Tracy DiSabato-Aust with students from a local horticulture program.(Sorry for the iphone shots.)
Fortunately, Timber Press let me know that garden writer/designer/triathlete Tracy DiSabato-Aust was coming in to speak to our local nursery/landscaping association last Friday, because there was a not a breath of local PR about it. I attended the all-day seminar mainly so I could meet her and ask her about her new book, 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants, but it was also interesting to see one of these events, designed purely for the gardening trade.
A bevy of soil-moving machines were parked seductively at the entrance to the conference center, while inside a few hundred gardening/landscaping professionals listened more or less attentively to Tracy’s keynote address. Everything had started half an hour late thanks to the weather; I encountered white-outs every quarter mile on my way to the meet-up, which was held south of Buffalo (where they keep the real snow).
Tracy paced the floor energetically, trying her best to get everybody excited about plants. It worked for me. I’d skimmed through the book, not really focusing on individual cultivars, but when she got going about grasses for dry shade (my specialty) like elymus hystrix, chasmanthium latifolium, calamagrostis brachytricha, and carex elata “Aurea,” I forgot about the monstrous drive there. It was a brutal January morning in Western New York, but I was very excited about plants. I hope everyone else was too, because these are the people who will decide if I get to see any of these plants on nursery shelves.
Later, I attended a seminar by local guru Sally Jean Cunningham, who was writing about the importance of companion planting and beneficial insects long before sustainability was a buzzword. Her Great Garden Companions is now in a new paperback edition, but that was not the book she was brandishing as she exhorted her fellow professionals to include more native plantings in their designs. No, she was holding Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens, as she spoke about insects and the trees, shrubs, and perennials that will nurture them. There is minimal awareness of the importance of native plants in our area, so this is a message that is needed. WNY nurserymen and designers will not become radical converts—absolutely no fear at all of that—but if a few native cultivars sneak into their repertoire, Sally’s mission will be accomplished.
Both Tracy and Sally spoke with charm, humor, and fervor, and though their messages were somewhat different, the intent remains. We need to create gardens that are exciting, unique, and a little friendlier to wildlife. I talked to Tracy at length about her new book and how it departs from the Well-Tended Perennial Garden. It is very different, and there are several interesting reasons for it. An excerpt from my interview with her follows later today.