Book Review – Essential Perennials by Ruth Rogers Clausen and Thomas Christopher

Book Review: Essential Perennials

Essential Perennials: The Complete Reference to 2700 Perennials for the Home Garden
By Ruth Rogers Clausen and Thomas Christopher. Photographs by Alan L. Detrick & Linda Detrick
Timber Press
Hardcover, 452 pages
$29.82 USD

This large book looks to be the new encyclopedia for people looking for information on herbaceous perennials. It’s over four hundred pages, all packed with information on the best of the perennial plants. While its focus is primarily herbaceous perennials, it also includes a few woody sub-shrubs like lavender and hyssop.

A Wide Variety of Plants

What I really liked about this book is that while most plant encyclopedias will have Nepeta, most will only have ‘Walker’s Low’; this book has several species. Likewise, the entry for Penstemon, a genus not generally given much space, lists six species and several cultivars. The authors have given us a lot of lesser known, but very garden worthy, plants. These are the best of the best plants; 348 genera are represented, most with multiple species and cultivars.

Full of Helpful Information

Essential Perennials book review - front coverThe introduction explains how to use the book, which starts with a quick (just a few paragraphs) lesson on how botanical nomenclature works – and why it’s a good thing to use it, at least when searching for information and when shopping.

The entries are listed by botanical names, using the newest classification.  For instance, a lot of plants formerly listed as asters now are considered to be different genera and the large bleeding heart that has long been Dicentra spectabilis is now Lampranthus spectabilis. I was very confused when I looked under Dicentra and found only the smaller, groundcover bleeding hearts!

How to choose good plants at the nursery, how to treat bare root plants for success with them, maintaining plants in both summer and winter, and propagation are all given a bit of space. Details on these subjects are given in the individual plant entries.

There is a resource list in the back of the book that includes nurseries for the USA, Canada, and the UK, as well as plant societies which can give you more advice on growing specific types of plants.

There is also an alphabetical list of common names with the botanical names listed after them so you can find them in the book.

A Beautiful Encyclopedia

But the meat of the book is the encyclopedia – all 381 pages of it.

There is at least one photograph on every page, although they still couldn’t manage to illustrate every single plant.

The entries are detailed: zone ratings, size, flower color, time of flowering, exposure, other names the plant goes by, growth habit, how to manage it throughout the growing season, good companion plants, and good uses are all covered even though the entries are brief.

And in the front and back covers are illustrations of the botanical names of plant parts, including leaf arrangements, leaf shapes, bloom shapes and arrangements. This way, when the entry says “Leaves of plant X are palmate” you’ll know what that means! It’s really a simple thing but a detail most books miss.


5 Shovels Rating from Gardening Products ReviewDefinitely five shovels up!


Where to Buy

The book is available on Amazon, as well as through select book stores.

BUY IT HERE >> Essential Perennials: The Complete Reference to 2700 Perennials for the Home Garden

And now over to you – What’s your favorite new gardening book? Let us know in the comments below.