University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

The Well-Designed Mixed Garden
Tracy DiSabato-Aust.  2003.  Timber Press, hardcover, 460pp.

You may know the author from her previous best-selling book on perennial maintenance, The Well-tended Perennial Garden.  She now combines her years of experience not only maintaining gardens for clients, but designing them as well, in this extensive reference on all aspects of mixed gardens-- those containing a mixture of trees, shrubs and flowers.  The first half of the book has three chapters on design-- basics, several design examples, and 27 combinations of 2 or 3 plants that work well together.  The design examples are of her own designs, illustrated with watercolors of the plan and photos of the actual result.  The book throughout is illustrated with her own superb and inspiring photographs. The second half of the book consists of useful appendices listing plants by design characteristics and by maintenance characteristics.

In the first appendix, the main and longest table is on plants from A to Z listing the type (perennial, bulb, tree or such), and 10 other characters such as hardiness, height, and flowering month.  There are also design traits not usually seen in such listings such as texture (although this can be relative to the surrounding plants), and design color (cool, warm).  There are many other tables in this appendix such as of plants for functions such as fragrance, cut flowers, and songbirds.

The second appendix lists plants by maintenance characteristics such as lower maintenance.  Actually this appendix could by called ecological habitats as the lists include plants for dry shade, wet or dry soil, and by light requirements.  These extensive lists by scientific name (there is a reference table to common names elsewhere) are by plant type, such as perennial, bulb, or shrub.

The first section of chapters on design are not only thorough and practical, but again well illustrate the concepts different from many other such references, both with watercolor drawings and the author's photos.  Some of the latter's combinations depicted are quite stunning.  An example of the former are drawings of a flower and the color variations depending on various factors, or the various shades and tints one color can impart.  There are many practical pointers such as 5 steps to success in putting the plan on paper, how to figure the number of plants, and the like.

In the chapters giving examples of small, medium, and large gardens, an illustration or several are given of her own designs, depicting the plants and locations with codes.  The only problem personally I have with such depictions and many dozens of plants and code numbers, is figuring them all out and what is where and why.  But just as one can learn much about art by spending the time to study in detail paintings by artists, so can one learn about design and combinations from such planting schemes even if the plants you might use are totally different from those used by the author in Ohio.

The little over two dozen combinations of a couple or three plants seems sparse compared to the seemingly infinite number of good choices one might make.  They illustrate main design ideas though such as of contrasting colors, or monochrome colors.  Unlike many such references that merely show the photos with a few words, the author describes in detail how the design combination works, and then how to maintain the plants depicted.  So with these seminal ideas, and the plants covered elsewhere in the tables, the reader should better be able after studying this book to make their own attractive combinations of these or other plants found locally

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