The Perennial Care Manual



 One day, the gardener realized that what she is really doing out there is actually teaching herself to garden by performing a series of experiments.  This is a pivotal moment.  ~Margaret Roach


I buy garden books when I see them recommended by others, when I find them recommended for me by Amazon and when I just happen upon them.  Then generally get relegated to a pile with other books, or they are placed in one of my many bookcases.

These monthly reviews help shine the light on the books I need to read, but never used to find the time….or should I say didn’t make the time to read.  And this month’s book is one of those I found while perusing the stacks.  I bought the book a few years ago to help me pinpoint how to care for many of the perennials I was planting.



The Perennial Care Manual: A Plant-by-Plant Guide: What to Do & When to Do It


 perennial care book


Author:  Nancy J. Ondra (Rob Cardillo

Paperback:  384 pages

Publisher:   Storey Publishing, LLC (July 15, 2009)

Amazon Price:  $20.55 (Paperback)






In A Few Words

Well known blogger, author and gardener, Fran Sorin, wrote the foreword for this book.  In it she talks about the author, Nancy Ondra.  She describes her as one who….

….is a true lover of plants.  Nothing thrills her more than experimenting with new specimens and plant combinations, and observing how they grow and thrive in her own garden.


As she described the author I knew I had found a kindred spirit in Nancy.  I am forever trying new things and enjoying the learning even from the failures.

This book is another one that is chock full of so many resources. The first half talks about the basics of perennial care such as planting, moving, watering, fertilizing, mulching, propagating and seasonal care.  How to groom, support and troubleshoot are also part of this first half of the book.

The second half covers the care of 125 of the most popular perennials from growing tips to seasonal care and troubleshooting.  There are descriptions with planting zones and then little tidbits about each plant.




What I Liked

DSCN9263I loved the photographs in this book as they are beautiful and instructional.  Of course I would expect nothing less from the award-winning photographer Rob Cardillo.  I can only imagine the days and hours upon hours of work to find the right photographs to illustrate the many subjects.

Resist the urge to flip past Part One and go right to the specifics of the flowers in Part Two.  Part One is a great refresher for more seasoned gardeners, and a must for beginners.  I am finding as I am redesigning my beds there are many things I had forgotten to include and this first section goes into many of them.  Things such as access paths and easy care planning topics like spacing (oh boy did I learn this the hard way).

Also in the first section there is a lot of information on mulches which I enjoyed reading.  I am considering using some landscape fabric, and from reading about the pros and cons, I am convinced I am making the right decision for one specific section of my garden.  Another great section is how and when is the best time to cut back and clean up.  She also includes a seasonal calendar in these sections to give you her best seasonal pointers.

Also not to be missed are the sections on propagation and grooming.  I want to save money by propagating my own plants more.  And although I look forward to growing moreDSCN9100 plants through seeds, divisions and cuttings, I think I may run out of room in my basement.  I have never had enough time to get out there and groom my plants so this section was great to read as I can begin to make a list of what needs to be groomed especially to extend the bloom and make the garden look better.  And of course I need to divide a number of plants so Nancy’s pointers helped me know it is OK to cut right through some clumps and loosen others.

I think my favorite section though is on the troubleshooting as it puts everything you can imagine in one place.  Weeds, critter problems, diseases and pests are discussed as well as protecting the good insects.  I like that she gives you many options so you don’t have to reach for chemicals.




Not So Much

DSCN9373While Nancy’s book deals with the most common perennials, I would love to see a similar book that goes into specifics about native plants in different areas of the country and how to care for them.  I know I have reviewed several native plant books, but none go into the how tos of growing and care of the top native plants for any garden the way this book does for perennials….hint, hint for any authors out there!   And if there is such a book please let me know.




Final Thoughts

This book is a must have for anyone beginning perennial beds.  You will learn more from this how to book than many books put together.  And I love books that give you so much info in one place.  I often have to look up plants if I want to divide or learn how to plant or care for them.  Now I can just flip open this book, and I will have many questions answered quickly.DSCN9391

I think any seasoned gardener can learn from this book as well.  One of the side benefits of Nancy’s book is you will learn about new plants, cultivars and combinations you might not have considered.  Maybe I will even be able to grow some plants I have not had much luck with like delphiniums.  At least she is honest and says they are not easy to grow, but if I follow her tips I might get a few more to grace my beds. 



Do you have a favorite perennial garden book?  What plants do you have problems growing, but still want to try in your garden?



Visit my new blog: 

new blog logo

I want to thank all the wonderful people who have been visiting my new blog, Living From Happiness.  It is a blog to celebrate life, lessons, change, challenges and creativity.

I post there every Thursday, and sometimes on Sunday with a creative post.  In August I am participating in a photo challenge and posting some of my pics on Sundays.

I do hope you will join me there.  



Next up on the blog:  Monday brings another In A Vase On Monday post, and Wednesday I will have an update on the veg garden, I hope.


All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.




52 Replies to “The Perennial Care Manual”

  1. I love this book too, it’s been very useful. I just went to check it out off my shelf (and to make sure it was indeed the one I had), and I found two more gardening books that I forgot I had but that I want to look over again. I agree with everything you said, including the note about needing a similar book for natives. I don’t know of one like that either, so it’s definitely a niche that someone could fill.

  2. I love having more information about perennials…this climate up here is so different then the one that I left behind. Everything grows differently, and it’s all one giant experiment around here.


    1. I know what you mean Jen. Every year the climate seems to throw me a curveball. I like experiments but it helps to have a bit more info so we have some success. 🙂

  3. Wonderful review Donna. I’ve enjoyed Nancy’s blog for several years now so I can imagine the book is very thorough. Good luck with those delphiniums–I had a disastrous attempt to grow them and decided I’ll have to enjoy them elsewhere.

    1. Thanks Susie…I have a couple delphs growing but it seems I continue to place plants where I want and not where they ought to be. Her book is helping me discover this more and more.

  4. You’ve got me looking through my book shelves now Donna! I need some tips on dividing plants later in the year, and I’m sure I’ve got some long-forgotten treasures for reference! Nice review, and lovely photos.

  5. Good review. I don’t have this book, but I do have some of her others. She is, as you say, a real lover of plants.

        1. I have this in the book case waiting for me to read it. I will pull it out and start to peruse it…thanks for the recommendation and nudge Jason!

  6. I love your book reviews Donna. This looks like one I could really use. I get enough stuff right, but with plenty of disasters along for the ride.-:)) I’m also terrible at pruning, so if this author has good info on that account, I’ll definitely look for the book. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Susie. The author actually tells you how to care for each of the 125 perennials which can include pruning, but she doesn’t get into great detail. I might have another book that has better info and pictures specific to pruning so I’ll look and let you know.

  7. Good review. Her blog shows how much she loves garden plants and how well she cares for them. Plus she gives seeds away too.

    1. Judith I also have that book and you are the second person to recommend it. It is now out of the bookcase and I shall be perusing it!

  8. Ha, I do something very similarly – just about every other week I go to the library, get a pile of gardening books, and don’t read most of them! I just run out of time! This sounds like a great book. I often don’t really know when to prune or fertilize certain plants, so I usually just don’t, probably at the detriment of the plant. I also would love to know more about propagating certain plants. Sounds like a great resource!

    1. I do the same Indie…not pruning or fertilizing. I like this book as it gives you easy to read ways to take care of each flower. Seems like fun to start learning about each flower a bit more as I encounter them in my garden.

  9. Nan Ondra’s book is one of my favorites. My only complaint is that I don’t always read it as carefully, or remember as fully as I should. Your point is well taken about wildflower cultivation information. I checked the Timber Press website and they have a print on demand book – Gardening with Native WildFlwoers which might be helpful and the New England Wildflower Society has the encyclopedic Go Botany project that might also be helpful.

    1. Pat it is great to hear you also enjoy the book. And I will check out the other sources you cited. Thanks so much!

  10. Hi there! Thanks for checking out my blog and commenting! I’m happy to discover your blog and I enjoyed your review. I tend to search around the internet when I have questions about plants. I use the Rodale Guide to Organic Gardening book as a reference and that works well, but a perennial guide like this would be a nice addition to my library! Michele at The Salem Garden

    1. Michele I am happy to have you visit and glad you liked the review. I also enjoyed your blog and will be following!

  11. Thank you for the helpful review Donna. I have been designing some native gardens lately and have had to do massive research on the different perennials, their hardiness, care, etc. I too would like to see a detailed book on native wild flowers. Perennial Combinations (Burrell) does have a section on prairie gardens with some nice illustrations along with lots of combinations of blooms which I have in my collection. I will look into this one.

  12. Hi, Donna!
    I think this book is very useful especially the section of propagation, that I love to do: every June I cut the rose stems. I also have new cuttings of decorative shrubs.
    I”ll try to find this book here.
    Thank you for stopping on my blog!

    1. Nadezda, the section on propagation, in the book, is general but I thought it had great beginners information. I need to propagate more of my flowers and shrubs. And you have given me the push I need. I promise to stop by more often. I adore your flowers.

  13. Thank you so much for the thorough and thoughtful review, Donna. Rob’s photography really is stunning, isn’t it? It’s an honor to work with someone who is so talented. And I completely agree: a similar book focusing on natives would be a great thing. (I would have liked to include many more perennial species in this one, but I was lucky to get as many pages as I did!) In fact, I’d like to see more books on garden maintenance in general, because every gardener has different experiences and has something to share based on their own observations. I wish you luck with your delphiniums, but to be honest, I’ve pretty much given up on them lasting more than one season. Maybe you’d have luck with Delphinium exaltatum? I enjoyed having it for a few years, until it got crowded out by some over-enthusiastic coneflowers.

    1. Thank you Nan for your wonderful book and I am pleased you liked the review. I am also pleased to have found your blog. I will give your recommendation on delphs serious consideration. I may have to give up on them eventually too but I thought I would try a little longer. 🙂

  14. Donna, what a great review. Sounds like an great gift for the gardener.. I wish my flowers looked as gorgeous as yours! Thanks for sharing, have a happy weekend..
    BTW, thank for the visit and comment!

    1. You are welcome Eileen and my visit was well overdue. My flowers look great up close but oh the beds are overrun with volunteers and weeds. You have a great weekend yourself!

    1. Thank you Caroline and it was nice to have you visit. I hope to visit you a bit more often. Glad you enjoyed the garden.

  15. Sounds like a great book! Thanks for passing this one on…I would love to dive into a book about natives as well so when you find one let me know!!! Wishing you a lovely weekend and what a fantastic blog you have here! Nicole

  16. I have a love/hate relationship with most perennials. I love them, but they hate my summer climate. However, there are flowers that do well here, if one knows how to care for them. I am sure I would benefit from this book! But where would I put it? My garden books have overflowed the bookshelves and are now stacking up on tables. I love and read them all. If it has been a while, I will open the book like one who has discovered a long-lost friend. Sigh. There is always room for another good garden book!

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