Book of the Month for Jan 2024

The Gardener’s Guide to Prairie Plants
Steve Whitesell

The Gardener’s Guide to Prairie Plants by Hilary Cox and Neil Diboll.

Chicago and London: University of Ch9cago Press, 2023. 636 pp. $35.00 list, $29.39 Amazon.


            The authors have extensive experience as nurserymen, designers and installers of prairie restorations and large herbaceous plantings in several states, primarily Illinois and Wisconsin. Topics include North American tallgrass prairie, shortgrass prairie and eastern meadows, with descriptions of an admittedly small portion of the hundreds of grasses, sedges, herbaceous plants, as well as a select number of woody species found in those environments. As the authors confess, “it is impossible to include them all. We have concentrated on commonly used plants, plus a few lesser-known ones.” Approximately 150 species are described in great detail by family, including photos of emerging plants, seedlings, mature plants in foliage, flower and seed, deer palatability, aggressiveness and life expectancy, a very useful feature not often found in floristic guides.

            Introductory chapters describe prairie history, ecology, restoration practices and management techniques, all based on the authors’ years of experience developing and stewarding projects over a number of decades. Tables and appendices include seed composition suggestions for various site conditions and design intents, provision of butterfly habitat and resistance to deer predation. Guidelines are provided for optimal propagation techniques for various species, adaptability to various soils and moisture/drought tolerances. The book is an enjoyable read and an informative and authoritative handbook for implementing large and small-scale meadow plantings.

            As a guide to minimizing the ubiquitous American lawnscape and converting a small part to a more ecologically effective, diverse, attractive and manageable planting in all seasons the authors provide a wealth of empirical and practical advice to undertaking what may seem an impossibly daunting project. This authoritative volume will walk you through the process and show you the possibilities.


Steve Whitesell is a retired landscape architect living in rural Schoharie County in upstate New York.