CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Stephanie Cohen is known as the "Perennial Diva" in gardening circles. She likes to refer to herself as "The Vertically Challenged Gardener." (She's a short little thing -- probably under 5 feet -- and she jokes that she likes to have gnomes in her garden so she can look down on her employees!)
The plant expert was recently in Charleston for the West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association's annual conference. She discussed her favorite topic, "The Non-Stop Garden," also the subject of her newest book.
Cohen's first book, "The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer," was Storey Press' best seller in 2005 and was chosen as The Garden Writers of America Best Overall Book the same year. She's received numerous awards and honors, and she's a delightful speaker. The only problem was that she was armed with 69 slides for a 45-minute talk. She definitely left the listeners wishing for more time!
Cohen has taught herbaceous plants and perennial design at Temple University for more than 20 years, and she was the founder and director of the Landscape Arboretum at Temple University, Ambler, Pa. She is a contributing editor for Fine Gardening, The HGTV Newsletter, is on the advisory board for Green Profit magazine and is a regional writer for the Blooms of Bressingham Plant Program.
Cohen said the early gardens in America were based on the English garden model. English gardeners had the luxury of a perennial garden, a cutting bed, vegetable and herb gardens, sweeping lawns, and "9 million trees." But Cohen she said we can't do this in gardens our size. Her initial foray into gardening was a perennials-only bed, but she said that was, one, snobby and, two, stupid. It had no bones, no structure in the fall and winter.
"Nature works in layers, with big trees all the way down to the perennials," Cohen explained. She sighed when she spoke of the "mow, blow and go" landscapes that are popular in America today. "We must educate people to expand their palette -- make a small change year by year. We need to communicate that it's fun!"
She recommends choosing long bloomers or re-bloomers, so that you get the most bang for your buck. But she's been known to choose the wrong plant every now and again.
"I have erasers on all my pencils," she said. "I make mistakes." She admitted that "new isn't always better, it's just new."
The quest for deer-resistant plants is evident across the country. Cohen said hellebores and Brunnera are great choices.
"Deer don't like hairy leaves," she added. Alliums and wild hyacinths are good, too.