The Well-Tended Perennial Garden
By Tracy DiSabato-Aust
Timber Press, 2006
Like an old friend who hasn’t visited in a while, this essential gardening guide is making a welcome reappearance. For anyone who cares about plants, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is one of the few sensible and truthful explanations of how most perennials work in real gardens. First published in 1998, the book has been expanded and revised, adding more pages in every section and a gardening journal for a new 2006 edition.
So, that said, is it worth it? Do we really need the reprise?
I’m saying yes for two reasons: 1.) this new edition will bring the book to the attention of gardeners who haven’t seen it; and 2) the additional photography throughout all the sections greatly enhances the quality of the information. Now you can really see what she’s talking about. This is a much more attractive and comprehensively illustrated publication.
Text-wise, there is very little that is different or new here. In fact, though I’ve not done a word-by-word comparison, it looks as though the text is pretty much the same as in the previous edition. It begins with an explanation of the basic principles of design, planting, and maintenance for spring, summer, and fall-blooming perennials. Then, an A-Z plant directory explores the needs of specific plants. The emphasis is on the importance of pruning, cutting back, trimming, and, of course, deadheading. In fact, DiSabato-Aust has been called the “queen of deadheading.” She’s studied the behavior patterns of every plant she writes about and she knows when constructive intervention will do the most good.
You will not read rhapsodies over the loveliness of certain cultivars, or vague promises of unending bloom times. What you will read are matter-of-fact comments such as these:
“We have become a society of over mulchers, feeling compelled to go out every spring and mulch, whether it’s needed or not.”
“Sorry to say it, but this is a rather ‘doggy’ perennial … Really not worth all the trouble!”
(on Tanacetum coccineum/painted daisy)
“To my dismay, the first perennials that a beginning gardener wants in his or her border, often because of the gorgeous pictures seen in English perennial books, are high maintenance “traditional” perennials, such as Pacific Giant hybrid delphiniums.”
I believe this last quote expresses one of the basic reasons I would never be without this book. As much as I admire the prose and passion of such writers as the late Christopher Lloyd, I pay little attention to his specific advice on plants; he created a type of garden that is on a different planet (let alone zone) than mine. When I need to know what will work in the pedestrian confines of my zone 5 garden, DiSabato-Aust’s book has the closest thing to an answer I’m likely to find.
Though when it comes to celebrating the sheer romance of gardening and the beauty of plants, you can’t beat the Brits.