Native Plants for the Short Season Yard

Native Plants for the Short Season Yard: Best Picks for the Chinook and Canadian Prairie Zones, by Lyndon Penner, Brush Education Inc. 2016.

With Native Plants for the Short Season yard Lyndon Penner is establishing himself as the latest prairie garden writer. Unlike his previous books, which may be great primers for novice gardeners, this book may appeal to more seasoned gardeners who are looking for something more challenging to experiment with in their gardens.

In Section One, Lyndon explains why we may not find any native plants in our local greenhouses. Yes, demand may not be there, but more importantly the most coveted plants may be slow to establish and therefore won't be good choices for the average consumer looking for "instant gratification". For example, Lyndon mentions a native fritillaria which blooms only for one week in May, "Fritillaria pudica is one of the easier fritillaria to grow from seed needing only four to five years to get from seed to bloom." Because native plants are often difficult to propagate, they are not economically viable options for nurseries. In this section, Lyndon touches on the ethics of wild flower collection: digging and picking is a definite no-no unless the land is slated for development or the native prairie is going to be plowed under. Propagation, seed collection and growing from seed are discussed, as is collecting cuttings for rooting and layering. If this seems overwhelming, don't despair: at the end of Section Three, Lyndon provides a list of native seed (and in some cases, small plants) suppliers.

Section Two of the book deals with the plants themselves and includes an extensive listing of native plants, divided into sun and shade subsections with each subsection arranged alphabetically by botanical name (common name in brackets). Lyndon goes beyond the descriptive and talks about each plant's native habitat in addition to its use by animals and by First Nations. For each species, he outlines optimum growth requirements and often includes companion plants that appear with it in the wild. If cultivars and hybrids are available, he might recommend those to you because of wider and brighter colours, better growth habits and more adaptable to growing in your garden. As usual Lyndon's humour shines through the pages with little gems like "Just as the cow parsnip is neither a cow nor a parsnip, beargrass is neither a bear nor a grass."

Section Three deals with potential threats to native plants and their habitat and how we can help intervene when things go awry. He discusses plants that we should avoid in our gardens, but also acknowledges that some plants that may be noxious weeds in British Columbia may be perfectly fine in our gardens where conditions are not as hospitable and danger of spreading is minimal.

In Section Four, Lyndon interviews friends and acquaintances he has met along his exploration of native plants in the wild over the years. They include a photographer; a seed collector and native plant grower; and a native healer and keeper of traditions who grew up in Jasper National Park. These and others share their secrets and successes with native plants and provide different voices and encouragement.

Lastly, Lyndon devotes a section on lists, including his bucket list of plants he knows about but has never quite captured in bloom. He also includes lists of plants that are bee-friendly, butterfly-friendly, hummingbird-friendly, etc.

All in all, this book was a joy to read and a welcome addition to my favourite bookshelf for future reference.