Book Review: The Northeast Native Plant Primer: 235 Plants for an Earth-Friendly Garden

The Northeast Native Plant Primer: 235 Plants for an Earth-Friendly Garden

By Uli Lorimer

  • Publisher: ‎Timber Press, 2022
  • Paperback‏:‎ 252 pages
  • ISBN-10: ‏ 1643260464
  • Dimensions: 8” X 9”
  • Price: $31.94 (; $22.46 (

A beautiful but brief synopsis of native trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, ferns, grasses, sedges and rushes suitable for gardens in the northeastern US and southeastern Canada (from the Maritimes through southern Quebec and into southern Ontario).

I’ll start by saying that the quality of the book and the images is fabulous – just what I’d expect from Timber Press. I love just looking at the pictures. Unfortunately, at least from a serious native plant gardener perspective, that’s about where it ends. Like its predecessor – The Midwest Native Plant Primer: 225 Plants for an Earth Friendly Garden by Alan Branhagen – it falls short in so many ways from becoming a truly useful book. The one MAJOR improvement over the Midwest Primer is that in this book, at least, the plants are listed in alphabetic order by scientific name. For one thing, this keeps all the similar plants (e.g. milkweeds, oak trees, etc.) together in the book. And for another, it overcomes the issue of the huge variability in common names found throughout the region.

The book starts, as this genre usually does, with an introduction covering a variety of related topics. These include such things as: the definition of a native plant, expecting and living with change as your garden evolves, straight species vs cultivars (Lorimer believes, as I do, that the straight species is always the better option), preparing the new garden bed, soils, moisture and light, etc. The intro also includes a fairly lengthy section listing the plants in the book that are hosts for various moths and butterflies and which moths and butterflies those are. Finally, the book also includes some simple icons with each plant indicating if the species is valuable for birds, pollinators, butterflies, caterpillars and/or mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

That’s what I liked about the book. Now for where I felt it let me down and could have been more useful.

It states in the intro that each profile includes information on current scientific name, common name, native habitat, height at maturity, light requirements, wildlife value and a description of the plant. It does. Sort of. The level of information is so brief, however, that I came away feeling like I needed more information. One short paragraph covers all of this info. There is little or no information on propagation, on WHERE in the northeast the plants are native to/can be grown, and even though the author talks about plant hardiness zones in the intro and even provides a chart at the back explaining how it works, none of the plant descriptions indicate the hardiness zone. Why was it brought up in the first place if you’re not going to include the information for each plant. But to me, the biggest flaw is that the book does not tell me if a plant is native to where I live or not. The Northeast covers a lot of real estate, climate zones, geological variability, soil types, etc. and there is no indication in the book as to where the plants are actually native to. It is my belief that native plant gardeners, more so than any other type, want to know if a plant is actually native to where they live. There are few other minor things (like only listing one common name for each plant) that do not really detract from the book.

All in all, it’s a beautiful book to look at, and can give you some ideas for plants you can try growing. It’s nice enough that even after my disappointment, I will be keeping in on my shelf as a handy, quick reference. But it really is just the starting point. Once you find a plant in it that you like, you’ve got a fair bit of work ahead of you before you will know if you should try growing it or not.

© The Native Plant Gardener 2022