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RISMEDIA, May 11, 2011—(MCT)—Before you purchase a lush, blooming plant to pop into a cute container for perching on your back porch, balcony or deck, dig into Ray Rogers’ latest book, “The Encyclopedia of Container Plants: More than 500 Outstanding Choices for Gardeners” (Timber Press, $35).

The engaging Rogers romps through plant-by-plant descriptions, from the Abutilon (aka Chinese lantern bush) on through Zinnias, with Rob Cardillo’s lovely photographs sharing space in the 300-plus-page volume.

Rogers doesn’t skimp on dispensing know-how, providing the usual stats (light, moisture, etc.) for each plant plus a few container gardening basics (he calls it “a speed course”). But it’s his take on each, seeded with his own experiences, that should delight and educate both novice and veteran container gardeners.

On Oxalis (aka shamrock or sorrel), for example, Rogers writes: “I’m fully aware of the monsters that lurk in this motley crew that is the genus Oxalis, having ripped out countless stems and leaves of them (note I didn’t mention roots) over the years.”

His take on Leucanthemum (aka butter daisy or miniature Shasta daisy): “If you haven’t grown butter daisy, start doing so asap.”

Add the “Cultural Tip” that he tacks on to each plant write-up, and this encyclopedia is just about as good as a conversation with Rogers himself.

This is the third book by Rogers, a lifelong gardener (“I cannot remember not gardening,” he says) educated in ornamental horticulture.

Rogers doesn’t just love plants, though. He understands them—their temperaments, foibles, joys—and, most important, what makes them happy. Call him a plant whisperer if you like; you wouldn’t be far off base.

“You can design a container based on what the plant looks like, but if you don’t know what the plant’s needs are then you’re doomed to failure,” Rogers says. “The important thing about this book is that it’s about the plants themselves. It’s not about putting them together in containers.”

Rogers hopes that instead of treating plants as “something to throw into a container,” gardeners “start getting impressions of their different attributes, and before you know it, you’re starting to become very familiar.

“I don’t expect people to become crazy for plants like I am, but at least get a sense for them. When I talk about sense, I mean not just the way they look, but the way they smell, they feel and they sound, how they look together. And before you know it, they can become part of your lives, part of your memories.”

And when good plants go bad? “Calm down. If something seems to be going wrong, you have to sit in front of it and look at it,” he says. “So the leaves don’t look as green as they were. Or it’s not blooming as much? Or why if I water it, does it wilt every day? That kind of thing. You have to try and get a sense for what the problem is. But first, figure out the symptoms, then figure out what’s causing that symptom.

“You’re trying to understand what it is that the plants want and then what they can give back to you. If you don’t know what the plant wants and can’t provide it, then it will die,” he says. “Unless you’re lucky.”

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