Thursday, June 4, 2009

Book Review: 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants by Tracy Disabato-Aust

My gardening experience is very scant.  My mother gifted me with a hardy jade plant for my dorm room at Phillips Exeter.  Despite its hardiness and the abundant sunshine, the plant barely made it through our first year.  I had a small citrus plant that I bought when I moved off campus my senior year in college.  The plant survived to be given away at the end of the year.

When I moved into my first New York apartment in 2006, my mother helped me select the apartment, arrange the furniture, organize, and create a home.  Her gift on the very last day of her visit was a beautiful, healthy orchid.   

The only plants that I'm comfortable caring for are orchids.   My grandfather had an extensive collection and from when I was young, he and I would go to the annual orchid shows in Manila.  He would point out particularly beautiful specimens and at the end of the show, we would each pick out one plant to take home.  I would care for mine and he would tend his.  We would compare notes and would see whose plant would flower first and more extravagantly.   Orchids always remind me of my grandfather, Tatay.  So the wonderful blossoms on my orchid bring me special joy.

I was fortunate to come across Timber Press at the BEA and to come away with two of their gardening books.  I'd like to thank Timber Press for the chance to review this one.

Review: 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants:  
Tough-but-Beautiful Plants Anyone Can Grow  by Tracy Disabato-Aust

As a novice gardener, I am drawn to gardening books with a judicious mix of beautiful pictures and helpful advice.  This book caught me with its opening:

I wrote this book because you might be like me.  You love to garden, but there is never enough time...I've been a gardener for over thirty years both as an avocation and vocation.   I love gardening but I also have countless other passions including spending time with my husband, our teenage son, and our dogs and chickens, as well as being a competitive multisport athlete at the national and international level.  So I'm constantly rethinking areas of my garden and seeking beautiful yet tough plants to replace demanding ones.  I refer to them affectionately as indomitable - not easily defeated, resolute, unconquerable, determined, and strong.  Does this sound like the type of plant for you?  These plants should be easy to care for but they should bring passion and excitement into our lives with their colors, textures, shapes, and scents.  It's great if the plant is easy to grow, but if it's of minimal ornamental value, who really cares?
-50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants
 by Tracy Disabato-Aust

Disabato-Aust selected 50 highly ornamental plants that require minimal care and are either US natives or award winners from around the world.  Each plant is able to make a statement in multiple seasons because of its long lasting bloom, color, texture, form or fragrance.   I'm particularly glad of this selection process since as an urban gardener, I am limited to container gardening.  One of the happy benefits of move from the Upper East Side to Brooklyn means that our plants have more space than the window sills and fire escape.  I now have our balcony, large windows and generous light.  But even in Brooklyn, space is scarce and valuable - I afford to allocate space to non-performing plants.

Disabato-Aust points out that color doesn't just come from the blossoms, but to encourages us to look at the plant's bark and foliage and fruit as well.   The book is full of helpful advice both for selecting plants and for caring for individual specimens.  

Disabato-Aust developed a very useful checklist for evaluating plants and divides them into High-Impact Traits and Low-Maintenance Traits.  

The High-Impact Traits are: 
(1) multi-season interest;
(2) colorful foliage;
(3)  long-lasting bloom;
(4) outstanding texture;
(5) and architectural form.  

The Low-Maintenance Traits are: 
(1) long-lived;
(2) tolerant of heat and humidity;
(3) cold-hardy;
(4) deer resistant (not so critical for us urban gardeners);
(5) resistant to insects and disease;
(6) requires minimal or no deadheading;
(7) prospers without heavy fertilizing;
(8) doesn't require staking, infrequent or no division required for 4 or more years;
(9) infrequent or no pruning required to maintain decent habit, appearance or best flowering;
(10) non-invasive; and
(11) drought tolerant.

The beauty of this gardening book is that you can flip through its pages for a plant that catches your eye and then determine whether it would be a fit for your and your garden.  I was surprised to find many of the beautiful specimens that I'd admired to be low maintenance and the book has given me ideas for both for my garden, my mother's small garden unit in Boston's South End, and my uncle's large place in Gloucester.  My mother and uncle will be visiting with us tomorrow and I know we'll spend a bit of time talking plants.

I highly recommend this book for urban gardeners, novice gardeners, and gardeners who would like to spend less time tending plants and more time enjoying them.  It's a great gift book as well. 

Publisher: Timber Press (January 7, 2009), 168 pages.
Book courtesy of Timber Press.  

Thank you again, Timber Press for the opportunity to review the book. Timber Press specializes in these types of gardening books, if you'd like to explore their selection please click here or visit  Any of these books can also be found on

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