MAKING A COTTAGE GARDEN by Faith and Geoff Whiten (Salem House: $15.95).
THE PERENNIAL GARDEN by Jeff and Marilyn Cox (Rodale: $21.95).
PERENNIALS: How to Select, Grow & Enjoy by Pamela Harper and Frederick McGourty (HP Books: $9.95, paperback).
THE FLOWER GARDEN PLANNER, text by Ethne Clarke; illustrations of gardens and cover by Peter Morter; illustration of flowers by Jill Tombin (Phoebe Phillips Editions/Simon & Schuster: $14.95).
The perennial garden may just be the garden whose time has come--again. Basically, it dates to the English cottage garden that Faith and Geoff Whiten so rapturously describe. If a perennial garden is properly planned, the payoff can be perennial, easy-care, year-round color. "Making a Cottage Garden" is the place to start, offering a feel for the informal garden that grew out of the needs of artisans, craftsmen and small farmers who raised fruits, flowers and vegetables for food, medicine--and beauty. While cottage gardens originated in a simpler time, adapting them to contemporary small or large-scale patio or outdoor gardening can be extremely rewarding. The greatest value of "The Perennial Garden" lies in its discussion of color and the role various plants and flowers play in the effective use of it. However, better organization would help; too many captions are separated from their pictures and not all plants are illustrated in color, a major drawback. On the other hand, "Perennials: How to Select, Grow & Enjoy" provides ample color illustrations of every plant discussed. A bonus is a list of perennials amenable to Southern California gardens. Best of the field may still be the late James Underwood Crockett's "Perennials" for Time-Life Books. You might add "The Flower Garden Planner" to the hopper. It works like paper dolls: Snip out color illustrations of plants and flowers and move them around in mock-border layouts to get a feel for the final outcome.