50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews, Plant info

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.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

rosemarie March 20, 2009, 12:30 pm

I have the Well-Tended Perennial Garden and it’s my favorite book – I just think that Tracy knows so much and is an honest writer.

Horace March 10, 2009, 2:01 pm

Great Review Kathy! I’ll be sure to check it out.

patsi March 5, 2009, 7:26 pm

Thanks for the great information! I’ll be off to the book store this week.

LINDA FROM EACH LITTLE WORLD March 2, 2009, 9:58 am

Kathy — you’ve convinced me! I’m like MMD, wasn’t really going to bother looking for the book. Figured I know all those plants; perhaps I shouldn’t be such a smarty pants!

Nancy Bond February 25, 2009, 12:02 am

Thanks for the honest and entertaining review, Kathy. 🙂

Salix February 24, 2009, 11:45 pm

Your review is right on – the book is great. I don’t have Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s other books, but when it was featured on Garden Rant I ordered it right away.

Donalyn February 24, 2009, 11:34 pm

I have never understood the criticism of her overall. She makes gardening approachable without making it seem too easy and I love her ideas. And I can attest to the effectiveness of the plastic bag trick – my ligularias don’t wilt and neither does my filipendula, even though it is in a rather drier spot than it might like. Glad to hear that you and Liz like this latest offering of hers – it is on my wish list.

Pam/Digging February 24, 2009, 11:18 pm

Your review has intrigued me, but I’m always suspicious of plant books that don’t focus largely on my region. I just can’t imagine that most of her plant recommendations would work in hot, dry Austin.

Liisa February 24, 2009, 10:04 pm

Thank you so much for the review! I felt extremely inspired after reading Tracy’s first two books, and I am now looking forward to adding her third to my collection.
(P.S. I’ve had my eye on that Dragon’s Eye Pine for awhile now…)

Eliz February 24, 2009, 5:39 pm

I am glad that you agree with me about this book. You know, I think T S-A takes a lot of hits for no good reason that I can see. She knows her plants and I am going to be referring to my copy of this book often!

Yvonne Cunnington February 24, 2009, 4:43 pm

Knowing that Tracy DiSabato-Aust is the author, the book has to be good. It’s on my list, and I’ve been selling some of my too-many gardening books, rather than buying new ones.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter February 24, 2009, 4:16 pm

I wasn’t even going to look for this book at my library. You’ve changed my mind. (That’s a compliment to your excellent review.)

Dee/reddirtramblings February 24, 2009, 4:10 pm

An intensive and wonderful review Kathy. I was also skeptical, but now you and Elizabeth from Garden Rant like the book. Perhaps, I, too, need to add it to my bookshelf.~~Dee

Kylee from Our Little Acre February 24, 2009, 3:55 pm

What a well-written review, Kathy. I have Tracy’s first two books and had the privilege of meeting her and visiting her garden, Hiddenhaven. I’ll admit, I was skeptical as to what she could write that could be more than was contained in the first two books, but it sounds like she managed. 😉

Perhaps I’ll have to pick a copy up. Thanks for the review!

Melanthia February 24, 2009, 2:26 pm

Thanks for the review Kathy. I have such a long list of to-reads. Sometimes I can’t get in much more than looking at the pictures and reading captions!