Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East – A Book Review

by Glenn Steinberg

Carolyn Summers’ Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East (New Brunswick:  Rutgers University Press, 2010) is an excellent book.  It begins by laying out the reasons to garden with native plants (which the book insistently calls “indigenous plants”).  Its reasons include providing habitat for birds, bees, and bugs, as well as making use of fantastic indigenous plants that simply don’t get enough play in the big-box nursery business.  The book also discusses the jargon of the nursery business and the implications of that jargon for the gardener who wants to be ecologically responsible (such as how to know when cultivars and hybrids successfully function like native plants and when they don’t).
It spends considerable time talking about native alternatives to popular invasive species (such as Norway Maple, Bradford Pear, and Forsythia).  The most interesting part of the book (to me) was a lengthy section on how to use native species in popular garden designs (including the street tree, traditional foundation plantings, a Japanese garden, and a cottage garden).  Another section discusses how to mimic natural landscapes in your  garden (such as woodlands, meadows, sandplain grasslands, heaths, and salt marshes).  Needless to say, the book covers a lot of ground, and for that reason, my one criticism of it is that there were times when I’d have liked more depth and less breadth.  But overall, it is an excellent book for anyone interested in incorporating more native plants into the garden.

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