016

    It looks like a great book and I can always use one more reference to stack up next to the overflowing bookshelves!

    • Jenny
    • 9th October 2016

    I would say my favorite to date is the plumbago. Having a good amount of shade and Colorados sticky clay soil this small slowly spreading gem provides gorgeous blue flowers and red leaves in fall. Their little seed heads even give winter interest! Who could ask for more?

    • Susan Coe
    • 9th October 2016

    I’d love to have this book. Perhaps it would help me to stop making perennials into annuals. This past winter even killed a butterfly bush!

    • Christina Fisher
    • 12th November 2016

    Epimediums are one of my favorites because they are so consistent and easy in often times difficult areas. The blooms are so delicate and exotic at the same time but you have to look closely. They don’t scream out at you.

    • Svongrimm
    • 15th November 2016

    My go to are still shasta dasies and black eyed susans

    • admin
    • 7th December 2016

    I love a=Amsonia hubrectii (Common name Arkansas Blue Start) planted in masses. Officially z5-9, it does well in my Northeast PA garden. It’s a great pollinator attractor and turns a lovely golden color in the Fall.

    • LisaF
    • 12th December 2016

    Purple coneflowers! They bring in the eyes and the butterflies, and they spread every year.

    • LisaF
    • 14th December 2016

    Eyes?? Autocorrect fail. That should have been bees!

    • David
    • 16th December 2016

    I’d love a good reference on perennials. I hope it covers the subtropical areas of the U.S. My favorite perennial is Cordyline fruticosa AKA Hawai’ian ti. It gives me great leaf colors and shapes all year and blooms between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. Easy to propagate, will tolerate almost total shade and is drought resistant after 3 or 4 years. Plus, it’s great in arrangements, cooking and for making lei.

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