Plantsman and breeder Kelly Norris is a man with a mission, and his new book, Plants with Style: A Plantsman's Choices for a Vibrant, 21st-Century Garden (Timber Press, 2016), is what he calls "a manifesto for modern gardening." As he notes in the introduction, "Some plants solve the challenges inherent in making beautiful gardens. Others define the spirit of the garden through an untethered passion for the beauty of the planet. Gardens should be lived in and edited often."
The plants that Norris celebrates are divided into chapters with specific themes: plants that define the local environment; those that provide structure for the garden's "bones," plants for all four seasons; plants for color and contrast; and horticultural "odds and ends."
Garden designers will be familiar with many of these plants, but you'll come across many species that you'll simply have to try.
How about Eastern leatherwood (Dirca palustris), an early flowering shrub with dangling yellow blooms that look like fireflies? Many of us have planted Thalictrum robhebrunianum 'Lavender Mist', but we might consider Thalictrum dasycarpum, an American native that Norris says is found on two-thirds of the continent! "Sad to say," he says, "it's missing from too many gardens.
You'll find almost everything in this book -- hellebores and daffodils, peonies and lilies, goldenrods, yuccas, grasses, and much, much more. I must admit I love the Cercis canadensis 'The Rising Sun' that graces the garden of a good friend. And as Norris says, "When I finally had a chance to witness the cultivar in production .... I thought I'd discovered the Holy Grail.
If you're into standout plants that make a statement, this is definitely the book for you.