If a garden genie were to swoop down from the high heavens and offer me one wish and one wish only, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what I would ask for. I’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time now, just as I’ve prepared my family for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can’t be too careful.
My ultimate wish would be for Nancy Ondra to take the reins of my garden for a minimum of three years where she would be graced with an unlimited budget and unlimited time. I would provide her no direction and would have no specific requests other than she do as she sees fit.
Nancy would take up residence at our house while the family and I relocate to Bermuda for those three years. Our employers would willingly allow us to work remotely while on the island and the kids would be provided with a solid tropical education. After the three years are up, Nancy would be required to make quarterly visits on an ongoing basis to ensure I am not screwing up what she will have created in my garden.
In my humble opinion, there is no greater designer of perennial gardens than Nancy Ondra. I have used her website – Hayefield – as a reference tool for for years running now, be it for researching plant combos, flowers or most impressively, the power of foliage. I am a also a proud owner of so many of her books. I still remember being drawn in by the cover of her book “Fallscaping” at my local library back in 2008 and immediately purchasing a few Amsonia later that night. The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer hit shelves right when my perennial fever emerged back in 2005 and it had an enormous influence on my perennial choices from that point forward. It also helps that she gardens in the same zone as I do and is located only a hop, skip and a jump away in scenic Bucks County, PA.
Which brings me to Nancy Ondra’s latest book, “The Perennial Matchmaker”.
I received a copy of “The Perennial Matchmaker” a few months back (I must let you know upfront that a copy was mailed to me because one of my own garden photos made it into the book, more on that in a bit) and I’ve already mapped out 3 new perennial combinations I’ll be attempting this spring. It is a must have for gardeners of all experience levels and the book once again crowns Ondra as one of the queens of the perennial garden.
The book includes 80+ profiles of different perennials/grasses.
Each of which is broken down into three different sections:
Color Considerations – bloom colors are analyzed with multiple recommendations for other plants that both complement and contrast with those flowers. A sample:
“The rich colors of heleniums show up beautifully among the tans and browns of ornamental grass flower and seed heads , like those of ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass.”
Shapes and Textures – the plant form and texture is discussed, and again, numerous plant partners are suggested based on said shape and texture.
“The blooms of most irises tend to be on the big and bold side, holding their own with other in-your-face flowers, such as those of giant onion (Allium giganteum) and peonies. For contrast, combine them with partners that have small, airy, or spiky blooms, such as catmints (Nepeta).”
Seasonal Features – covers the impact each perennial has throughout each season and how it can impact design.
“Fall-colored bluestars make a great contrast to the brown-black seed heads of echinaceas or rudbeckias and the flattened, reddish heads of upright sedums, such as ‘Autumn Fire’.”
Beyond that, there is a “Perfect Match” section accompanying each plant profile that highlights Ondra’s personal favorite companion(s) for that particular plant. Here’s a sample using one of my favorites, the bee balm:
“When I choose bee balms for my garden, I look for cultivars that have interesting bracts as well as colorful flowers. Red-flowered ‘Jacob Cline’, for instance, has dark, purplish red bracts that make an excellent echo for purple-leaved shrubs, such as ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush.”
And finally, each plant description includes a “Bloom Buddies” box which provides a listing of other perennials that bloom around the same time as that perennial. A super easy reference when we’re in the planning phase of our gardens or trying to correct a prior mistake – my personal sweet spot.
Yes, the descriptions are delicious, informative and passionately detailed, but the photos, oh those photos, are the creme de la creme of this book. Like a 2 year old, when I first received the book all I did was leaf through each and every page only absorbing the photos. If this were solely a picture book, I’d still be on board.
Quick aside – my perennial combination of Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ and Ninebark ‘Diablo’ made it onto page 46 of the book. My 15 minutes of fame are slowly evaporating.
Part 2 of “The Perennial Matchmaker” covers the “Exploring of more options”. Here Nancy Ondra educates the reader on how to really look at a perennial to understand it’s attributes, how to do your homework before purchasing perennials and ultimately how to find partners for your perennials. This section is perfect for the beginning gardener and admittedly, a nice refresher for those of us who think we know it all.
For me personally, “The Perennial Matchmaker” has provided a new and fresh outlook on how to combine and design with the perennials currently in my garden. I made a point to look up each and every perennial in my garden today in the book’s index to ultimately see all of the suggested pairings. It has invigorated me to try some new combos, combos I never considered before.
Along those same lines, “The Perennial Matchmaker” is also an incredible resource for determining where to place all of those plants I ordered over the winter. A perfect example is as follows – I ordered 1o Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed) from a native plant online retailer after having seen this plant at the High Line in NYC last summer. I had made no plans (shocker) as to where it would go and who it would be planted next to. Sure enough, my answer was on page 281 where a photo of New York ironweed and Joe Pye Weed paired together made the decision easy for me.
This is how I will use this book for years to come.
A plant will not go in the ground until “The Perennial Matchmaker” has been referenced.
I suggest you do the same.