gardenAbout a year after I started working at the library, Courtney Dermott joined our staff, working alongside me in our Circulation Department. I enjoyed her company here for the next nine years or so until her retirement. More recently, Courtney was on our Library Board of Directors, last serving as President. Sadly, Courtney recently died, leaving many bereft. She will be missed. Courtney would be happy to know that several of her friends and club mates have remembered her with Memorial Gifts to the library. You may not be aware that we buy materials in honor or memory of people (and organizations). We will select and purchase items that friends or loved ones feel would be suitable to memorialize a loved one or honor someone’s birthday, anniversary, graduation, or other event. Included in those recent memorial purchases is the title I’m reviewing this week, Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to t he Best 500 Species for the Garden by Alan Branhagen, which the Garden Club purchased in her memory.

This is a terrific book, lots of beautiful photos of all the plants included as well as full descriptions and information on how to grow them, where to use them in the landscape and their ornamental attributes. All that comes after the first eighty pages or so which delve into the whys and wherefores of using native plants as well as inspirations for design and selecting the right plant for the right location and use.

You may well be tempted to skip over those first pages and jump right into the plants themselves, which are broken up into numerous divisions, including shade trees, evergreen trees, small trees and large shrubs, vines, prairie perennials, woodland perennials, groundcovers and more. Many, if not most, of the plants listed were at least somewhat familiar to me, but there were quite a few I had never encountered before that I can recall, although most of those are plants I would not normally encounter in life or reading as they are succulents (which I generally don’t care for) or plants that only grow in specialized environments (like bogs, which I have never had a need to find plants for).

I was amazed at how many plants we now grow in our gardens are, in fact, native, given that for many years gardeners preferred to garden with mostly European and Asian plants as they were considered more interesting and exciting. More recently, interest in native plants has grown because people are more aware of the effect on the ecosystem (growing natives provides food and shelter for all kinds of animal life, including butterflies and birds) and that plants that evolved in a given climate and soil, etc. are better fitted to thrive there. Himalayan poppies, for example, are beautiful and one of the few truly blue flowers, but they don’t like it in the Midwest. The native blue eyed grass, on the other hand, while not as showy does have some truly blue selections and is allegedly relatively easy to grow from seed although it does not transplant well. Pitcher’s sage (salvia azurea) is also quite blue and much easier to grow and widely popular with bees and other pollinators (as well as pretty adaptable and easy to grow).

So, if you are interested in familiarizing yourself with a wide variety of really good native choices for your garden, now’s the time to start planning for spring with this beautiful and informative book, among many gardening books to be found at the Joplin Public Library.