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Plant Reference Guides

Most of the gardeners I meet are as unique as the plants they choose to grow.
Over the last few years I have been noticing a few common characteristics, no
matter what the level of gardening. We all seem to flock to a great garden lecture
even if it’s held during the busy spring season. We all enjoy good food and garden
tours, and we purchase every book or magazine about gardening that comes our way.

In my home both my husband Tony and I garden for pleasure and as a profession,
so we have ended up with two copies of some of the reference books we use constantly.
Most of the references we use are regional in text and written by horticulturists
from all across the United States. That makes it even more exciting to find
a great reference written specifically for Kentucky.  

Quick reference guide

The Kentucky Gardener’s Guide, written by Denny McKeown,
is a plant reference guide, and while I first considered it a great beginning
gardener’s guide, after reading it again I decided that I was too accustomed
to using the larger regional guides. As a gardener it has proven to be a wonderful
quick reference for identifying plant characteristics before buying and planting
them in the garden.

If you read no other part I recommend you read the introduction
because it’s educational and eye-opening. If you don’t take the time to read
the introduction you will miss experiencing the true passion and love for gardening
that McKeown lives and writes about. His honest expression of his opinion on
such matters as soil amendment, how much mulch is too much, and how we sometimes
kill our plants with kindness is certainly refreshing. After I read it I openly
voiced, “This is great,” and wanted to high-five my kids. My daughter looked
at me and said, “Mom, you are so weird.”

This book details over 175 plants, including annuals, bulbs,
groundcovers, ornamental grasses, perennials, roses, shrubs, and trees. I was
pleased to find some of the more unusual tropical plants we commonly use as
annuals recommended in the annual section. A big plus for this book is that
the plants are arranged in alphabetical order by common name, which makes looking
up plants a breeze, especially if you have ever tried to use one of the references
that goes by botanical name.  

Companion journal

As a companion to the Gardener’s Guide, McKeown also has
a gardener’s journal, My Kentucky Garden. I am a big fan of garden journals
and I recommend everyone keep them. I am constantly making notes on combinations
that worked and those that didn’t. For example, I can simply refer to my notes
as a reminder of what annual vinca looked like with pennisetum rubrum. This
journal is organized by month but is not dated so you can start using it anytime.
For many of us we just note a thought or two each time we write so you can individually
date your entries and use the same journal for two years or more. If you prefer
to write it all down I would suggest a simple blank journal so you can write
away without running out of space.

The journal asks you these questions each month: what’s blooming,
what’s the weather like, and what have you recently planted or transplanted?
All are excellent areas to observe and record. I often refer to these specific
areas when something begins to decline or dies in my garden. This journal is
a bit on the feminine side, so I am looking forward to a more masculine version
to come out for all the men I know who love to garden. 

Other reference books

As a high-energy gardener I am constantly poring through
all the latest magazines and design books, anxious to find that new plant, see
what other gardeners are up to across the United States, and hoping to spur
a new creative design detail or combination. In the end I always come back to
the great plant reference books like Kentucky Gardener’s Guide, Trees, Shrubs,
Groundcovers and Vines of Kentucky, Wild-flowers of Kentucky, and Weeds of Kentucky.
As every gardener knows, proper plant selection, excellent planting, and the
best care and maintenance are the most important components of any truly great
design.

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