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Best Performing Perennials for USDA Zone 2, a book review

The Northern Gardener, Perennials That Survive & Thrive, Barbara Rayment, Harbour Publishing.

In northern climates, where the growing season is short, gardeners need to celebrate their flowerbeds as quickly as possible. They have no time to invest in the lengthy process of discovering a perennial’s innate personality. In unforgiving climates, therefore, gardeners appreciate forewarning about a plant’s behavior so that, during a protracted spring and summer, they can enjoy their perennial beds instead of correcting them.

Ms. Rayment successfully grows over 80 different plants in Canadian Zone 3; aka USDA Zone 2. In this handy guide for the cold climate flower gardener, she authoritatively draws upon personal experience with each plant to present the reader with one of the most truthful and well-balanced descriptions of perennials that I have ever read.

A short summer demands honesty about plant information. Revealing an intimate relationship with perennials, the author delivers both the good and the not-so-good about each one. Some are so robust that early frost kill is of no consequence; the plant will rebound quickly. A beautiful perennial may be so invasive that it will self-seed or spread vigorously. Another attractive one will secrete harmful sap that requires the gardener to wear gloves when handling.

More than 80 cold-climate hardy perennials are identified. With a warts-and-all biography for each, the gardener is assured that there will be no surprises in the flowerbed. It is also encouraging that these plants are attractive, tried-and-true perennials that require very little effort for them to flourish. Most are no-brainers, the workhorses that make us and our flowerbeds look good.

Since most books and web sites appeal to gardeners in all growing zones, it can be frustrating for those in cold climates to extract important technical details specific to their locations. What makes this guide so useful is that it pares down encyclopedic information to what is suitable for northern gardeners.

Consequently, there are specific lists of hardy perennials for wet sun, moist sun, wet shade, dry shade, and gravel or sandy soil. There are also separate lists for sunny rain, rockery, or woodlands, as well as plants that live in the extremes of soil pH and for those that are beneficial insect attractors. Readers interested in groundcovers will find lists for very low, low, mid height and tall perennials.

In order not to overwhelm the reader with the wealth of information they need, Ms. Rayment has sprinkled cautionary paragraphs and solid advice throughout the alphabetical plant biographies. In these easy-to digest nuggets, one will learn about aggressive spreaders, aphids, slugs and pest control, rodents, pets, bears, moose, clay, mulch, drought, flood and salt- tolerant plants, deer and rabbit-resistant plants, the importance of drainage, the role that ancient glacier activity played in determining the quality of northern soils, perennial maintenance, snow loads, soil texture and amendments.

This publication is also replete with so many plant photographs that northern gardeners might imagine they are paging through a catalogue created exclusively for their needs. That is exactly what the author has created. However, unlike a catalogue that only praises plants, in this book, the writer forewarns where necessary.

This is a clearly written, no-nonsense guide; the information is crisp and precise. The book is an example of the art of communication at its best; it delivers exactly what the reader needs; not a word or sentence has been wasted.


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