The first time I saw the picture below, I went searching for the designer's name and committed it to memory: Jinny Blom. I've seen lots of images of her garden designs since then, including award winners at Chelsea.
Now — like all the big name interior and garden designers — she's come out with her own book: The Thoughtful Gardener.
I'm not in a big rush to run out and get it after reading an interview with her in the December 2016 issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine. There was a picture of Blom in her workspace with rows of art, vinyl records and books all lined up behind her. It looked like heaven to me.
In the interview Bloom named ten titles she'd want to have if stuck on a desert island. I'm going to try to find some of those books before I go looking for her own. So far I've only found a couple of them but the first one I've read is well worth pursuing for any serious gardener: Perennial Garden Plants or The Modern Florilegium: A Concise Account of herbaceous plants, including bulbs, for general garden use by Graham Stuart Thomas.
I only knew Thomas from his rose books but his obituary in The Guardian newspaper in 2003 describes a career whose length and breadth few plants people in today's garden world will achieve. Here's a snippet from it:
"Graham Stuart Thomas, who has died aged 94, was a deeply knowledgeable horticulturist whose understanding and use of plants shaped many well-known gardens. As a great rosarian, he brought old roses back from retirement, and his books are still studied avidly. He approached the layout and planting of gardens as an art form, and over seven working decades changed our perception of gardens and plants."
I'm reading the third edition of this particular book, published in 1990 by Timber Press. It's a thick, meaty tome and a total pleasure to read or even just to peruse, dipping in and out at will.
It's filled with Thomas own illustrations in color and black and white as well as photos. The first seven chapters are all about garden design, dealing with shade and moisture, practical tips and more. All of it backed by a lifetime of experience and a willingness to make his opinion known!
He actually met the great Gertrude Jekyll late in her life. On a visit to her garden she told Thomas to "pick a piece of anything you would like to talk about, come back and have some tea with me." Hard to even imagine such an experience.
The book is divided into lists of perennial plants with separate sections devoted to grasses/sedges/rushes and one on ferns. With a book like this I like to look at what an author has to say about a few plants I grow and know well. With Thomas' book I looked at Geraniums and Peonies. He covers 24 species of Geraniums. I've grown 11 of the ones he mentioned and he's spot on in his descriptions and discussion (G. cantabriginese 'Biokovo', above).
I laughed out loud when I read at the end of the section on G. macrorrhizum, "There is an ugly variegated from." I've been growing that ugly one the last few years and it was already at the top of the list of plants that had to go before I read that. I feel quite vindicated in my dislike of it.
As for Peonies, he lists 17 species and I am growing 7 of them. These are all early woodland Peonies (like my P. japonica, above) and it's not always easy to find reliable information on them. So I consider this a real find. In the Peony section Thomas also devotes space to famed Peony hybridizers like the Klehm family in Wisconsin (Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery).
If there is a downside to the book, it would be the fact that it was originally published in 1976 and last revised in 1990. That means that plants have come and gone in the years when it first appeared to say nothing of the almost 30 years since 1990.
And yet I found so much useful and helpful plant information. Above all I enjoyed Thomas' voice and experience and suggestions. He likes plants that don't need a lot of work or staking and are still here because they have pleased gardeners for generations. He's not against hybrids but he is definitely a fan of species plants, as am I.
This is the kind of classic gardening book that was the standard for both gardeners and garden writers for many years. It's not the kind of flashy book that is in fashion these days but one that I think is still well-worth searching out.