I am going to take a break from explaining the design that we started looking at last time and do a review of a new book I just finished.
This is a book I was eagerly anticipating the last few months. While I have plenty of outstanding plant reference books, I don’t have a lot that are specific to garden worthy natives of the Midwest that include this many plants (500).
My hope for this book was kind of a Dirr’s Encylopedia of Woody Plants, for Midwest natives. My bar was set pretty high, really unfairly so. I should not be surprised that I was somewhat disappointed.
This is not the be all and end all of Midwest native plants I had hoped for. My main complaint is that some plant facts I expect to see in Horticulture type plant books such as hardiness zones are not given.
With 323 pages of plant entries leaving out some of this information actually makes sense. It allows more room for more plants. If these had been just the usual plants this book would add little to my collection. Still having to do internet search though to gather some basic growing info is inconvenient.
It is however very good in another way. What it does have is very good commentary on the three headings covered under each plant. These being HOW TO GROW, LANDSCAPE USE, and ORNAMENTAL ATTRIBUTES. This is where Alan’s experience and knowledge is most helpful.
Part One of the book
In the first 69 pages of the book Alan writes about both the specific character of the Midwest as well as the roles of native plants in the Midwest landscape. There are sections on The Midwest Spirit of Place, Inspirations, Selecting Native Plants, Designing with Native Plants,
While he does go a bit into design and the practical issues of having a native plant based landscape, it is in a narrative form instead of step by step guidelines. For someone with landscaping and design background this is appreciated. For others this might be a disappointment but design is not the focus of this book. There is definitely some very practical advice given in this section though.
The last 323 pages of the book contain the plan profiles, it is divided into sections on:
- Shade Trees,
- Evergreen Trees,
- Small Trees and Shrubs,
- Evergreen Shrubs,
- Prairie Perennials,
- Woodland Perennials,
- Wetland Perennials,
- Bulbs, and
- Annuals and Biennials.
He describes in depth many different species under these headings. This portion is the meat of the book and is very helpful in discovering new plants.
What I was looking for was more insight into plants I either knew little about or had never heard of. While I did know of most of the plants in the book, I have not grown the vast majority of them so Alan’ s observations were very helpful in discovering plants for specific garden purposes. In a book like this as a professional if you can find a few great plants that will use regularly, you are happy.
An example for me was in the Groundcover section. Here was an entry for Penn Sedge, a plant that I have grown for years. It included a RELATED PLANTS section with Cedar Sedge (Carex eburnea) (a plant I added to my garden this Spring and have written about on my blog) and the new to me plant, James Sedge (Carex jamesii).
Alan commented about James Sedge being their favorite sedge at trials at Powell Gardens with it’s flowering and fruiting being neatly hidden within the foliage. As seed heads can detract from Sedges uses in some garden where a neater appearance is desired, this plant sound promising enough to try this Spring.
In short, Native Plants of the Midwest is a useful addition to the collections of native plant enthusiasts and landscape professionals in the Midwest looking to expand their native plant palette.