British-born Pamela Harper has been gardening in the United States for over three decades, and gardeners in all parts of the United States have much to learn from her latest book, “Time-Tested Plants: Thirty Years in a Four-Season Garden.”
With a keen eye for observation and a mind both tolerant and unforgiving, Harper shares both her grand successes and failures with plants and offers hope for green and black thumbs alike.
Harper takes the reader through four seasons at her two-acre Virginia garden on a sheltered tidal creek off the Chesapeake Bay, offering detailed descriptions and stunning photographs of hundreds of trees, shrubs, and perennials that happily co-exist in her garden. All but two of the 250 photographs were taken in her own garden, and they are testament to her outstanding talent for beautiful and striking plant combinations (Mexican bush sage against the yellow autumn foliage of climbing hydrangea or holly fern with the red-flowered Fashion azalea).
Each plant in the book is described by Harper in loving and beautiful descriptive detail, with instructions for culture and care. Writing of different varieties of the silverbell tree, Harper says that “because the floral contribution of these flowers is so brief, one silverbell would really be enough, but which? I’d choose Halesia diptera var. magniflora (Zone 5) with flowers that have the ethereal loveliness of Swan Lake ballerinas.”
Harper’s philosophy of gardening is a no-nonsense one that is also ruthless, giving all gardeners the courage to pull out plants that simply do not work. “Thumbs down for purple-leaf plums,” she declares, “which attract innumerable pests, including borers and Japanese beetles that turn their leaves to netting.”
Gardening in England for 15 years or so before she moved to the United States gave Harper a different background and outlook toward horticulture. Her experience in Britain, she said, taught her to emphasize plants instead of design, to rely on thorough soil preparation before planting, and to favor chartreuse, purple, and cleanly variegated foliage instead of leaves with spots and streaks.
The climate in America is very different from England, however, and Harper was forced to change some of her preferences and methods. “For example, the gentle pastel colors that work so well in England look bleached out and insipid in brilliant sunshine, and I now use stronger colors. And in a region of great heat and fairly heavy rainfall, plants grow a lot faster and need much more frequent pruning.”
Harper said she finds gardening in the United States exciting these days, particularly because of “the much greater variety of garden styles” and “a readiness to experiment.”
The greatest lesson a gardener can learn, she explained, is that “a garden, if it is not to be boringly mundane, always involves experiment and mistakes, that it is unlikely ever to be perfect, and that the pleasure lies in the doing.”
Harper’s previous books include “Perennials: How to Select, Grow and Enjoy” (1985) which has gone through 17 printings but is now out of print, and “Designing with Perennials,” named in 1997 by the American Horticultural Society as one of the 75 best American gardening books.
Gardeners who are particularly enthusiastic about flowers will like “Flowers A to Z” It’s a beautiful guide on how to keep them alive once you bring them inside. Heffernan, a floral designer from Jackson Hole, Wyo., gives specific instructions on how to buy and cut flowers to make them last longer, what kind of tools and techniques to use, how to encourage blossoms to open, and how to plant and care for flowers in the garden.
The photographs in this book are stunning; even gardeners who dislike floral arrangements will find it hard to resist. Heffernan says that “flowers are not just for the rich and famous or for special occasions,” but they can “be a part of every day life and not totally break your wallet.”
Heffernan guides the reader through various stages of a flower’s life, and with detailed, close-up photographs shows how to support cut flowers and prolong vase life, how to handle thick and thin stems, how to trim leaves and thorns, how to use special floral tools.
Each flower has its own special section, listing varieties, growing tips, the meaning of the flower’s name, and hints on how to prolong the blooms and how to use them in arrangements.
According to Heffernan, the most long-lasting arrangements are those that contain the same type of flower. “If you buy all tulips or all roses or all gerber daisies,” she said, “they’re going to last longer than if you mix all three types together.” The book does tell the reader, however, how to successfully mix flowers and which ones work best together.
Although the book only covers 26 flowers, it’s certain to become a classic and will find a rightful and prominent place on many coffee tables around the country.