University of Illinois Extension
Perennial Selection - Stepping Stones to Perennial Garden Design - University of Illinois Extension

Perennial Selection

Nothing is more overwhelming to a gardener than researching plant material for a landscape. Whether you are choosing trees, shrubs or perennials, there is an extraordinary number of plant references! Ask a handful of gardeners to name their favorite perennial reference, and you will probably receive a handful of titles! There are books, magazines, journals, television shows, web sites and CD-Roms, all designed to assist you, the gardener, to select plants.

Yet, not one stands alone as complete for everything every gardener would want to know about every plant! So many gardeners create their own gardening reference library. Many of these references are high priced. It is always best to avoid purchasing a perennial book or CD-ROM, sight unseen. Visit a bookstore, botanical gardens or local garden center and peruse their garden book section. Check out your local library or ask to borrow a reference from a fellow gardener. (This can be a sure sign of friendship - loaning out a favorite garden book! Just remember to return it promptly and in the same condition!)

By physically seeing various books, you can decide for yourself which ones are better for you. Next seasons' plant catalogues that seem to arrive before the New Year's Eve champagne goes flat are excellent for pictures. But do keep in mind that catalogues are meant to entice you into purchasing a plant. Pictures often are taken with special color enhancing filters, and the descriptions are always glorious.

A word of caution when reviewing horticultural reference materials. Horticulture is not an exact science. In fact, many consider it an art, open to many different interpretations. Several times in this website, it has been pointed out that there are no rights or wrongs. Plants are living entities that react and grow differently under different circumstances. You may encounter contradictory information.

One reference may expound upon the many merits of a plant they enjoy growing, while another will give it a thumbs down. Take for example the Chameleon plant or Rainbow plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'), a beautifully variegated plant offering yellow, green, bronze and red colorations. One author may have success with this plant in a large setting, not minding its extremely invasive behavior. Another gardener tells you to avoid it at all costs. Or, one book will list a particular garden phlox as having salmon colored flowers, but in your garden it is plain orange! These discrepancies are bound to happen as long as there are different gardeners with different tastes and different opinions.

Nothing can replace the hands-on experience you will receive over the years as you garden. Do give the process time. A gardener never stops learning. A favorite garden saying of late is "to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow." So true. Realize that patience is needed as your dreams of today evolve into tomorrow's beautiful garden.