I recently checked Perennials for Every Purpose by Larry Hodgson out of the library. After reading it through, I’ve decided to promote it to my Recommended for Cold-Climate Beginners list, keeping company with Easy Care Perennials by Patricia Taylor (sadly, out of print) and just nudging Perennial All-Stars by Jeff Cox into third place. What gives Hodgson’s book the edge is that he’s a Zone 3 gardener and speaks from experience regarding the hardiness of the plants he discusses. As a matter of fact, more experienced gardeners will enjoy perusing this book to compare notes. More than once I found myself thinking, “That’s hardy for you?” Often, but not always, it was hardy with the caveat, “needs very freely draining soil,” which means that I, with my heavy clay, would have to go to a lot of work to make it hardy for me.
I learned from Lauren Springer in her first book, The Undaunted Garden that winter moisture and soil drainage as the snow melts have a significant impact on plant hardiness over the winter. Many plants that are hardy for her in the dry winters of Colorado died for her in the warmer but wetter winters of the east coast.
Anyway, Hodgson not only discusses the “good” perennials, but warns you about the thugs and the prima donnas. The plant encyclopedia is organized around the function of plants (spring-blooming, shade, drought-resistant, etc.) and each section is cross-referenced well. I’m going to take some notes before I return this one to the library. In addition to the ones he says are hardier than I thought, there’s a few I never heard of.