Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Plants with Style, a book review

I have this bad habit. When I start reading a book that makes me really happy I put it aside. I want savor that happiness, I'm afraid to devour it too quickly. However, when I noticed Kelly Norris will be speaking at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show next week, I knew I had to just suck it up and finish his book; Plants with Style. How could I look him in the eye and say “ya…it’s been on my desk for 3 months but I haven’t yet finished it?” That doesn’t sound like a compliment does it? And you know what, I love this book! I mean really, look at the cover and then look over there, in my right-hand sidebar. See anything that looks familiar?
Someone once told me that my gift to horticulture is my enthusiasm. What I lack in knowledge I make up for in enthusiasm. I think they meant that as a compliment. Really. But Kelly (Director of Horticulture for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden) is the whole package. Enthusiasm that makes me look indifferent. And knowledge? Well this guy is a walking encyclopedia of cool plants.
Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak'
If you want to get a feeling for what I'm talking about give a listen to Kelly's appearance on the podcast "Real Dirt" with Ken Druse (here), it will give you a great idea of what reading the book is like. It's not a series of lists or a "how to" book. Instead it's like a conversation about plants – unusual, stylish plants.
Comptonia peregrina (Sweet Fern)
Reading through the pages I found myself frequently reminded of a plant I'd seen previously and lusted after; for example the Comptonia peregrina above, and Lonicera reticulata 'Kintzley's Ghost' below (and let's not forget the amazing Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak' up top - all photos Kelly Norris). However, while there are a lot of pictures, not every plant mentioned in the book has a sexy accompanying photograph. There were times I found myself putting down the book and grabbing my iPhone. Turns out that might be exactly what Kelly intended, for the book to be a sort of launching-pad to discovery. In his interview with Mr. Druse they touch on the fact the book will inevitably have you "Googling" to learn more.
Lonicera reticulata 'Kintzley's Ghost'
Kelly also makes no apologies for the lack of a "where to find that plant" directory at the back of the book, noting that's a moving target. He does give nods to purchasing plants online, saying (in the Ken Druse interview) that mail-order nurseries might just be the future of horticulture (I paraphrase...and admit to being biased since plantlust.com is all about sharing the possibilities of cool plants and making sure they're available to everyone).
Actaea simplex 'Hillside Black Beauty'
The book is divided into five sections:
Environment: Planting at the Intersection of Place and Ecology
Structure: Living Framework
Emblems: Keeping Pace with the Seasons
Vignettes: Expressing Yourself in the Garden
Essential Kitsch: Horticultural Odds and Ends

As you might guess I had to turn immediately to "Essential Kitsch"...just to see what might tempt me.
Bukiniczia cabulica! Kelly says "This is one of those plants so bewilderingly fabulous, you'll wonder how you've gotten along without it for this long. With speckled and splattered aquamarine foliage held in tidy rosettes, this Pakistani monocarp tops my list of essential rock garden weeds, whether grown intentionally between rocks or allowed to wander into the gravel paths around your garden." Want!
Bukiniczia cabulica
Proving nothing is off limits I was thrilled to see this Plantago major 'Purple Perversion' (via plant breeder Joseph Tychonievich) included. Yes it's a weed...but "it's a damn purple weed."
Plantago major 'Purple Perversion'
Of course I should note that I received a complementary review copy of Plants with Style from Timber Press, and for that I am grateful (more money to spend on plants). Still I would have tracked it down either way. I've had the pleasure of hearing Kelly lecture and I knew his book would have the same infectious tone.

Are you going to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle? If so you should plan to attend one of Kelly's talks:

Garden 101
Garden Royalty - Cultivating the Rainbow with Bearded Iris
Wed, Feb 17 at 2:15 pm / Rainier Room

Plants with Style: Captivating Choices for a 21st Century Garden
Thu, Feb 18 at 1:45 pm / Hood Room

All photos by Kelly Norris, used by permission. Text © 2009-2016 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Looks like a delicious book! Thanks for the heads up about Kelly's talks! Off to buy the book!

    1. I bet you could score an autographed copy at the show...if you're into that kind of thing...

  2. Great review, and ooh that Buk-thing! BTW, loved the rabbit ears antenna yesterday on your IAV.

    1. Glad you saw the rabbit-ears...it does seem very AGO...

  3. Great review! I'll go on my birthday wish list.

    1. Yay! I think you'll love it. Although it might inspire some envy over things that won't grow in your climate.

    2. Bought a (tiny) Bukiniczia cabulica at Annie's Annuals today. Yeah :-).

  4. Great review...putting this on my wish list. I love the Lonicera reticulata 'Kintzley's Ghost'such a cool plant. Enjoy the flower show and talk.

    1. I first discovered that Lonicera in Tennessee...and then promptly forgot all about it!

  5. Wow, Loree. First: Bukiniczia cabulica? Look familiar? I'm hoping mine bloom and set plenty of fertile seed this summer. Can't be without it now. I'm so glad you reviewed this book because I saw a blog post by Panayoti Kelaidis talking about Kelly Norris and the Des Moines botanic garden being really great, and my first thought was "Seriously? In that frozen wasteland?" (I can say that because I grew up in Iowa.) Guess I'm eating my words, planning on getting a copy of this book and the next trek to the frozen midwest tundra to visit family (during a thaw, of course) and I guess I'll be heading to Des Moines!

    1. No no no! Not first...YOU were the first one to introduce me to the Bukiniczia cabulica (via Gardeny Goodness). Kelly just reinforced the need.

      I know right? Des Moines...garden destination. It just doesn't sound possible does it? I look forward to hearing about the BG after you visit. You really need to start a blog or something. Are you on Instagram?

    2. Ooops! I meant 'First', as in 'the first thing I want to say is....Not looking for credit, although I am the hipster gardener. Remember, I was growing that before Dan Hinkley (or name a famous gardener) discovered it! :)
      I was so glad to see someone comment that you have an Instagram page. Beautiful. I suppose I could get involved with some sort of online presence, but haven't yet. Not even Facebook. Mostly it's a matter of time. Honestly, I think all of the time, "How does Loree do it all?!"
      So glad that you do.

    3. But you do get credit! I may not have realized how cool it is if I hadn't seen it in context in your garden first.

      How do I do it? Well, we don't have kids and don't watch TV. That helps!

  6. The book's now on order and I've bookmarked that Lonicera for future reference.

  7. Thanks for the review. I'm intrigued and will have to get my hands on a copy. How many new plants went on your wish list, I wonder?

  8. Ohhh...you´ve convinced me again...I´ll have to buy this wonderful book :)

  9. You don't think that Plantago looks too much like one of your favorite ornamental kales or cabbages do you?


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Comment moderation is on (because you know: spam), I will approve and post your comment as soon as possible!