I've referred to this book, the 1997 edition, more than any other book to help me plan, and plant my garden....and as for shopping for plants, I try not to buy anything without first seeing what Dr. Armitage has to say about it and usually I'm glad I did and when you get to the nursery, you'll find most of the people working there use this volume themselves for reference....Dr. Armitage is very knowledgeable, opinionated and entertaining writer. I've found all of his books make a good read and are well worth having in my garden library, but the new 2008 3rd revised edition will be the one I refer to the most as was the older edition now nearly 10 years old. You learn a lot about plants and have fun doing it reading his books, about the best recommendation I could make.
This is the book I refer to the most often as well. There are very few photos but everything else you need to know is there. Listed for each species is the latin pronounciation, common name, height, spread, colour, flowering time, hardiness zones. Then he gives a detailed description along with cultural and propagation info, as well as brief descriptions of the various cultivars available (at the time of printing). I have the 1997 Second Edition.
Armitage is the guru of perennials. This book offers honest descriptions and personal commentary on plants and their cultivars. Easy to read since he writes in a casual, rather than dry, text book style. Clear descriptions of the botanical differences between species in a particular genus are also included for the scientific minded. This is the book I refer to most often - especially when being seduced by catalog descriptions and claims. Well worth the money.