Why this book now? A chat with Tracy DiSabato-Aust



Fans of The Well-tended Perennial Garden may be surprised by Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s latest, 50 High-Impact, Low Care Garden Plants. It’s a very different approach: instead of detailed advice on pruning, deadheading, and cutting back plants so that they maintain peak performance all season long, with particulars on individual cultivars, the new book presents a list of plants that fulfill at least 9 out of 12 criteria for low maintenance and 5 criteria for beauty and performance.

This is not the kind of book I expect from this author, but after talking to her for a while at a regional gardening seminar (see post below), I began to see how and why she got to the book. Which paraphrases the first question I asked, and here’s how she answered it:

“I have a passion for what we do. But we need to be reaching out to a bigger audience, with gardening. We have so much to offer, and we need to give people things they can get excited about. How many times do you hear ‘It’s a lot of work’ ? We need to say here are fabulous plants that will evoke memories, stir emotions, and enlarge our lives. But they’re also no-brainers, tough plants that aren’t rocket science to grow and maintain. And many of them are unusual.”

Yes, I see that there aren’t any daylilies in here.

People don’t need me to tell them about daylilies or hostas. I need to provide quality information that hasn’t been provided [as much], that’s not dumbed down, that’s environmentally sound. And people do like lists.

On the 12 criteria you have “deer resistant,” “doesn’t require staking,” “cold-hardy,” and “non-invasive,” [not to be confused with non-aggressive] but you don’t have “native.”

About a quarter of them are native; I think there are many non-exceptional natives. The natives here are exceptional—like amsonia hubrichtii and baptisia austalis. They’re tough, handsome plants that only need a shearing back once a year.

I see that you’re establishing an internet presence. You have a blog, now, and we follow each other on twitter.

I’m a reluctant blogger, but I find I have endless information to share, endless photos. I write not so much to write, but to provide information, to make the contribution I can make.

And how long have you been a triathlete?

We started about five years ago, and do 2-3 races [running, biking, swimming] a year at the international level. This is another reason I want to talk about plants that need less attention. [DiSabato-Aust has 140 acres of her own at Hidden Haven, her home in Ohio, most of which seems filled with trees, shrubs, and perennial borders of various types.]

Looking back on 34 years in horticulture, which of your mentors do you think were the most important?

Beth Chatto really made my career, by referring to my writing in her lectures. And Steven Still, my advisor in the late 80s, who is now president of the Perennial Plant Association, was very important during a time when perennials were just beginning to be big.

Do you have another book in mind?

[look of horror] No, I’m not one of those people who’s always writing a book! I don’t know how you ladies do it—I commend you! I love books when they’re done.


There were more questions and much more off-topic conversation, but we’ll be catching up with this writer again, I’m sure. I have some plants marked as must-buys in 50 High-Impact, notably a couple of the grasses for shade, the paeonia obovata (wow!) and maybe the purple-leaf ligularia. Others I have and agree on their value: agastache Blue Fortune, hakonechloa Aureola, and geranium Rozanne. Others I’ve tried with no luck: allium schuberti, most of the sun-lovers.

It’s a fun book and a fun author. I’ll be interested to hear what others think.

Though I hope it doesn’t turn into another native/non-native argument, as I see is happening on the post below. I’m big tent on this. I use many non-natives and always will; same goes for natives. But I know I have no control; it’s up to you, dear readers.

Previous articleWomen of influence
Next articleThank god for hyacinths

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Being left handed, I sometimes read things out of order, so I haven’t read the other post yet. The book sounds awesome, and while I don’t know which ligularia the author recommends, I’ll give some love to mine. I don’t have ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ yet (the real chocolate-leafed one, but do have both ‘Othello’ and ‘Desdemona’. Planted them 5 or 6 years ago, and haven’t touched them since and they are fabulous. I grow them mostly for the foliage, as the flowers don’t do a thing for me, but the leaves have a lot of burgundy in them and look great with globe thistles and lavatera around them. (Hey, we got a foot of snow yesterday and I feel like talkin’ plants).

  2. I’ve got paeonia obvata and japonica (Song Sparrow and Seneca Hill) and they are wonderful. Last two years they’ve been up and fully in bud when we’ve had April snowstorms. One year I lost buds but the leaves and plant were unharmed. Other year I threw plastic sheets over them and the buds came through ok. Seedheads are gorgeous. Also snowy wood rush (luzula) is great for dry shade. These days I’m trying to use more of what works rather than what’s hot!

  3. hi garden rant, i’ve been reading your rants for a while now and really appreciate all the good info, but for me this interview and book (and link Tracy’s blog, like it a lot) resonated with me. gardening is work no doubt but i need help narrowing down plants that will work for my life in my garden, it’s easy to get seduced at nursey! i think i am that wider audience…

  4. Thank you for posting this interview and including a link to Tracy Disabato-Aust’ blog. After looking at the “sneak peek” I went on-line to buy the book.

  5. I like what she said about reaching a larger audience. We all need to think about how we can reach those who might want to garden, but don’t know the first thing about it. The ones we can “hook” with the easy care plants and once they love gardening, perhaps they will branch out even more. At least I hope so.~~Dee

  6. See, the problem with books like this is that gardening advice needs to be a bit more regional. Her low-care plants are not all low-care here. That pretty Brunnera on the cover would be eaten to the ground by snails in a few weeks.

    That said, I love her other books and think she’s a really fun force in the gardening world. But a book like this can’t fulfill its promise to everyone.

  7. It sounds like a good concept. However, plant-recommendation books don’t usually work for me because of where I live. Austin’s climate is pretty extreme on the heat and drought range, and our soil is alkaline. Generally, plants that are recommended to a generalized audience don’t grow well here.

  8. Yeah, Pam, she is in Ohio, so I imagine these recs are very helpful to Northeast, Midwest, and perhaps MidAtlantic gardeners, but not so much for Southwestern, etc.

    They’re great for me, I must admit. The other interesting thing is that some plants considered “invasive” (a problematic term) for the southern zones are just right for mine.

Comments are closed.