Book Reviews: Horticulture

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques DiSabato-Aust, Tracy, 1998. ISBN 0-88192-414-8 (cloth US$29.95) 338 pp. Timber Press Inc., 133 SW Second Avenue, Suite 450, Portland, OR 97204-3527 - Go to a garden store in the spring and you're sure to overhear someone say, "I'm giving up on planting annuals every year; I'm going into perennial gardening." Surprise! Perennials also require work. There are many books on perennial gardening that cover garden design, soil preparation, and selection of materials but fall short on the matter of maintenance. Tracy DiSabato Aust in The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is one of the first perennial experts to focus a book on the hard work but in a way that gives the work a clear purpose, even an esthetic goal.

Plant biologists who also enjoy perennial gardening as a hobby will be especially appreciative of the author's scientific approach to the subject. For many years Tracy DiSabato-Aust has been experimenting with various pruning, thinning, and division techniques to keep her perennial garden and those of her landscape clients in peak form. She not only uses pruning techniques to remove spent blooms or diseased plants but also to produce pleasing visual effects. For example, she explains how to cut plants back, even prior to anthesis, to extend their bloom period or to produce a layered effect in the garden, moving from low to medium to tall plants. Then there is the matter of cleaning up the perennial garden in autumn or spring. In the pages of this book you will learn the best time of year to cut back and/or divide most of the commonly grown perennials and some of the more unusual cultivars, too.

If you think this is about gingerly plucking individual spent blooms from all your plants ("deadheading"), think again! Tracy marches to her garden carrying grass shears, electric hedge shears, lopping pruners, even string trimmers! Even with hand pruners she advises (p 93)....... grab a handful of stems and snip, rather than doing each individual stem one at a time." With the present home landscaping trend, i.e., toward more extensive use of perennial flowering plants in place of gymnosperm shrubs and trees, there is a real need for maintenance short cuts.

Section One covers the basics of perennial gardening in seven short but informative chapters. There is good advice, profusely illustrated with excellent line drawings and colored photos, on design (especially in relationship to maintenance), soil preparation, planting, pests and diseases, staking, division, and renovation of the established perennial garden. Section Two, on pruning perennials, is the most unique part of DiSabato-Aust's contribution to perennial gardening. In five chapters she discusses the principles and gives exact instructions for several kinds of massive pruning.

Section Three, "Encyclopedia of Perennials," could have been a book in its own right. Occupying approximately half the book, this alphabetical list by genus covers most of the commonly grown species and cultivats in the northeastern United States and areas with similar growing conditions. But gardeners in other climes can simply look at a similar cultivar and perhaps shift the suggested timing forward or back on their calendars. The entry for each plant provides brief descriptive information and more detailed instructions for pruning and other maintenance. Finally, there are three highly useful appendices: ornamental grasses, a month-by-month calendar for perennial gardening and maintenance, and perennials listed according to their specific pruning requirements. A hardiness zone map, metric conversion chart, glossary, extensive bibliography, and index of plant names make the book even more useful. This book should be in the collection of every gardener who wants the perennial garden to look its very best ... from week to week, season to season, and year to year. It would also be an excellent reference for an advanced college course in horticulture. - David W. Kramer, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Mansfield, OH 44906


The Gardener's Guide to Growing Clematis Evison, Raymond J., 1998. ISBN 0-88192-423-7 (cloth US$ 29.95) 160 pp. Timber Press, 133 S.W. Second Ave., Suite 450, Portland OR 97204-3527. - The Gardener's Guide to Growing Clematis takes as its subject the horticulturally popular genus Clematis (Ranunculaceae), both the species and the hybrids. These climbers are familiar to many North American gardeners, and the information found in this guide will be a welcome addition to the gardening literature. The author certainly has extensive experience with this genus, which he says fascinates him, including extensive work on clematis for the Royal Horticultural Society in Great Britain and a number of honors from that society.

A general chapter opens the book with a general discussion of the habitat, systematics, and botany of Clematis. In particular the drawings illustrating various features including the floral biology of clematis flowers and the leaves of various species, forms, and cultivars of clematis, are particularly appealing. This is followed by a chapter on the history of Clematis species in cultivation from the sixteenth century to the present, including much material drawn from the author's personal experience in the world of clematis breeding. Then come chapters on the cultivation, propagation, and garden placement-of various clematis, both species and hybrid cultivars. Conservatory cultivation and the use of clematis blossoms as cut-flowers are then considered, including such information as how to dry clematis seed pods. A whole chapter is devoted to "Clematis in North America" because the author feels that, until recently, Clematis did not receive extensive exposure in North America. Extra information is included to help correct this. This extra information includes a discussion of the three species of Clematis which are native to North America. A mixed list of clematis then follows which runs from species to forms and.hybrid cultivars, with the various clematis grouped according to flower size and time of flowering. The book concludes with short appendices including relevant societies, information on sources of clematis throughout the world, and a full-color USDA plant hardiness zone map. Throughout The Gardener's Guide to Growing Clematis, the photographs of the Plants and flowers are very attractive and full of vibrant color. In particular, the plates illustrating various groups Of cultivars such as the early flowering C. texensis cultivars (P. 3 1 ) are well executed.

One drawback is the style used in the history chapter by the author, where many irrelevant details are included-for example on p.34 where the reader hears about the ninetieth birthday of one well known clematis breeder. Also, the author has a tendency to use personalize the text with the very frequent use of "I," particularly in the history chapter. The author's experience is substantial, but the phrasing of the text could be much more pleasing. This annoying tendency is not found nearly as often in the rest of the book, and in general the text is informative and useful.

Anyone who has a real interest in clematis in the garden and greenhouse should consider this book, whether that person is a professional horticulturist or a home gardener. The book mainly focuses on Europe, particularly Great Britain, and North America, but with knowledge of one's local growing conditions it could be of use for those gardening in a wider geographic area. This book should be found in academic libraries, and though it focuses mostly on horticulture, The Gardener's Guide to Growing Clematis has enough botanical information in the early chapter to have a broader botanical appeal. - Douglas Darnowski, University of Illinois, Urbana


The Gardener's Guide to Growing Pentstemons Way, David and Peter James, 1998. ISBN 0-88192-424-5 (cloth US$ 29.95) 160 pp. Timber Press, 133 S.W. Second Ave., Suite 450, Portland OR 97204-3527. - The Gardener's Guide to Growing Penstemons attempts to comprehensively organize for the first time information on the genus Penstemon (Scrophulariaceae). They have set a complicated task for themselves, since penstemons in cultivation and hybridization have a history which is not entirely clear, with many species contributing to the modem hybrids. The formal botanical taxonomy of Penstemon also needs to be clearly and thoroughly stated in one place. Given this difficult task, the authors perform very well, treating the various species and the two rather different horticultural groups, the European hybrids and the Mexican hybrids.

The authors begin, after the Introduction, with a concise and useful chapter on the botany of penstemons, including a number of useful line drawings. The history of the genus then receives a chapter followed by the history of the hardier, European hybrids, a subject which is justifiably given its own chapter since their parentage dates back to the eighteenth century. The record keeping during the history of the horticultural use of penstemons falls short of completeness in a number of instances.

Cultivation of species, European hybrids, and Mexican hybrids comes next in consideration. Chapters with a practical orientation follow on propagation of penstemons and on "Pests, Diseases, and Disorders" of the species and hybrids. The authors then illustrate penstemons as they are currently being used around the world, and species of Penstemon are surveyed. Then follows a chapter on the various garden forms, both European and Mexican.

The appendices which have been included are both appropriate and useful for untangling the complicated world of penstemon breeding. A very detailed species checklist allows for clear identification of species, and this is followed by a list of nomenclatural errors to be avoided. Penstemons with unusual flower color and habitat tolerance come next, and then an internationallyoriented list of sites to see penstemons and sources of penstemons. Lists of ambiguous or unclear names of penstemon types, organizations devoted to penstemons, and a formal taxonomic chart of the Scrophulariaceae, emphasizing penstemons, complete the appendices.

The Gardener's Guide to Growing Penstemons includes many excellent pictures. One flaw which runs throughout the book is the tone used by the authors. They clearly state in the beginning of this work that they are working through many uncertainties in the literature, but there is no need to reemphasize that uncertainty as often as they do. Another problem involves the chapter intended to give a feeling for current horticultural uses of penstemon around the world-typical of such chapters in the Gardener's Guide series, it is weak. Given the amount of analysis of historical records involved in this volume and the amount of work that was involved in clarifying penstemon classification, this book has a larger scope than would be expected for a guide for gardeners. The horticultural value of Penstemon mitigates this, making this book appropriate for the Gardener's Guide series from Timber Press. Overall, the Gardener's Guide to Growing Penstemons does an excellent job of meeting a difficult challenge. Because of its scope, besides the gardeners for whom it is intended, it will be of great interest for professional horticulturists and perhaps also for taxonomists. University libraries should purchase a copy of this thorough work, though all who consider purchasing it should realize that the book emphasizes the United States and the United Kingdom, with some material from a broader geographic range included. - Douglas Darnowski, University of Illinois, Urbana

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