Stephanie Cohen touts her book, The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer.

“Good things come in small packages” is an apt description of perennial plant expert Stephanie Cohen. She calls herself “vertically challenged” and named her own perennial place Shortwood Gardens in a tongue-in-cheek nod to nearby Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.

Often called “Dr. Root” in reference to Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the candid radio and television sex therapist, Stephanie Cohen shares her witty and humorous, tell-it-as-I-see-it style with the gardening world. Stephanie gives her frank advice to garden club and professional audiences who eagerly circle and note the selections on her Best and Worst Perennials list as she clicks through her slides.

High-maintenance plants, those with a short season of interest, perennials that behave like annuals, and thugs that travel unbidden throughout the garden are easy marks for Stephanie’s Hit List. Artemisia ‘Oriental Limelight’,” she begins. “I planted it in my garden and now it’s coming up all over the place. It’s a thug. Use it in containers only!” she admonishes.

About the current coneflower craze, she says, “EchinaceaDouble Delight’ and ‘Coconut Lime’ are trendy, but they have no staying power. Who cares about them after a year or two? She dismisses the new CoreopsisSweet Dreams’, commenting, “It flops over and isn’t reliably hardy.”

Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony’ blooms for weeks in spring and has attractive foliage.

She’s equally lavish with her praise for good garden performers, though. She enthused about EchinaceaFragrant Angel’ and ‘Harvest Moon’ at the New England Grows conference, and predicted that fragrance will be the next big garden trend. Tiarellas and hardy geraniums also rate among her favorite plants because they flower abundantly and have attractive foliage from spring through fall. As a designer, she values the texture and color of ornamental grasses, hostas, and other foliage plants.

Stephanie has a soft spot for perennials that share her compact stature, readily pointing out dwarf Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’) and 18″ tall Baptisia ‘Blue Pearls’ as good alternatives to their taller and more well-known brethren.

Stephanie bases her opinions on plenty of real-world experience. She’s an adjunct professor of horticulture at Temple University and former director of the school’s Landscape Arboretum. An avid gardener herself, she’s an award-winning speaker, writer, designer, and teacher, and has been a fixture in the horticultural world for more than 20 years. Plant hybridizers readily recognize her knowledge and influence and she has plants named in her honor. Dr. Darrel Apps, the daylily breeder who introduced Happy Returns and scores of other fabulous daylilies, named a particularly short new variety Stephanie Returns with her permission.

The Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association laudsthe Shortwood phlox, introduced by Sinclair Adam, as “the only Garden Phlox that has shown absolutely no mildew regardless of weather or crowding.”

If you get a chance to hear Stephanie speak, don’t miss her presentation. You will leave with list of perennials that you can’t wait to plant, and a smile on your face.

-Ann Whitman, Horticulturist