Book review & giveaway: The Perennial Care Manual

New gardeners will find The Perennial Care Manual, Nancy Ondra’s latest collaboration with photographer Rob Cardillo, to be an essential reference. Everything you need to know about planning, planting, and caring for a perennial garden is here. In Part 1, titled “Perennial Care Basics,” Ondra explains in clear detail (with excellent illustrative photographs by Cardillo) how to plant, prune, divide, and propagate perennials, including plenty of tips for more-experienced gardeners as well.

Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo

With gentle humor and a sympathetic understanding of the plant love and big dreams that drive most gardeners, Ondra—a marvelous gardener/designer, author, and blogger at Hayefield and Gardening Gone Wild—writes knowledgeably about all facets of maintaining a perennial garden. Her advice is solid, and she doesn’t forget that many of us garden far from the temperate climate of her Pennsylvania home. She often points out how different climates affect the timing or even the necessity of the gardening advice she gives.

Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo

I confess that I almost passed up the opportunity to review this book, assuming that a general-audience gardening manual wouldn’t be particularly useful to local readers here in subtropical central Texas, where the gardening seasons can be the reverse of those of northeastern garden writers and where a different palette of plants is required. I am happy to discover that I was wrong. Any new gardener, whether in Austin or Chicago, in D.C. or Sacramento, would find the first section of this book to be a much-thumbed reference as they hone their gardening skills.

Photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo

The second half of the book, as indicated by the subtitle “A Plant-by-Plant Guide,” is a well-organized and informative index of 125 “popular plants” and their growing requirements. While readers in hot or arid regions, like Austin or the desert Southwest, would find that many of these plants would simply melt here, there are enough relevant species to whet even the southwestern gardener’s appetite: Stachys, Rudbeckia, Gaillardia, Echinacea, Euphorbia, Gaura, and various grasses, to name a few. I would simply advise gardeners in Austin or similar locations to do a little more research before planting many of the perennials listed. Gardeners in more-temperate parts of the U.S. would likely find the plant guide very useful.

To encourage new gardeners, I’ve decided to give away two copies of The Perennial Care Manual (a $24.95 value) to two lucky readers who haven’t been gardening all that long. If you’ve been gardening for less than three years, or if you’re just getting ready to put shovel to dirt, leave a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, August 30. I’ll do two drawings: one for a new gardener in Austin (must be within the city limits) and one for a new gardener anywhere in the continental U.S.

Good luck, and happy digging!

P.S. I welcome comments from ALL readers, of course. If you’re not entering the giveaway because you’re not a new gardener, just let me know. Honor system—I trust you!

Other bloggers who’ve reviewed this book:
Carol of May Dreams Gardens
Dee of Oklahoma Examiner
Kylee of Our Little Acre

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

posted in Books, Giveaways

34 Responses

  1. Janet says:

    I guess I am too long in the tooth of a gardener to win, good luck to someone!!

    Thanks for commenting anyway, Janet. :-) —Pam

  2. Nicole says:

    I love Nan’s blog and I think her eye for color and form is exquisite. While her plants may not work in my climate the color and form combos are certainly inspiring. I plan on getting some of her other books-like on grasses-for myself. Of course you know I am not a newbie gardener LOL.

    Nan’s eye for creating sparkling plant combinations is second to none. Like you, I am inspired by and learn a lot from the images of her garden on her blogs. —Pam

  3. Sylvia (England) says:

    Pam, I don’t qualify on every level, out of area, lots of years gardening and I have my book – it took ages to come! I am going to take it to read on holiday. I was also concerned that this book would be less relevant to me than the other books by Nan I have read but I do like her writing and from my quick look I think I am going to enjoy this book as well.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    I’m sure you will enjoy her writing, as I did, Sylvia. Since it isn’t gardening season right now in Austin, I enjoyed it even more just for the vicarious pleasure of reading about it! —Pam

  4. Gail says:

    Morning Pam, Good review. It looks like a great book and what a treat for a new gardener! As Janet said…too long in the garden tooth to qualify;) gail

    Thanks, Gail. I think a new gardener will appreciate this book quite a bit. Thanks for commenting! —Pam

  5. Randy says:

    How very kind of you to do a give away. The book looks wonderful. I’ve been considering doing the same thing if I could come up with a suitable item. I think Jamie and I qualify, but we have tons of books that we have yet to find the time to read. I just wanted to comment on your generosity.

    Hi, Randy. I have tons of gardening books piling up too. But that doesn’t mean you have to disqualify yourself from the giveaway! Just let me know if you want to be included. :-) —Pam

  6. Ann says:

    Well… since I spent yesterday pricing landscaping stones to put in my Very First Flowerbed, I’ll go ahead and throw my name into the hat. I’m a new Austin gardener getting excited about the coming fall (I moved into my house / yard in mid June, so its been too hot to plant anything new).

    Congrats on being determined enough to plan your first flowerbed in spite of our off-putting weather, Ann. Good luck in the drawing! —Pam

  7. Tina Vaziri says:

    I’ll throw my name in! I started gardening last year, after buying my first place in Austin, so I still have lots to learn :)

    You’ve embarked on a very rewarding journey, Tina. Good luck in the drawing! —Pam

  8. I have a copy to review for my blog, too! It’s a great book.


    I’ll be looking for your review, Cameron. —Pam

  9. Chris G says:

    Thanks for doing that book review Pam. I’ve been gardening just at 3 years – don’t know if that puts me out of the chance for the book giveaway – but I sure do need some guidance on pruning and fertilizing….. that’s the next step for me. I’ve got all this garden put in now, and how the heck do I maintain it?!?

    One comment about the pics that you posted from the book – oh, the chance to garden with long pants and long sleeves again…….

    You’re in the running, Chris! And oh yes, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to wear long pants and a jacket in the garden again? Someday! —Pam

  10. Hi Pam! Isn’t it a great book? I was glad to receive a copy of it for review (thank you for the link back!) and I know two of your readers will be thrilled to win it as well.

    It is an excellent book. I enjoyed your review as well, Kylee. —Pam

  11. Amy Emerick says:

    I guess I would qualify for the running. I got serious about gardening after moving here from Colorado. When I saw all the beautiful plants that were available, I was hooked. :)

    That’s how it happened for me too, Amy, after a few year post-college years in N.C. —Pam

  12. nancy says:

    I don’t qualify, but how nice to offer this to new gardeners. Maybe it will save someone from some of the mistakes we make as we begin..(like planting a Mutabilis rose in a space that is now waaayyy too small…I’ll have my work cut out this fall as I try and wrestle it out)

    Oh yes, we’ve all made that mistake, Nancy. Good luck with the rose wrestling. ;-) —Pam

  13. arythrina says:

    We bought our house almost two years ago exactly, so I can’t have been digging around in the dirt for longer than that. It’s been fun, and I’m always on the lookout for good reading material (got to have something garden related to do once the sun goes down!) And Indiana gets awfully cold and bare in the winter…

    I bet a good book would help you while away the winter hours, Arythrina. Good luck to you! —Pam

  14. Katrina says:

    ooooh Husband and I just bought our first house ever (in Round Rock), and our yard is bordering on abysmal. We are really looking forward to new plants this fall!

    Me too, Katrina. Thanks for commenting. You’re in the running. —Pam

  15. Fun give-away Pam! I’m not of the newbie class, but evidently still have a lot to learn since that picture of the grass clump being divided was eye opening! Thanks for posting it, my job (come fall) is going to be a lot easier if I approach it that way!

    Nan Ondra has several good pointers about transplanting and dividing grasses, Loree. I do think experienced gardeners can learn some good info from her book too. —Pam

  16. Diana says:

    Sounds like a great book, Pam — thanks for the in-depth review. We both know I don’t qualify for your generous give-away, but you’ve piqued my interest in the book. Besides, you can never have too many garden books, can you? And I have some new-gardener friends for whom it might be a perfect gift.

    No, you can never have too many garden books. ;-) It would make a wonderful gift for a new gardener. —Pam

  17. Meredith says:

    Pam, thank you for doing this! You are so wonderful to help new gardeners out — they usually need all the help they can get! I know, as I’m one of them, though in about two months I’ll be closing in on my first year as a gardener. Fortunately, I still have some plants alive to show for it! But I have lots to learn, especially regarding perennial care, so please put my name in the list!

    You’re in, Meredith. Thanks for commenting! —Pam

  18. Tatyana says:

    Hello Pam! Since you left a comment on my foxglove seeds post(Thank you!), I inform you that I am back from my Kauai vacation and ready to start mailing the seeds. If you need them, please, send me your mailing address. If you don’t need them, please just ignore this message. Happy gardening!

    Hi, Tatyana. Thanks so much for generously offering to share your foxglove seeds with me. I wish I could take you up on it, but I’m afraid foxglove would never survive in my hot, dry Austin garden. I’ll have to admire these beauties from afar. —Pam

  19. T. Crain says:

    I just found your blog today and think it is awesome because it’s right out of Austin, YAY! So I’ll be a loyal reader as I try to:
    1. landscape my backyard
    2. have a successful garden
    It is my 2nd year gardening and though there has been much improvement, there is room for more, lots of room for more :>

    Hi, T. Crain, and thanks for reading. Your name is in the hat for the drawing. —Pam

  20. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, I’m not a newbie but I’m glad to hear that Nan’s advice applies to those of us in warmer climates, too. I’m going to see if I can get it from my library.

    I hope you can obtain a copy, Cindy. Nan’s writing and Rob’s photos are always worth the time. —Pam

  21. Hey Pam,
    I liked your review very much.

    I JUST got my copy today (a little tardy – my fault- after a problem with delivery to my P.O. Box) and am very excited about it. Like you, I wondered how relevant it would be for my Florida climate. It is so comprehensive and informative I’m having a hard time putting it down. Nan is so creative and talented… well, I better save my words for my review.

    I look forward to seeing what another Southern gardener has to say about this book, Meems. —Pam

  22. Lola says:

    Sounds like a very informative book. It should help someone a lot. Been dabbling in gardening for a few yrs.

    You’re in the running, Lola. Thanks for commenting! —Pam

  23. Helen Dunn says:

    Hi Pam,
    I am going to put my name in for the drawing. I put my first Society Garlic in the ground almost exactly a year ago. My friend Iris (of Society Garlic) has given me lots of advice, but I am definitely still at the point where a book would be helpful. Thanks for the chance!

    Thanks for entering, Neleh. Good luck! —Pam

  24. Oh do I need this book! I’d like to put my name in the drawing. I am a city dweller up here in Boston with a big plot in a community garden. I just got the plot in early June, so am definitely new to the gardening world! I’ve been reading your blog for a while though, because I do love gardening (thanks to Mom!) and I have been interested in maybe moving to Austin in a year or so. A little scared of the heat!

    Boston is such a great city, Kelly. I always love visiting and seeing the sights. The heat here is scary, but the payoff is in a very pleasant late fall, winter, and spring. Thanks for leaving a comment and entering the drawing. —Pam

  25. LU says:

    I am new to north Texas gardening. How similar is Wichita Falls gardening to Austins? I have red clay and do not seem to be able to dig but an inch or two into it. Do you think I should just amend amend amend on top and hope that when it gets real wet here I can finally dig into it? I have hostas, crinium lilies and other shade lovers I would like to get into the ground. Oh just realized that that would not be good to dig wet clay either. I’d just have hard clumps. Where I want to plant is beneath three decorative cherry trees and three live or pin oaks. I am afraid to till for fear of hurting the roots. How do you work with cement like soil?

    Hi, LU. I don’t know anything about gardening in Wichita Falls. But I do recommend two things. 1. Amend your concrete-like soil with lots of compost mixed with decomposed granite to loosen it up. 2. Try not to disturb the roots of your cherries and oaks by digging too close to the trunks, and be sure not to smother their surface roots with too much added soil. Better to spread mulch over the tree roots where grass won’t grow and move your garden farther out from the trunks. —Pam

  26. LU says:

    I am sorry, I just realized that this was about the book review. I am not a new gardener but I purchased that book for my daughter and thought it was great for her new venture into gardening in CT. I also would recommend it.

    It’s good to hear that a north Texas gardener liked it too. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  27. Jake says:

    It looks like a great book! I have been gardening for 2 years and 4 months,so I guess I would like to enter. I think it is awesome you are doing this giveaway.


    Thanks for commenting, Jake. You’re entered in the drawing. —Pam

  28. Ann says:

    Pam – I have a quick question. I’m thinking of planting Salvia guaranitica (I remember you grow this…) in my perennial bed and I’m reading that it gets 5 or 6 feet tall. Has that been your experience? Is it all a matter of pruning? Thanks!

    Hi, Ann. Four to five feet tall has been my experience with S. guaranitica. I usually prune mine by half in late summer, or whenever it needs refreshing.

  29. Hi Pam, thank you so much for the link back to my review on Examiner. I really love Nan’s book, and it’s been interesting to see how other writers/gardeners have reviewed it. Love your giveaway. Obviously, don’t enter me because I already have a well-thumbed copy.~~Dee

    You’re welcome, Dee! —Pam

  30. Clay Parkley says:

    Hi Pam, I somehow ran into your site about couple weeks ago, when I was trying to find some information about Papyrus plant. And I immediately fell in love with your garden. It is so beautiful and natural looking. When I get my first house I’ll definately buy you a plane ticket to come all the way to California and help me with my garden. I’ve been into gardening for the past two years, everythings in a pot.(I could still call it gardening, right?) I’m constantly searching over the internet to find more informations about caring plants. Your blog has inspired me and taught me so much and if I get picked for that book, that would be a much help too.

    Thank you,

  31. Nicole says:

    I am a new gardener who would liek to apply for the drawing. I started my first garden this spring and have learned alot from reading blogs.

  32. rian mcmorris says:


    I luckily found your site while browsing succulents. I am new to Austin and have recently planted my first potted succulent/cactus “garden”. I would very much be interested in reviewing the book you suggested. I have been interested in buying more plants. I found this event online and thought others might be interested.

    Zilker Botanical Garden

    Sat 09.05.09 Austin Cactus & Succulent Show and Sale Starting at 10:00am

    Phone: 512-477-8672
    Neighborhood: Barton Hills

    I look forward to more posts on your site. Hopefully, I will have pictures of my own to share with you soon.


  33. Arasi says:

    It sounds like a nice book! I have been gardening for last 1. 5 years since we bought our house in South Austin.I would love to enter for the draw!
    And btw, your water garden looks lovely.

  34. Leah Adams says:

    I have had a long interest in gardening and used to help my mother when I was a little girl. I have tried to garden off and on, but it’s only since I have had a house that I’ve really started to garden in earnest. my garden is about a year old now. I am growing everything from flowers to herbs to veggies and plan on starting small espalier fruit trees as a wall for my veggie garden. I’m nothing if not ambitious! I have enjoyed learning just how easy it really is to garden, and just how much more I need to know.