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











50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants                      Tracy Disabato-Aust, Timber Press

Easy care plants that require little or no maintenance are favorites of mine.

Like many other people, time is a rare commodity for me and I must manage it wisely, even in my own garden. Every now and then I focus on a perennial that I have been growing for many years. I marvel how easy it is to care for and how well it blooms, even when neglected. Perennial gardeners wish that all of their plants would behave like that. Nature, however, only cooperates with us to a limited extent. It requires research to learn about such plants and it is reassuring to discover that some garden writers are doing that work for us.

With the publication of this book, Tracy Disabato-Aust has given us a gift. For the novice gardener, the author supplies a list of plants that will help create an eye-catching low-maintenance garden. The seasoned gardener, on the other hand, may discover several plants previously ignored but still worthy of consideration. The reader should bear in mind that the plant list comes with the usual restrictions based on the amount of sunlight and humidity available in ones garden as well as recommended hardiness zones.

According to the author, and we gardeners are all in agreement, a plant must exhibit the following five characteristics to be considered high impact:-

  • Multi seasonal interest
  • Colorful foliage
  • Long lasting bloom
  • Outstanding texture
  • Architectural form

In addition, there are 12 traits that the author looks for in evaluating low-maintenance plants. Each of the 50 mentioned in this book demonstrate at least 10 out of the 12 traits:

  • Long lived
  • Tolerance for heat and humidity
  • Cold hardy
  • Deer resistant
  • Insect and disease resistant
  • Minimal or no deadheading
  • Thrives without heavy fertilization
  • Requires no staking
  • Infrequent or no division required for four years or more
  • Infrequent or no pruning required to maintain neat appearance or best  flowering
  • Non-invasive
  • Drought tolerant

This is a very welcome publication because the topic contributes to the dialogue on sustainable gardening. There is a movement in the landscape community to try and develop gardens that require very little resources such as water or fertilizer and that require almost no maintenance to keep them alive. The list of plants in this publication addresses these issues admirably.

Another welcome trait of this book is the opportunity offered to the reader to discover important plants that might have been overlooked. This reviewer was delighted to learn about a cultivar of a perennial that is hardly known in the gardening community. It is called Thalictrum Erin. I have always been a Thalictrum fan and I grow a lot of it in my garden. But I have never seen anything quite like this one. It is the tallest of all Thalictrum, growing up to 96 inches in height without staking and yet never exceeding 36 inches in width. My “eureka” moment occurred as soon as I found this information in the book. Now, I need to find this plant for my garden.

In order to understand how Ms, Disabato-Aust compiled the list of 50 plants; it is helpful to study her style of landscaping. Hers are exquisitely designed gardens that are not just flower beds but are, instead, foliage and textural compositions that include shrubs, trees and perennials. All of the plants used in the author's work are chosen for the synergistic effect they have on the viewer when used in combination with other plants. The reader should feel confident that, by including a selection from the list of 50 plants, it is possible to create an attractive garden.

Tracy Disabato-Aust has earned international acclaim as one of America’s most entertaining and knowledgeable garden writers and professional speakers. This book is just one of her many accomplishments.



The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer: Book Review for  

The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer            Stephanie Cohen & Nancy J. Ondra, Storey Publishing     

If this book had been available when I first started gardening, I would have saved both time and money and might have avoided frustration and disappointments. This publication allows the perennial gardener to skip past the trial and error stages of gardening and move directly into planting and growing pleasurable perennial gardens.

Whether one is a novice attempting a first-ever flower bed or a seasoned gardener re-configuring or enlarging a pre existing one, there is ample advice and encouragement to accomplish ones goals with confidence and satisfaction. The artistry of this book is that it is not necessary to read it from cover to cover in order to learn. Reader may select only those chapters that reflect the existing physical conditions of their gardening space or may chose to read about a specific style of garden they want to create.

One can find advice about a shade or a sun garden, a dry or a soggy location, a small flower bed or a meadow of wildflowers, a perfectly manicured border or a minimal maintenance garden. Whatever the readers’ choice, the authors offer guidance for plant site, bed preparation, flower selection and plant combination. Within each clearly defined type of garden there is a suggested list of very specific plants that have a proven track record for converting perennial gardeners’ dreams into reality.

There is an interesting rhythm to this book. Each author gardens according to her particular tastes and needs and writes about them with conviction. By juxtaposing two different yet respected points of view, the authors have created a primer with a double purpose. It emboldens the reader to embrace one’s own gardening style while at the same time offers more than one reliable path to perennial gardening success.



Great Gardens of America: Book Review for


Great Gardens of America by Tim Richardson, photographs by Andrea Jones, Frances Lincoln

Thank you Frances Lincoln Ltd for giving us a publication that allows us to visit some of the great gardens of North America, without having to leave home. This book surveys garden estates and private parks in practically every climate zone in the U.S. and Canada. Twenty five gardens with 300 brilliant photographs are included. For each garden surveyed, the author provides an interesting combination of historical and architectural background that helps to identify the landowner’s personal contribution to the garden design.

This is a remarkable publication in that it defines the uniqueness of North American gardens in contrast to their European counterparts. What makes them different is the American appreciation for wide vistas as opposed to the building or object-focused gardens in Europe. In addition, there is a markedly different attitude towards wilderness. The British gardens were intent on keeping out bandits and wild animals. In North America, there is a frontier mentality of living in harmony with nature. Consequently, we see how American gardens include distant vistas into their design by framing these perspectives with trees and shrubs planted in the foreground. As well, by living in harmony with nature and allowing pastureland to creep up to the front door of the home, the ”cult of the American lawn” was developed.

The gardens surveyed in this book range from Jefferson’s 18th century Montecello, to an early 20th century Rockefeller estate Kykuit, through modernist gardens commissioned by bold patrons, up to the conceptual curated gardens in Metis Quebec and Sonoma California. The most controversial garden surveyed is the Lurie Garden in Chicago Illinois designed by Piet Oudolf. Here the armchair traveler is given an opportunity to evaluate the results of a garden conceived in the revolutionary “New Perennial Style.”

Some of the more interesting details revealed in this book include the fact that at Kykuit, modern sculptures were brilliantly incorporated into a turn-of-the- century garden. We also discover that Viscaya is the closest copy of an Italianate garden in America. The enchanting garden rooms at Dumbarton Oaks demonstrate how one is able to beautifully landscape a property on an ugly slope.This garden offers a sense of perpetual movement that has been captured so insightfully by the book’s photographer.

Special mention also needs to be made of Windcliff in Seattle Washington as “one of the most horticulturaly dynamic private gardens of our times”. Here Dan Hinkley’s design includes an interplay of color and texture that is rarely seen on properties of this size. The accompanying photos on pages 74 and 75 are such a powerful inspiration to garden designers that they alone easily justify the purchase of this book. This publication should be a prime candidate for the best garden book of the year.



Agatha Christie at Home: Book Review for

Agatha Christie at Home Hilary Macaskel,                     Frances Lincoln       

I was expecting a coffee table book but what I got instead was a lovely companion to her writings. By her, I refer to Agatha Christie who, along with Shakespeare, is the best selling fiction writer of all times. The book chronicles her life from childhood until her death in 1976. It is an enjoyable excursion through some of her homes and into the beautiful country side where she grew up and spent her leisure time as an accomplished writer.

The publication focuses on the importance of dwellings to the private Agatha Christie who owned eight houses, all of which were used as settings for her work.This is not a biography of a celebrity author. It is instead a “documentary” about where this author lived and the influences these locations had upon her writings. Of all of her properties, Greenway was the most important home, purchased in 1938 on 300 acres in Devon, on the southwest coast of England. In the early years of ownership, it was her primary residence and later became her summer refuge, a place to enjoy with family and friends..

Essentially, this book demonstrates how personal place played a paramount role in the life and writing of this famous mystery author. Beyond her love of her homes, there are links between her home county and her works. The villages, homes and the people who inhabited them supplied plots and backdrops for her stories. Furthermore, we learn that the ingenious plotting of her mysteries was the result of her love of mathematics and problem solving. We also learn that during World War One, as part of her training as a Red Cross nurse, Agatha Christie acquires a knowledge of poisons which she used repeatedly as murder weapons in most of her books.

Of special interest to this reviewer are the illustrations of beautiful landscapes surrounded the homes and countryside where Ms Christie lived. Her own garden at Greenway, which was converted into a commercial market garden during her lifetime, became famous for its Camellias. Previous owners of this property had planted Chilean Myrtle, a Chinese Fringe Tree, a Tulip tree, and Black Bamboo. After her death, her son-in-law added Passionflowers, Orchids and Lapazinea Rosea.

There is a surprise in this publication. The author chose to include examples of the art work used on some of the covers of Agatha Christie’s books. These reproductions can now be appreciated for the extraordinary talent of the graphic designers that created them. Although they are unobtrusively inserted, they serve to underscore the pleasure of discovery that we sometimes experience when we open up a book for the very first time.



Restoration Ecology in Nature's Second Chance: Book Review for

Natures Second Chance, Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm by Steven I. Apfelbaum, Beacon Press

Urban dwellers, far removed from arable land, are pleased that food is relatively affordable. Many of us are also proud that we grow enough food to feed the world. That this efficient food chain abuses the earth concerns too few people. When we are informed that this process is clearly unfriendly to nature, we cannot imagine why anyone would choose to turn back the clock on successful agricultural history.

 The author of this book leads us to reconsider our position on this subject by describing the toll that agro processing exacts from the earth. In doing so, he politely sets the stage for a controversial debate.

So much time and space has been devoted by the media to the deterioration of our environment. We are continuously being reminded about global warming, pollution, the need to find alternate renewable sources of energy and the importance of securing reliable sources of potable water. Yet, very little attention is paid to the importance of restoring land abused by agricultural overuse, mining, forestry and landfills. The author reminds us that we are the original stewards of our planet and that it is our responsibility to pass on this earth to subsequent generations in good stead.

 Steven Apfelbaum is an ecologist and educator. His specialty is natural resource conservation which is an ecological restorative process of nurturing wild plants and animal communities back to health. Restoration is, in essence, the act of putting back into the land what has been taken out of it. This book documents his personal experience in restoring overworked farmland.

 Reading about his successful land restoration, it becomes clear that there is sheer delight to be found in recreating a natural preserve. The sense of accomplishment that he derives from his work is also shared by his family and admirers. The goal of this dedicated ecologist is not only to inspire others to restore parts of their own land but also to see restored patches of reclaimed land interconnected across the mid western U.S.A. in order to create a vast stretch of a renewed ecosystem.

 There is nothing ostensibly controversial in writing about one’s passion. Indeed, advocating the restoration of abused farmland is an admirable endeavor. And yet, this sincere desire to heal parts of our planet is a reminder that we have deliberately chosen to abuse too many portions of it in order to efficiently feed the world. How powerful is the written word that a noble conviction, by its mere publication, can become a veiled but valid critique of an essential part of our food chain. So, no matter what you may have read to the contrary, reading a book still remains a thrilling mind expanding, experience.