I confess, when I first heard 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants by Tracy DiSabato-Aust was coming out, I was dismayed. I have the first edition of The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, which was incredibly satisfying because it was based on her own close observation and methodical experimentation. At the time it was published, it was very unusual to find an author who didn’t just pass down the received wisdom, but actually tested it and documented her findings.
I checked The Well-Designed Mixed Garden: Building Beds and Borders with Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs out of the library when it first came out, and while I have yet to add it to my library, I could see that it, too, was full of workable ideas based on her experience actually installing and maintaining gardens for clients. When people are paying for your time, you need to work efficiently as well as please them aesthetically, and when you can bring that kind of efficiency into the home garden, it only increases the gardener’s pleasure.
Suspicious of “Low-Care”
How, I wondered, could a book about fifty easy plants compare with those first two books? After all, page-a-plant compendiums are all too common, and any gardening book that hints of low maintenance is already suspect. My suspicions were unfounded, as it turns out, but it is unfair to this book to judge it by her first two. This is not a reference work on which to base all your future horticultural practices. Rather, consider it a supplement to those first two books, and you will be well-pleased.
Hypocritical? Who, me?
And reading just a couple of paragraphs into her introduction, I realized that my snipe about low-maintenance was somewhat hypocritical. True, I’m not looking for no-work plants. I love plants and I want to tend them; no outdoor housekeeping for me! On the other hand, I’m certainly not looking for make-work plants–I already feel pulled in too many directions and long for a way to cram more in each day. What I want is exactly what Tracy delivers: plants that look like a million bucks without needing a million hours of babying. The fact that some of them are rather uncommon is a plus. The fact that others are readily available is a blessing.
Honest and Helpful
It’s got to be difficult to write a book like this. How do you narrow down the choices? Tracy has a checklist of criteria (found here) but doesn’t expect every plant to meet every single criterion. And she is honest about a plant’s faults. I’m glad she points out, for example, that Gold-variegated aralia (Aralia elata ‘Aureovariegata’) defoliates after fruiting in late summer, though she loves this plant so much she’s willing to put up with this annoyance. She also provides tips to get the best growth from each plant. I’ve never grown ligularia, but I know a lot of gardeners have trouble with it wilting. DiSabato-Aust plants it inside a plastic garbage bag, with a few holes punched in it for minimum drainage. Knowing a trick like this can make the difference between being happy with a plant and pitching it on the compost pile.
Lastly, I have to love a writer who is blown away by Dragon’s Eye pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Oculis-draconis’), goes gaga over ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ ligularia (Ligularia dentata ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’), and finds the tumble weed onion (Allium schubertii) gobsmacking. A gardener who not only loves plants, but doesn’t hesitate to borrow from Roald Dahl to describe her passion, is a rare kind of garden writer, indeed.
- For another take on this book, check out this interview on Garden Rant
- Thanks to Timber Press for the review copy