Nancy Ondra’s Foliage is one book that we both feel is a “must have” that should find its way onto every gardener’s book shelf.
Once again, Nancy has partnered with horticultural photographer Rob Cardillo. The result of this all-star collaboration is a premier foliage design bible and a true feast for the eyes. His vibrant photographs of each plant add a stunning visual accompaniment to the text.
We purchased this book earlier this spring when we began designing and planting a shade foliage bed. We sought guidance and design ideas to enhance the handful of heucheras, hostas and ferns we had already set into the bed. We got that and more. We now have a plethora of ideas for our foliage bed but more importantly, we have come to view our other beds in a new and broader way.
What sets Foliage apart from other gardening books we’ve read is that this book is not a didactic lecture about foliage or an alphabetized compendium of plant descriptions. It’s an intimate conversation with someone whose encyclopedic knowledge and love of foliage and gardening shines through in every paragraph.
Her intimate knowledge of every plant, from having grown and watched them over time, suffuses the writing. She uses adjectives in a way that brings her vivid descriptions to life as easily and as brilliantly as the photographs do.
As she does in her other equally excellent books, she includes growing tips that she has gleaned from decades of experience and she includes alternatives for creating a similar look with different plants for different hardiness zones and light and shade requirements.
For a novice, the tables provide a user friendly guide for making choices based on whether you are looking for a sun or shade plant with foliage in any color and leaf texture.
Our favorite is a table in her “What’s in a Name” series of tables in which she lists and explains words included in a plant’s name that indicate that the foliage may be variegated or unique in some other way.
By looking at foliage in the context of a garden bed, rather than by focusing exclusively on individual plants, she encourages the reader and gardener to expand their perspective to consider and appreciate the plant as it visually relates to everything around it.
This book illustrates how the contribution of foliage to the richness of a garden bed fulfills the maxim that "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." In each chapter and in each color grouping, she combines plants with different growth habits, height, leaf types, and colors to create a dramatic visual impact.
We now have an enhanced appreciation for foliage as a source of visual interest and complexity throughout the growing season and into the fall and winter. In so doing, despite the changing seasons in New England, our garden can “bloom” year round.
Foliage is available in both hardcover and paperback at Amazon.com.