Must-Haves For Your Gardening Book Shelf

Short reviews of the best in garden books that specialize in permanent garden beauty of perennial plants. There are loads of books written, but these are the ones that will give you the best info and be the most useful.

Read each review to find out why I rate these so highly.

Books That Will Almost Guarantee A Great Perennial Garden

Being a book lover, the first thing I did when I started creating a garden of my own was to consult books on the subject, and one of my developing passions was for perennials.

It was not only their variety and beauty, but the never-ending allure of puzzling together the right combinations of heights, colors, varied forms, foliage, and growing conditions. Fitting all that into the style that best matches up with the house and you can see how this gave me reason to peruse many books on the subject.

Growing a beautiful garden full of thriving perennial flowers is not completely the result of reading the right book- attention to cultivation, choosing healthy plants that will grow in the conditions of your garden, and just plain old “sweat of your brow” work is involved.

Yet, as you might imagine, knowing the right plant for the right place, the way to take care of those plants, and how to mange garden techniques and tools all contribute to a colorful, thriving garden.

Books, especially the right books, certainly will contribute to your knowledge of that. That is what has always interested me as I spend time finding and reading books on perennial gardening.

Books give a handy course in garden skills

After all these many years I have a number of them I refer to over and over, and some of the garden writers are those I love and rely on to guide me through my gardening endeavors. Here is the best of them for you to consider for your own bookshelf.

My List of Favorite, and Best, Perennial Garden Books

  1. The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Austis one of those rare books that are for beginners, intermediate, and stay well with you as you achieve expert status. Giving you techniques and tricks for coaxing the best from your plants, it has information on what they need and when.Perhaps one of the very helpful features that you will keep using is the lists that help you know what to plant in certain yard conditions. Always well written with a huge reservoir of planting knowledge and mastery, this is the one book you should have to garden well with your perennials.I’m slightly biased since Ms. DiSabato comes from my neck of the woods in Central Ohio- but not by much.
  2. Growing Perennials in Cold Climates by Mike Heger, Debbie Lonnee, John Whitman.A classic that has proven worth for Northern gardeners, it will save you from mistakenly planting and losing ill advised selections. Yes, we have micro-climates and can sometimes push the hardiness envelope, but this book lists so many top performers that you should start here, with this book, when planning your cold climate garden.Good feature to have is the list of mail order sources for some otherwise hard to find plants.
  3. Garden books by Adrian Bloom including “Blooms Best Perennials and Grasses, Expert Plant Choices and Dramatic Combinations…” always full of beautiful photos which never cease to fill the imagination with ideas for one’s own gardens. The how- to for choosing striking plant companions to give powerful impact in the landscape.
  4. Christopher Lloyd’s “Succession Planting for Year-round Pleasure” is another guide for designing the garden. There is no other place quite like his Great Dixter in England, and it will serve as an instruction on how to make a plan that maximizes the beauty of perennials flowers. The caveat for most American gardeners is that we can’t always plant the exact same plant choices in our climate. But his ideas on how to put together the combinations is too good to pass up.
  5. “American Horticultural Encyclopedia of Perennials”, this book is chosen for the short list of important books to own because everyone needs one excellent comprehensive go-to book for whatever plant they wish to incorporate into their garden. This is the book to have as the reference you will consult time and time again.
Keep reading for much more info on books, reviews and how they will increase your skills and confidence as a gardener and home landscaper

The Really Best Perennial Books

For English garden authors I really prefer Beth Chatto and Rosemary Verey, but their books are older and not as available, look for Margery Fish, too. Too bad- because those are really the best. American Helen Van Pelt Wilson and the team of Frederick Frye Rockwell and Esther Grayson are some of the best for US gardens. All write extensively on perennial plant choices, how-to, and cultivation. Of today’s writers, few hold a candle to DiSabato (listed here).

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden – By Tracy DiSabato-Aust

On most well respected lists of the best garden books for very good reason, this book gives clear, concise direction on all the basic techniques and skills for growing a fine perennial garden. It includes tips that truly help make a difference, and it builds your knowledge through more than the beginners level. Specific plants are profiled and lists of plants for situations you may have in your yard as well.

I think this is the best book to own if you love perennials and expect to use them in your garden plans, it will be a book you consistently refer to for advice.

The Best Perennial Flower Garden Book In My Own Opinion

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques
The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques

Hands down, this is the one book to have on your bookshelf if you grow any type of perennial flower garden. It is well written and I have found it the most practical and beautiful of all the books in its class. Tracy DiSabato-Aust is not only expert, but has the skills to inspire and teach us to grow a great garden.

Great Interview with Tracy DiSabato-Aust

I Became Something of a Garden Expert – Primarily from Reading Perennial Garden Books

Books Made A Difference In My Garden

It’s true. From small beginnings which consisted of a little backyard vegetable patch, lots of indoor houseplants, and some Dutch bulbs planted at a house I rented, I became an expert gardener.

It wasn’t book knowledge alone, of course. My increasing gardens led to adding lots of experience from the lab of real earth outdoors, but it was my voracious reading of all the gardening books I could lay my hands on that proved the true source of gaining gardening know-how.

There is so much to learn of each part of gardening that it is foolish to think we make any progress without the techniques, methods and tips of those experts who have gone before us. I realize more and more that our experience can only teach us about the small plots of land we are privileged to steward over. There is so much to learn and know about growing plants that even the best of books pored over time and again can only fill in a great gap of what is a huge topic.

“I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position & calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. “no occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, & no culture comparable to that of the garden. such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, & instead of one harvest a continued one thro’ the year. under a total want of demand except for our family table I am still devoted to the garden. but tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Charles Willson Peale, on August 20, 1811

That is why Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote is so justly well known. Books, for reference, for training, and for pleasure, are the mainstay of every serious gardener. We must draw upon the wisdom and experience of previous generations of gardeners.

American Horticultural Enclyclopedia of Perennials – Reference Resource

Sometimes you need the bare bones information on sun, moisture, and soil needs, along with just a few other things to set the plant out properly; sometimes you want to identify a plant. In the need of an encyclopedia of perennial information? This book is very large, but quite handy. I decided I needed it and wish it had been on my shelf long before I finally purchased it!

You Will Refer To The Perennial Encyclopedia Often

Encyclopedia of Perennials (American Horticultural Society)

Encyclopedia of Perennials (American Horticultural Society)

You will never have to wonder about what that plant needs again. Truly comprehensive, it also has tips and interesting facts tucked in as well as the basic information.

Garden Catalogs List Resources

Plant Catalogs have plenty of garden information in them, and often include some of the most helpful reference books for sale.

Plant Catalogs have plenty of garden information in them, and often include some of the most helpful reference books for sale.

Succession Planting for Year-round Pleasure – By Christopher Lloyd

I have a number of English authors on my best garden writer list who are favorites and who exhibit an absolute genius for plant associations. The combination of congenial plants whose colors, bloom, and form create garden pictures of sheer artistry are one of the major reasons I love to grow perennials.

Christopher Lloyd is probably one great gardener who has transcended time and style to create a place filled with examples of what can be done with perennials. Some books are filled with how-to in the logistics of having thriving plants, others are geared towards the design side of how to make those thriving plants into a garden. This book is of the latter category.

Don’t think this is any less important than the right soil or best fertilizer, etc. Even if you only have a small border in front of your foundation shrubs in mind- this inspired book will help you make the most of your planned spot of color, stretching it through the season with something of interest. Careful… it might hook you on more ambitious garden endeavors.

Christopher Lloyd Was A Gardening Genius

Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure
Succession Planting for Year-Round Pleasure

Discover the genius of Christopher Lloyd in one of the most sought after results: a succession of bloom throughout the seasons.

Garden Books Have Always Inspired Me

Pictures aren’t necessary, but I love them

Best Parts Of A Garden Book

The older garden books I read often had very few pictures, and their black and white or poorly colored plates did little to spark my imagination, but the writing! The descriptions of the joys and pleasures of a perennials garden were the hook that kept me expanding my gardening- in both space and time. Sure I had many failures, and there were garden plans that weren’t for my part of the country, but the enthusiasm for plants and flowers, the sheer joy of the success of the described planting through the eyes of garden authors was inspiration.

It takes many, many years to get the kind of experience under your belt that some of these authors have, and many of us have neither the time or opportunity to garden on the scale that they have… this widens my scope as an amateur landscaper who wishes to have the kind of yard that I’ve envisioned.

One way I perennially (little pun there) use my garden books is when ordering plants from catalogs; it helps to look up details and compare suggested named varieties.

Sought For: Year-Round Interest

Adrian Bloom's Year-Round Garden
Adrian Bloom’s Year-Round Garden

The Holy Grail of year-round interest in the garden is one that takes just the addition of some lesser known plants. It isn’t restricted to perennials of course, but they carry the lions share through most seasons.

Examples of Long Lived Plantings

If you need convincing that flowering plants are worth learning about and growing.

black eyed susans

Everones favorite for long season of bloom: Rudbeckia. Black Eyed Susans, now one of the most widely used perennials, are very versatile and an American native

Lenten Rose

Hellebores, (the Lenten Rose), are beauties that are gaining popularity. They extend the flowering season.

Asclepsias (Butterfly Weed) attract butterflies to your garden

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens – By Allan Armitage

More gardeners are discovering the practicality, and environmental sense of planting native perennials. This book is a good reference and guide for getting started with your own native plantings of perennials.

Written with the novice in mind, it is meant to help you to navigate what may be new ground in both making a garden and choosing plants that might not be familiar to you. Letting you know what to expect when planted in the garden, with information about available varieties.

Are you interested in using the plants native to your climate and area of the world? Perhaps interested in learning more about growing native plants for lasting enjoyment in the yard, or even setting up small ecosystems that are sustainable without lots of watering, fussing, and problems? Native plants are becoming more popular.

North American Native Plants

Armitage`s Native Plants for North American Gardens

Armitage`s Native Plants for North American Gardens

If you love native plants and have been convinced that this is the way to plant your yard- you will need this book as a reference and guide to planting American native plants. Written with expertise and humor.

Why These Plants? – And why bother with books about them?

Source: Ilona Erwin<
Source: Ilona Erwin

Is That Plant Worth the Time and Money?

You might wonder why to bother with plants that have restricted bloom times, require a certain amount of work and maintenance throughout the year, and seem to disappear in most gardens all through the winter months. Are they worth it?

It might help to consider it in this light…

What Are the Elements of the Plants Blooms ?

There are elements that give a finished look to the whole that make them well worth the trouble to include: the right mat for a painting, the right jewelry for an outfit, the accessories for an interior. Sure you can do without those things, but they are a detail that adds much more than their part might seem to play. Perennials can play just that sort of role, and they can become the main feature if you are thinking of a full border of them.

Some of my fondest recollections of gardens have always centered around perennial flowers:

  • swathes of daylilies,
  • fresh daisies,
  • bright splashes of phlox,
  • fragrant peonies,
  • elegant irises.

Every phase of the growing season, early, mid, and late seems to have its own highlight of color and form given by perennial flowers.

Despite the labor (preparing the soil better, dividing and cleaning away winter killed top-growth), I personally found it much less work to plant something that performed well over a number of years than the short-lived joy of annuals. (Even though I do love those, too).

While I couldn’t completely choose between the two types of plants I would weight the perennial list with a much larger share of the garden (and yes, that is what I do!)

Structure and Substance

Besides the reduced amount of time spent working up the soil and need to replant, perennial flowers have more substance in form than a garden of annuals. Compare a garden filled with such structural beauties as peonies, with their bushy foliage to a mere mound of marigolds or the substantial clump of Siberian Iris with the lovely, yet floppy, annual cosmos.

A strong design can always be made with the assiduous choice of long-lived planting that cannot be matched by those which must be replanted each season.

Where the Library Weighs In

Learning how to maintain your garden plantings is simplified when you have books to reference; and a journal to keep track of what you planted where and the times to accomplish tasks like dividing when they become crowded. This is the way to build skill and confidence in gardening.

The many ideas for beautiful season displays that authors provide is the second topmost reason I have buried myself in the perennial how-to books. Using a suggested plan has often worked well for me, and inspired me to experiment with ideas of my own.

All Seasons Gardening

Everyone wants a landscape that gives beauty all year round. Preferably without too much bother. While that combination can’t be promised, there is something close that can be achieved with the right plants in the right place. Paying attention to the most neglected time of year: what your  garden looks like in winter, might be the most satisfying effort of all.

Growing Perennials in Cold Climates

By Mike Heger, Debbie Lonnee, John Whitman

Winter Garden Glory: How to Get the Best from Your Garden from Autumn Through to Spring

Winter Garden Glory: How to Get the Best from Your Garden from Autumn Through to Spring

If you grow perennials, you will want to know how to give the winter something to look at when perennials are lacking.

An all season garden is the gardener’s Holy Grail. It can be a challenge to coordinate plantings for interest during each season, especially in a cold climate winter.

If your zone is less than 6 (in a cold climate zone), I advise this book for you.

We Northern gardeners face challenges that many books don’t address. This is a book that caters to our own special conditions and to do what is necessary to help our perennial plantings survive.

Perennials For Cold Climate Gardens

Growing Perennials in Cold Climates: Revised and Updated Edition

Growing Perennials in Cold Climates: Revised and Updated Edition

This is not a new book, but it is revised and comes out in this edition for a reason: it is a great book to own, and every Northern gardener ought to take a look. I think you will want a copy for your garden library.

I call him a classic both for his extensive knowledge, and prolific output of practical garden books, but also because he gives solid advice in a way that will be useful for all gardeners. The books here will all be useful for perennial plant cultivation, planning and designing, and care and maintenance.

Bloom is an author I return to over time, and appreciate for clear focused writing and stunning pictures to give plenty of inspiration.

Adrian Bloom Writes Accessible Books with Beautiful Illustrations

Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses: Expert Plant Choices and Dramatic Combinations for Year-Round Gardens
Bloom’s Best Perennials and Grasses: Expert Plant Choices and Dramatic Combinations for Year-Round Gardens

The inclusion of grasses makes this a must have. Perennial garden plans have changed to use grasses extensively.



Garden Author Lessons from Noel Kingsbury