"Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens" is filled to the brim with important information on native plants and is a must for any serious gardener in the southeastern region of the country.
The southeast, as defined for this book, includes the eight states from Virginia to Louisiana, but excludes the more tropical south Florida. It's beautifully illustrated with photographs that capture the essence of the plants and what they look like growing in their own environment with both close-up and wider views. While hundreds of native plants are described, this book is so much more than just a plant list. Gil is a great gardening coach and explains how we gardeners can be more successful with our natives.
While this is a beautiful book that would look great on your bookshelf, I predict that once you get your hands on it, that you'll mark it up and really use it to increase your success growing native plants. It has enough information and detail for professional landscapers and native ecosystem restorers, but it's an easy-enough read for the more casual gardener as well.
In the introductory chapters, Gil explains the terms used in the book such as weedy vs. invasive, describes the different types of native plant gardeners, and provides an interesting history of gardening with native and non-native plants. He also covers various methods of and reasons for recreating and restoring natural plant communities for both small home or community-based landscapes and large-scale projects.
In the second section titled, "Favorite Groups of Native Plants," Gil groups and describes native plants with chapters such as, "Native Azaleas, Mountain Laurel, Blueberries, and other Heaths," "Magnolias and Their Relatives," "Maples, Buckeyes, Sumacs, and Wafer Ash," Hollies," and "Perennial Asters." Also in this section, Gil has included "Old Timey Natives," and the hard-to-grow "Challenge Plants." (And speaking of challenge plants, we've highlighted a really challenging plant right here on the FNPS blog: Ghost Orchid Controversy.) In "Vines, Groundcovers, and Spring Ephemerals," he's classified the vines to be "less aggressive" such as coral honeysuckle, Carolina jessamine and passion vines or the "aggressive" vines such as trumpet creeper, cross vine and Virginia creeper. Gil also provides lists of groundcovers and mixed perennials, divided into shade-loving and sun-loving groups. This is just the information a gardener needs to make good decisions in choosing plants: not every native is a good choice for your garden.
Sprinkled throughout the text, there are offsets with interesting science or historical references. Examples include "The Morphology of Trilliums," "Cedar-Apple Rusts" (with a photo of what it looks like and the plants that it attacks)," "Bergamot Orange" (as opposed to our native bergamots, the monarda). These educational asides help us to be better-informed gardeners.
In the third section, Gil provides us with a catalog of one hundred of "the best, most readily available, and most easily grown native plants" for the region. For each plant he provides: at least one photo; the native range and habitat; the planting zones (cold and heat); form and size; characteristics for identification; culture or where to plant it; typical use; best features; recommended companion plants, and similar and related species. This list consists of mostly woody plants and some perennials. I think it's particularly useful that he includes other plants that grow well with the highlighted plant.
The appendices include information on the regional native plant societies; sources for native plants, listed by state; a list of common names & scientific names used; a bibliography; and a complete index.
Highly recommended! Wouldn't it be great if all the southeastern municipalities and developers started using this book as a guideline for their new plantings?
Note to Floridians: if you already own Gil's "Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants" as I do, "Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens" provides a lot of additional background material for better native plant gardening and is definitely not just a repeat.