My 'step sitting' to consider what to replace the sentinel conifers with, includes looking at a number of books for inspiration. A nice offer from Timber Press to make a selection from their catalogue means I now have three extra volumes on the subject of perennials. It's these I'm reviewing here today :)
Bressingham Gardens - and bumped into Adrian Bloom :) - whilst on holiday in Norfolk a few years ago. I have a number of Bressigham introductions (Crocosmia 'Lucifer' and Heuchera 'Bressingham Hybrids' to name but two) in my garden. The garden itself is home to two of our most well-known plant design innovations from the past 50 years - island beds and the currently deeply unfashionable conifers (often combined with heathers).
When I was at Bressingham it was clear grasses were being interwoven much more strongly into the mix to provide longer seasons of interest in the garden. Also large drifts of these plus lots of free standing perennials are at the heart of its design.
In Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses, Adrian Bloom sets out to transfer the knowledge he's gained from over half a century of gardening at Bressingham. Whilst over 400 plants and many photographs are featured in this book, at its heart is Adrian's key message that 'less is more' as far as garden design is concerned.
The key chapter in this philosophy is 'Take 12 Plants' where Adrian describes how focusing on a smaller group of plants, the gardener can use them effectively to create drama in the garden. I welcome this idea - especially as I feel my garden is too 'bitty' - though I found most of the 12 plants featured are ones I wouldn't choose. Thank goodness there's plenty of options in the rest of the book to form my 12! Having warmed to the idea of including some grasses in my new planting, this book is also helping me to get to grips with how to do that effectively.
The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is a more practical volume with nearly half of it dedicated to how to look after perennial plants, from pre-planting soil preparation through to division and pruning.
The other half of the book is an encyclopedia of around 175 plants of merit to the garden. Whilst this is an American book, all the plants are garden worthy for the UK too. Each entry also has care and maintenance instructions as well as a number of related plants which can be used as substitutions.
At the back is a practical maintenance section with details of the tasks needed throughout the year by specific plant groups. This is the book to study not only for which plants are best for your situation and how to look after them, but to also help make decisions based on how much time you have for your garden.
Plant-Driven Design by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden is different to the two volumes above because it places its emphasis on how plants can form a major element of design. They argue that it's the careful choice of plants which ensures a garden has soul, rather than the choices made in its architecture and hardscaping.
However, I believe many of the plant designs highlighted in this book are in themselves architectural in their look and feel. That's not meant as a put-down to their argument, but serves to highlight the quality of the examples chosen to illustrate it.
What follows is a mouth watering masterclass in how to choose and marry plants together to suit their needs and the space in which they inhabit. This is 'right plant, right place' with a designer's eye. As well as lots of photograph's there are plenty of plant lists for specific uses, styles and climates to help anyone make the right selections for their garden or the effect they're wanting to achieve.
So if I had just one of these books, which would I choose? That's a difficult one because each of them has something to offer. Plant Driven Design is the one to read first, because it deals with what you want to achieve from your garden in terms of its look and feel. The other two titles complement it in different ways: gardeners who feel overwhelmed by the possibilities shown in Plant Driven Design will enjoy the 'Take 12 Plants' focus of Adrian Bloom's book. Those wanting to know more about how to look after the perennials in their care, will like the planting and aftercare focus of The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.
The choice is yours :)