American Hort Society on Perennials – a Keeper


So out of nowhere this stunning 500-page fact-and photo-packed
reference arrives at my door, sentAhs_book to me by the good folks at the
American Horticultural Society.  THANKS!  See, I attended a press event
for new plants at their headquarters in Virginia and gave them my
address, and now I’m fully prepared to step up to the plate and
recommend that everyone buy their book.  See how easily I can be bought?

Kidding!  If I hated it I’d just give it away and never say a
word.  But au contraire – it’s the reference book I’ve been looking for
all these years.

First, how can it fail when it’s edited by the top-notch garden writer Graham Rice (a Gardenrant reader!) and Kurt Bluemel,
the Maryland plantsman of ornamental grass and perennial fame?  (If
you’re anywhere near Baltimore, visit his nursery, like this week.)

But more than a fine-print collection of hort arcana, this
encyclopedia inspires – with its gee-orgeous photos, of single plants
and of whole beds and everything in between.  Nothing like those
abominable extreme close-ups we see in catalogs that show us nothing
about what the plant actually looks like.  And there are terrific
sidebars – listing sun-proof  hostas, even slug-resistant hostas, or
suggesting ways to design with various perennials, like turning us on
to the to-die-for combo of blue hostas and ferns – in drifts.  Even the dark side
of perennials is revealed – think powdery mildew on Monarda – so this
is not the usual advertising copy put out by growers.

Finally, I appreciate the editors’ insistence that information about a plant’s origin mean something.
Thus we learn that Penstemon is native to open plains and alpine areas in
North and Central America and Begonia grandis to shaded banks or
woodlands at high altitudes in East Asia.  Nothing like the useless
"Native to the U.S." we’re seeing more of these days.  (Like the silly nationalism of no less an authority than the USDA in their on-line plant profiles.   Separating out the immigrants in our post-9/11 world?)

And to respond to the nice offer in the press package enclosed with
the book – yes, I’d love an interview with either Rice or Bluemel –
anytime, anywhere. 

BUY IT here.


  1. What a score – gotta love the free love (especially when delivered right to your door!). Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll be sure to add it to my wish list. 🙂

  2. “I appreciate the editors’ insistence that information about a plant’s origins mean something.”

    Yes! This is what is so often missing from garden books. It’s amazing how much agony can be avoided if you know a plant is “native to open plains and alpine areas in North and Central America.” If I know this information, then I have a chance of putting the plant in the right place in the garden.

  3. Exactly — except “open plains in N. and C. America” is only marginally more useful than “US”. Is there more specific species-level information?

  4. I’m so thrilled that you like our book! It took four years of hard work by a whole team of both North American and British experts and photographers to put it together – and I’m so pleased that you appreciate how we’ve made it so much more than a simple A-Z.

    Interview, Susan? Of course… just email me so we can set it up.

    And I’m compiling a record of readers’ comments so we can keep them all in mind if a revised edition is produced in a few years time. So keep them coming. UK readers can post comments on the (rather different) British edition at

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