Category: Book reviews

A review of “Container Gardening Complete” by Jessica Walliser

Here’s the deal people.

If you are looking for one gardening book to give as a gift this holiday season, look no more, I have the answer.

No, it isn’t authored by me. I’m way overrated and you know that.

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, this book:

“Container Gardening Complete” by renowned author, Jessica Walliser. Click on the following link to buy it on Amazon:

Container Gardening Complete

The book was just released today, but because I’m all sorts of important, I received an advanced copy and had a chance to review it ahead of time.

One word to describe it: Killer

This is not an exaggerated claim, it’s the best book I’ve ever read on container gardening and I’ve read a lot because I’m kind of bad at container gardening and need all the help I can get.

The book kicks off covering the three pillars of container gardening:

  1. Container type
  2. Potting mix
  3. Container location (ex. full sun)

The author covers these pillars in great detail and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. From the best means to create drainage in a container (tile bit vs. masonry bit) to which containers withstand the winter temps to the benefits of coir fiber as a potting medium, it is all here.

And I’ll be returning to this section over and over again come spring when I plan to up my container gardening game.

From there the book is divided into the following chapters:


This is personally my favorite section of the book and the most informative IMHO. A few key highlights:

How to plant a container in “proportion” – ideally, the container height is at 1/3 with the plants taking up the remaining 2/3 of the height

How to plant a container in “balance” – with a window box, plant the tallest plants in the center or evenly throughout in a group of 3

5 container design styles – from 1)thriller, filler, spiller to 2)flat-backed to 3)featured specimen to 4)monoculture to 5) pot-hugging

Designing with edible plants – a serious weak spot for me so I took lots of notes here.

Designing with annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, trees, etc – littered with fantastic suggestions and lists

Caring for your containers

Watering -She points out how the volume of potting soil and the type of container ultimately determines how much water is appropriate. She also dives into the different types of self-watering mechanisms which are a must during the heat of summer. This includes some you can make on your own.

Fertilizing – how to do so organically and naturally

Deadheading – key for prolonged bloom

Staking/Trellising – how, when and why is thoroughly covered


This section dives into more detail than any other book I’ve seen on the topic. No one knows more about insects than Jessica, and it shows here. This runs from “beneficial” to those that are known destroyers of plants.

There are endless photos capturing all that can go wrong in a container garden and how those problems can be addressed.

Here’s one I am all too familiar with:

 Harvesting and Seasonal Considerations

This chapter educates on how to harvest and when to harvest, even down to the preferred time of day to pick those fruits and veggies.

It also discusses how to succession plant and the best ways to overwinter your containers, especially those prized possessions we don’t want to lose with the impending cold weather.

Container Concepts

This is where the ideas get stoked in my brain. This is where I copy the ideas and sell them as my own. This section is inundated with photographs and ideas and will warm the heart as we head into the long and cold winter months.





Throughout the almost 300-page book are 21 different “projects” that are DIY with the necessary steps easily laid out with photos to accompany each.

Even someone as DIY averse as me could pull some of these off.


As the book is marketed, this is a one-stop read for all things container gardening. I’ve read it once and I’m now on read number two. Not only is it educational, but it is even more inspirational. You’ll want to add a dozen more containers to your garden after reading this.

I couldn’t recommend it more.

Go get it now.

One for you and one for a fellow gardening friend.

You won’t regret it.

Pinky swear.






“The Perennial Matchmaker” – My review

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”.

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.

The Perennial Matchmaker

The Perennial Matchmaker

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.

The Perennial Matchmaker


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.

The Perennial Matchmaker


The Perennial Matchmaker


The Perennial Matchmaker


The Perennial Matchmaker

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.

The Perennial Matchmaker

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.

Timber Press book giveaway – “50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants”

As you know, I struggle mightily with deer chowing down on my plants throughout the year. I’ve tried using deer repellents and while I have had success, there is a need to continue the applications on a regular basis, especially each time after it rains. It can be very difficult to keep up with.

As a result, I’ve come to appreciate the truly “deer resistant” plants which I can put in the ground and then give the deer the middle finger knowing they won’t touch them. It also reduces my over the top, plant stress level. Just ask my wife.

The problem I have, however, is that my “deer resistant” plant palette is quite limited. Well guess what? There is a new book out on the market that is music to my ears:      

And guess what else? Timber Press, the publisher of this gem, is giving away a copy of the book. You can access this contest on the Timber Press giveaway page and can follow along as the contest unfolds on the Timber Press blog.

So head on over and give it a shot. You can enter up to four times and the contest ends on August 17th.

** Quick side note showing you how cool I am. I sat at the same dinner table with both the author of this book, Ruth Clausen, and the photographer of this book, Alan Detrick, in the Dallas Arboretum during last year’s Garden Writer’s Conference. I am by no means exaggerating when I say they were two of the most kind and warm people I’ve ever met. I was a schlubby garden blogger who had no right being there yet they made me feel right at home. I’ll never forget the experience. **

How you like me now?