This paperback has the most diverse information on rock garden plants of any book I own. It’s hard to find information on more than just the very commonest of such plants.
Rock and Water Garden Expert is by Dr. D.G. Hessayon. It has 128 pages. I would say that it is just as good for a beginner as for an expert. It is published in Great Britain, so some of the information is more suitable for European gardeners. Nevertheless, I’ve used it more than any other book for improving my rock garden. It is one in a series of books about gardening all with the word “Expert” in the title.
There are 11 chapters:
1. Looking at Rock Gardens- This is a one page overview of the history of rock gardens
2. Using Rock Garden Plants- This is really more of a look at the kinds of stones that are suitable for the garden. It also includes six basic arrangements for the stones, and then gives examples with pictures of 10 different kinds of layouts. I find this quite refreshing, since everyone in the US seems to think that a rock garden has to be set in tufa.
3. Rock Garden Plants A-Z - I use this section of the book more than anything else. One spread is pictured above. This lists 120 kinds of plants which are suitable for the rock garden. There are a few that I’ve never even seen where they could be ordered in the US, but some variety of most of them can be found. Each entry has a photo of the plant- either in bloom or of the foliage if that is its best feature. Additionally there is a drawing showing more detail of a single plant. A block of text gives the general characteristics of the plant. There is further information on some varieties, site and soil, and propagation.
4. Rock Garden Maintenance- This is helpful, but mostly general in nature. Again, if you are a beginner to rock gardening, this section would get you started on buying, replanting, weeding, watering, mulching, propagation, pest control, winter protection and feeding.
5. Looking at Water Gardens- This is a two page overview of the history of water gardens.
6. Making a Water Garden- There are many books available with a lot of detail about building water gardens. But this has the basics of using a flexible pond liner, a rigid pond liner, or concrete. It briefly covers bog gardens, mini water features, and planning for wildlife to enjoy the pond. I have been puttering with adding a small pond to my garden, and actually had water in it one summer. I followed the technique in this book, and it worked well as far as I went (I need to buy a more expensive liner that the dog’s toenails can’t penetrate!). So I can’t testify as to the quality of all the information in this section.
7. Stocking a Water Garden- Although I haven’t really stocked my own (as yet unfinished) pond, I do know quite a bit about water plants (I worked for several years as a wetland consultant), and this book gives good advice. It covers six kinds of pond plants: water lilies, deep-water aquatics, floaters, bog plants, oxygenators, and marginals (things that like to grow in damp soil). It gives examples for each of these groups, with photos. In all, they cover 91 plants for water gardens. They also talk about various kinds of fish, not just koi, and also some other kinds of pond wildlife that will be naturally attracted to your water feature. I’ve never done anything with stocking fish in a pond, so I have no idea how good this advice is.
8. Water Garden Features- This chapter includes basic information on waterfalls, fountains, pumps, filters and lighting.
9. Water Garden Maintenance- This is a brief overview of the concept of balance... what do you expect from your pond plantings versus the amount of work required. Then it takes you through each season with some basic things that should be done in each.
10. Water Garden Troubles- This is a basic guide to dealing with leaks, algae, weeds, dirt, acid-base balance, plant and animal pests, and fish diseases.
11. Plant and Fish Index- Well, don’t ask my why they call the index a chapter, but they do!
All in all, this is one great little book packed full of lots of basic information. Some books that purport to be able to get you started in this hobby have lots of pictures, but are short on useful text. I think that this book can actually get you down the road towards success and then you could look for more detailed information on whatever aspects particularly interest you.
The faults I find with this book are:
This is not a book that will give you great detail on the many varieties of sedums or sempervivums which are available. I have yet to find any one book that really takes on that project.
Similarly, there is minimal detail about the many varieties of some of the other species. But again, it is a great place to start.
There is no legend for growing zones. Theoretically rock garden plants would be alpine, and thus would be hardy, but there are several of these species that I have tried more than once and don’t find them able to live over multiple winters in Michigan..