Although we haven’t put away our wooly socks and down coats here in the winter-weary Northeast, we comfort each other by commenting that spring is in the air and warmth and sun will surely follow soon. The hardy gardeners among us have already begun their spring clean-ups. However, if you’re waiting for actual spring weather to get going or if you’re a novice and don’t have any idea of how to begin, here’s a suggestion. Pick up Nancy J. Ondra’s new book from Storey Publishing, Five-Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants.
Ondra is a Pennsylvania gardener, a blogger and the owner of two extremely photogenic alpacas. She is clearly also possessed of a great deal of plant knowledge and common sense. Her book is a collection of plans for 52 small perennial gardens, each composed of five compatible plants. The number is five because Ondra says it is enough to provide variety while still being manageable and inexpensive. The book includes gardens for nearly every shape of space and type of condition likely to be encountered by the home gardener: shade, wet spots, gardens on slopes, dry soil, relentless heat, salt, and plant munching varmints such as deer.
Photographs by Rob Cardillo.
Above: “Burgundy Glow” adjuga, one of Nancy Ondra’s selections for the “Welcome Spring” garden.
You can choose to have a garden featuring a particular color (white, red, silver, pink, yellow, blue, etc.) or one that attracts birds and butterflies or one that flowers at a particular time. ere’s Ondra’s suggestion for an early blooming garden called “Welcome Spring” (doesn’t that sound nice?). The plan calls for Siberian Iris (‘Caesar’s Brother’), Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), Ajuga (“Burgundy Glow”), wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis ‘Corbett) and perennial geranium (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum). Ondra tells you how many plants to buy and provides a simple diagram for a triangular bed which clearly shows where each plant belongs.
Above: “Corbett” wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).
Because she understands what it is like to go to a local nursery with your list of plants only to find that they are out of what you want, she includes a number of alternatives for each selection. Substitutes for the iris “Caesar’s Brother” include irises “Moon Silk” or “Sparkling Rose” or even a yellow foxglove. The instructions for each garden include detailed guidance for maintenance throughout the growing season such as when to deadhead or divide the plants.
Above: Striped bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum)
Above: “Caesar’s Brother” Siberian Iris.
Above: Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum).
The beginning gardener will benefit from the book’s opening pages which contain sensible advice on site preparation, plant buying and tips on cultivation such as when and how to water. But even experienced gardeners should find inspiration browsing through Ondra’s interesting combinations which include native plants as well as familiar garden stalwarts. The plants themselves are attractively presented in clean, spare portraits by garden photographer Rob Cardillo.
Five-Plant Gardens is available from Amazon for $13.63.
For more garden reading, see all of our Required Reading posts.