From my own experience in writing and producing books I know that the cover is always a tough decision. Not many authors would ever have chosen the cover that eventually appears on the book they’ve written. Publishers have specific ideas of what will sell, and it rarely matches the vision of the author. Claire’s book is different. A glorious image of Sanguisorba ‘Pink Tanna’, photographed by Claire in gentle sunshine immediately lures you into the book to read more. Such is the advantage of being author, photographer and publisher. Claire’s eye has clearly influenced every detail.
Claire grew perennials at David Austin Roses, her father’s nursery, for twenty years before she started Claire Austin Hardy Plants, just over the border into Wales. Claire grows more than 1000 varieties of perennial and her knowledge is second to none. As a fellow exhibitor at RHS Chelsea Flower Show she has put me right on labelling on more than one occasion, for which I am eternally grateful.
So why is this book so good? It gives practical advice on growing perennials and planting combinations. It has brilliant, concise lists recommending perennials for specific situations. Best of all it is a catalogue of reliable hardy varieties with a fantastic wealth of superb photographs. For me that means I can use it for identification of plants. Also, more importantly for selection of the right varieties for a planting scheme. When it comes to books about plants, if I’ve read it, I want to see it. In this book I can.
Like any gardener Claire has her favourites. I associate her with bearded irises and peonies. However her selection of plants in the book is very balanced and contains an excellent representation of all popular genera. Lovers of bearded irises will not be disappointed. However other plants which have a mass of commercial varieties, such as hemerocallis are also really well represented.
I like the fact that the selection is a great mix of old favourites and new introductions. I think that’s hard to do, as there are so many new varieties coming to market all the time. However some quickly establish themselves as “must have plants”. Look at the success of Geranium ‘Rozanne’. Few gardens today are without it, and few gardeners aren’t aware of it. The lovely West Country Lupin ‘Persian Slipper’ looks like it will be a favourite for the future. Those stout dusky blue spikes have the benefit of a heavy, spicy fragrance.
Old favourites include Achillea ‘Gold Plate’; yes its yellow, a colour shunned by so many in recent years. However if you are on chalky soil few perennials give such a lasting display as those flattened golden heads float across the border. Unlike many other achilleas they stand as beautiful remains into winter; you can dry them too.
Achilleas are very wildlife friendly, both for bees and butterflies in summer and birds take the seeds in winter. This attribute is high on the agenda of many gardeners today, hence the popularity of subjects such as the prairie native, agastache. I seem to come across the cultivar ‘Blue Fortune everywhere. As the boundaries between seasonal bedding and herbaceous perennials become more blurred as increasing volumes of seed-raised perennials come onto the market it is good to be reminded of the broader palette of these wonderful garden plants.
As a “shrubby” I’m usually more into books on woody plants, although I do have a garden full of perennials. This book has inspired me to put more effort into their selection and given me some great advice on how to get the best out of them. I should point out that these pictures are mine and not Claire’s – hers are thoroughly wonderful: buy the book and you will see what I mean.
Claire Austin’s Book of Perennials
Publisher: White Hopton Publications
Design, text and photography: Claire Austin
Available from: https://www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk/claire-austins-book-of-perennials
All change for Claire Austin
Claire Austin has relocated her nursery business, garden, home and National Plant Collections from Edgebolton in Shropshire to Sarn in beautiful Mid Wales. In this stunning rural location, Claire is excited about the rich soil, the decent rainfall and the potential for creating a new peony and iris garden, which will also include all her favourite perennials.
She opens the National Collection of Bearded Irises to the gardening public on Saturday 2 June from 10am to 4pm. This will be a rare opportunity to glimpse the National Collection in its new home in the Welsh Borders, as the new nursery site will not generally be open to visitors.
In April 2012, Claire launched a new catalogue, bringing together her peony and iris catalogues into one glossy brochure. It includes descriptions and illustrations of over 300 irises and 100 peonies. A further 200 irises and 150 peonies, stocked in more limited numbers, are listed on the Claire Austin Hardy Plants nursery website.
Of the new varieties we particularly love Peony Cutie’ ideal for smaller gardens. Its balls of cream petals open into domes of white that are surrounded by larger white guard petals. The flowers are carried on good strong stems, flower in early June and grow to 70cm.
Iris Here Comes The Night’ produces large, shiny, very black flowers with ruffled and fluted petals. Iris Parisian Dawn’ produces wonderful flouncy, fluted peach flowers. The falls are broadly washed along the edges with a dove-lilac tinge adding to its glamour. Iris Venita Faye’ has pretty, ruffled flowers with pale pink standards with soft lilac falls which pale in the centre. The white beards are touched with coral at the back. This variety is heavily scented and flowers during June (early to late season).
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