Perfect Perennials for the Prairie Gardener – Dawn Vaessen (2011, Fifth House Ltd.)
Prairie gardeners obviously face a different set of challenges than, say, our counterparts in Ontario, or coastal British Columbia. In the past, many Canadian gardening books have proven too general in scope to address our particular conditions and issues, but this is rapidly changing: over the past few months, I’ve perused several new-ish volumes specifically dealing with Prairie gardening, on topics ranging from best annual selections, to delectable edibles, to identifying insect pests. Dawn Vaessen’s book focusses on perennials, a subject near and dear to my heart, and she covers it with thoroughness, colour, and humour.
Vaessen’s mission is to offer Prairie gardeners a detailed examination of plants that are both highly appealing and adaptable (ie: drought tolerant and winter hardy), and she accomplishes this with flair. Weather, climate, hardiness zones, day length, microclimates, sun exposure, soil conditions, fertilizing, division, transplanting, pruning, watering, buying appropriate garden tools, planting levels, diseases, weeds, mulching, composting, dealing with plants and kids…you name it, it’s all here. Vaessen infuses what could potentially be dry textbook writing with fantastic personal accounts: in my favourite story, Vaessen, a teacher by profession, recalls one of her junior high school student’s comparison of deadheading plants and an erroneous take on the “emo” lifestyle. (If that’s what it takes to bring garden writing to the masses, and the younger generation in particular, then I’m all for it!).
And then there are the perennial selections themselves…each plant is carefully written up with descriptions of origin, companion plants, best varieties/cultivars, and specific “pros” and “cons.” Sumptuous photographs that can be easily employed for identification purposes accompany each choice. In order to make things easier for readers, Vaessen carefully groups the plants into categories such as container plants, ground covers, edgers, borders, vines, and ornamental grasses. The careful details and the sheer scope of this book make it an accessible and welcome addition to the library of both novice and more knowledgeable gardeners alike.