My husband came up to me the other afternoon with a book in his hands. "Look at this nice plant grouping," he said as he pointed to one of the pictures. I looked at it thinking I'd seen it somewhere before, when I realized it was a photo of our garden. I have a feeling this deja vu moment may be playing out across the country as all the gardeners, garden bloggers and photographers who contributed images to Nan Ondra's latest book receive their copy in the mail. We contributed an image (page 55) of two varieties of Brunnera and ferns (below).
"The Perennial Matchmaker: Create Amazing Combinations with Your Favorite Perennials," to give it its full title, does just what it says. It's a book that's loaded with images, inspiration and most important: information. Ondra's eye and experience are themselves perfectly matched in this publication.
Since Ondra used a photo from our garden it suggests I know what I'm doing. The fact is, I go to Ondra's blog all the time to specifically look at her "matches." As I was slowly looking through my copy of the book — page by page — I found myself marking page after page showing plants I grow in combinations I had not thought of and like better than mine.
The book opens with an A to Z listing of perennials. Each plant is depicted with Ondra's "perfect match" and her reasons for picking that combo, along with a list of other potential matches she calls "Bloom Buddies." There's information on color consideration, shapes and textures, seasonal features and special effects. With plants that can be picky, she also includes tips for success. This would be a valuable book if it ended here, but that's just the first part.
Part Two explores more options like adding bulbs and shrubs to the mix. Ondra also covers aspects of perennial gardening that are critical to success, namely how to plant and care for your perennials and how to troubleshoot when problems arise. Reading this book I felt like anything I was wondering about was answered and anything I might be having trouble with was solved.
Among the many things I particularly appreciated about Ondra's book is the fact that she not only considers how to the "create amazing combinations" of the title but she does it using OUR favorite plants. Look in the book for what's growing in your garden and see if you can re-mix those plants to better effect with her suggestions. You don't necessarily have to go out and get new and different plants.
Given her own skill as a photographer, Ondra addresses one of the dark sides of garden books, web sites and catalogs: Photos that lie. She suggests doing your homework as you drool over gorgeous garden pictures. Maybe that great combo happened because a tall flower fell over on a short one and they will never look like that growing in your garden. Things may bloom together in an odd year but it will never happen again. Look closely, ask questions and do a little research before you try to recreate every combination you come across. It is to her credit that she speaks to this issue directly.
As a long time gardener, I am not sure if I would have done more than given this book a quick glance in the store. But since we received this book because we contributed a photo, I sat down with it and gave it a much closer look. I am glad that I did because I realized I would have missed a book that has everything I look for in a garden book: It is filled with pictures — and they are surrounded with practical information. Great value for the $25.99 cover price.