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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in container flower composition (1)

Monday
Apr262010

New Annuals for Canada: Book Review for Bookpleasures.com

New Annuals for Canada  Rob Sproule, Lone Pine Publishing

Americans need this book, too!

Often, we wander into a nursery looking for annuals and feel overwhelmed by the unending varieties, the vast array of colors, and the urge to plant all that we see. This valuable book cum manual assists us in getting around that recurring predicament. The author suggests how selecting annuals can become an easy and rewarding experience.

What makes his book special is that Mr. Sproule cuts through the distracting assortment of plants and focuses on only 81 annuals, mostly new and impressive varieties, that  thrive in most gardening zones of North America, even as far north as Yukon and North West Territories. The plants themselves are not new; it is their cultivars and the trend towards container gardening, which are new.

The author begins with a beautifully written overview of the history of annuals, an explanation how this manual is to be used, and a discussion of the critical issues surrounding successful planting of flowers. Important technical details, that might encumber the reader in other publications, appear here clearly, methodically, and meticulously. Gardeners who also appreciate good writing will savor these introductory pages.

An overriding theme makes this book a success: - The author suggests that we consider annuals solely as container plants and then proceeds to classify them into three distinct usages within the container. Consequently, the gardener, who uses this manual, will be able to select, shop for, and create reliable and effective container compositions.

The three distinct categories for annuals in containers are - thrillers, fillers, and spillers.

  • The thrillers are the tallest elements in the container, usually in the center or back of the container and they are further sub-divided into centerpieces and grasses.
  • The fillers fill out the container and give it most of its color. This component divides into upright color [flowers] and non-blooming foliage plants that supply texture.
  • The spillers are the trailing plants that finish the container compositions and they divide into trailing colors, i.e. plants known for their cascading flowers or vines, known for their foliage.

One of the reasons why this manual is so effective is because each of the 81 plants, that are included in this book, appears in only one of the six classifications. A specific flower can be either an upright color, or foliage, or trailing plant, or a vine or a centerpiece or grass. It never serves double duty. Each of these categories is contained in a separate chapter of the book. In the end, there is no doubt how the gardener should use the plant. Considering the extensive assortment of annuals that nature offers us, this simplified classification is a significant contribution to helping  gardeners understand how to use annuals effectively.

The second step that makes this publication invaluable is the clear graphic layout of the most important information a gardener needs. Underneath the colloquial and Latin name for the plant are its height, width, and four symbols that convey critical information about light exposure, water tolerance, nutritional needs, and aggressiveness of growth. These last two features deal with important issues sometimes overlooked elsewhere. New varieties of annuals, that perform better than older ones, usually require more fertilizer than the parent plants did.  A gardener needs that guidance in order to be successful. Furthermore, some plants have the growing strength to overpower a container. In order to achieve balance, it is important that they be combining with other annuals of equal aggressiveness.

The third characteristic of the book is the fact that it Mr. Sproule devotes to each plant a minimum of one set of beautifully illustrated double pages. In this way, other flowers do not distract the reader. Finally, what sets this book apart from others is the colored banner at the top of each page. Every topic is identified with a clearly distinguishable color. This allows the reader to search for information by simply flipping through the book, while looking for the appropriate colored banner.

In addition to the color-coding, the size and shape of this book makes it stow-able in a back pack or purse, its cover is plasticized to inhibit water damage, and its corners are rounded to prevent it from looking dog-eared from all  the use that it is going to receive. Kudos to Robert Tao for the clever design and layout of this book; this publisher really understands gardeners’ needs. Finally, we must thank Lone Pine for putting their faith in a new, talented author. Rob Sproule is a gifted garden writer and I hope that he will find a second topic that will inspire another book.