An Armitage third edition



Here’s the biggest tome to hit my doorstep in recent months. A 1108-page paperback, Allan Armitage’s third edition of Herbaceous Perennial Plants promises to differ from the last version of it (published in 1997) thusly:

Hundreds of new cultivars that weren’t in existence in 1997

* Dozens of new genera
Up to date changes in taxonomy
Approximately 1050 pages
Over 280 photos placed throughout the text
Far better editorial control

Sounds good. I have had this for a while, but have barely dipped into it, except to look into some differences between rudbeckia cultivars and to survey a surprisingly good section on lilium (you never know how these books will treat bulbs). Anyone else looked at this? I hope to be posting an interview with the author soon and wanted to hear some first impressions.

Personally, I love encyclopedic plant books; they make me feel secure, but I use so many annuals that I tend to incline toward Botanica, Flora, or other similar books, which include them. Then we have our friend Graham Rice’s Encyclopedia of Perennials. What’s your go-to tome?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. As an academic at heart, I love to sit on the floor surrounded by as many plant books as possible when I’m looking for something. Orderly coffee tables worry me!

  2. Well—as a Univ. of Georgia grad—I am partial to most anything by Armitage or Dirr. My MIL gave my 1st edition of the Armitage book. I came up with $$$ for my fourth edition of Dirr.

  3. Honestly? I’ve boiled it down to mainly the Sunset Western Garden book – in my region there are so many microclimates and my yard is so dang weird that it has been the best resource for me here. Also the Nevada Gardener’s Guide, although I need to be careful about the stuff they stick in for the Vegas gardeners. It doesn’t sound very fancy but it works for this environment. I used to have a lot more of the fancy-sounding academic stuff but this works in the desert.

  4. As a garden writer, this is my favorite reference when I’m writing about perennials for magazines or my website. I was thrilled several years back when Armitage and his group visited our garden on a garden tour to Ontario and Quebec.

  5. Out of my fairly modest horticultural library only two reference books sit continuously at the side of my desk, Flora and Sunset Western Garden Book.
    Sunset for quick reference and Flora for more in depth research.
    Before Flora was published I always reached for Hortus Third.
    The Dirr and Armitage are not useful here in Northern California, they seem to be written for a more distinct 4 season climate, not my temperate mediterranean / sub-tropical climate where bromeliads hang from palm trees, agave and aloes bloom in the winter and annuals become perennials for seasons on end.

  6. Books – another of my weaknesses besides plants and chocolate. When I ordered my office furniture, I made sure I had enough shelf space to accommodate a total of 18 feet of books (not completely full yet but I’m working on it). I love reference books, especially regional resources.

    The ones I reach for most often are:
    Sunset Western Garden Book (I worked on the 8th edition so I’d better have it on my shelf!), AHS A-Z Encyclopedia, The Plant Locator: Western Region, Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden and to a lesser extent because it’s still new to me, Timber Press’ Perennials: The Gardener’s Reference written by local authors.

    I have a 1st edition (sounds so much classier than “old version”) of Armitage’s Herbaceous Perennial Plants that I use now and then. Maybe I would use the latest version more. I’ll have to check it out. Time for a field trip to Powell’s downtown book store. If you ever visit Portland, you must stop there. It’s the largest independent used and new book store in the world. It fills a city block-sized building. It’s so large, they provide maps. It’s incredible!

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