Thursday, 12 February 2015

Five-Plant Gardens -- Perennial Garden Design (by the book)

Nancy J. Ondra's 2014 book, "Five-Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants", promises easy gardening using just five perennial plants.

Pretty plants that come back year after year?  Sign me up!  But, can it really be that easy?

Ondra advises to start small ("Admire large gardens but plant small ones"), shop smart (begin with 5" pots- plants will grow and spread), and get in the zone (USDA Plant Hardiness).  Her enthusiastic writing is energising and everything is kept simple.  The "five plants", however, refers to five types of plants -- sometimes more than one of each kind is required.

Overall thoughts:
This is a well thought out and very pretty book.  It hits the right notes with me, a beginner gardener - providing lots of information, sensible advice, and inspiration for more.  The "first choice" plants include zone 3 (good for Edmonton) and plenty of advice on how to substitute for those that aren't.  The plant photos are particular favourites - especially those in seed in the "For the Birds" and "Winter Wonderful" gardens. Best of all, it's available at EPL!

The book is divided into two main parts: "Five-Plant Gardens for Full Sun to Partial Shade and "Five-Plant Gardens for Partial to Full Shade".  (See * for additional info on the book's structure.)

  • Simple designs can be tiled and combined to expand your garden over time or to fit around structures (such as a porch or pathways) 
  • Gardens are themed: colours, bloom time, attracting / deterring wildlife, usage (e.g. cuttings, scent)
  • Includes plant alternates (named and general e.g. "Another 6- to 12-inch-tall perennial with white flowers, such as wall rock cress..."), so you can substitute as needed and still keep the original garden's look 
  • Includes a "Season by Season" summary and "Digging Deeper" section for each garden with what to expect, how to care for plants, and how to use the garden
  • Nothing bad, just some limitations: Plant care in the long run not addressed ("Many perennials can live for 3 to 5 years with hardly any attention..." what afterwards?), is a "plant-by-numbers guide" doesn't teach principles of design.  
  • Table of Contents lists garden names without specific page numbers

The book doesn't have a Bee-Friendly focus, but does indirectly incorporate some bee-friendly features:
  • Uses bee-friendly plants (full of pollen and nectar, or native) e.g. Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), Monarda (bee balm), rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), sedum,  and gives enough information for you to substitute your choice of bee-friendly plants
  • Multiple plants of the same kind are grouped together - advises planting the same flower in clumps to attract bees.  This could be because bees harvest from one type of flower at a time and locate flowers using sight -- mass plantings are easier to see find and would allow for maximum food collection on each trip.
* Each garden includes:
- A planting plan
- A moisture requirement scale (Dry, Average, Moist)
- A pretty illustration of the garden
- Photographs of the plants on a plain background
- A shopping list for plants (with suitable alternatives)
- A "Season by Season" summary on what to expect in the garden and how to care for the plants
- A "Digging Deeper" section ideas and suggestions (such as how to incorporate annuals into the specific plan or where it might be especially suitable)

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