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An interview with Tracy DiSabato-Aust

by Timber Press on February 15, 2017

in Gardening

“No one should to be a slave to their garden. A garden should be enjoyed and give peace.” —Tracy DiSabato-Aust

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is one of the bestselling gardening books of all time. When you set out to write the first edition, did you have any idea the book would become as respected and widely used as it is?

As it is said, “not in my wildest dreams” did I think the book would be so popular. I’m very grateful for the support of my readers over the years. Writing is a very isolated and exposing practice, especially as a younger woman in a male dominated field and as a first-time author. Fighting doubt and fear of failure was an ongoing process that eventually made me stronger and more confident.

The new and completely revised edition includes new plants, new garden designs, up-to-date pruning and maintenance techniques, and a fresh new package featuring hundreds of lush photographs. Tell us more about the research you did to update the book.

The updates are based, as Well-Tended has always been, on practical hands-on experience. It was fun to add the many new plants and cultivars that I’ve been growing and pruning since the first edition. Also, it’s exciting to share some of my new design projects and the lessons of sound horticultural practices for bed prep, planting, staking, division, and pest control they inspired.

What kind of reader are you speaking to with this new edition of an old favorite?

The new edition is a fresh approach for our avid followers and up-to-date for our new readers. Well-Tended has reached a wide audience from professional gardeners—who often tell me they carry it in their trucks and use it to educate their crews—to avid home gardeners and new gardeners wanting to do things right from the start. Seeing many mud spattered, dog-eared, highlighted books at signings warms my heart. The true purpose of this book is to be well-worn and frequently used!

You are such an icon in the world of gardening and have lectured nationally for over 35 years and internationally for more than 20 years. Based on the questions you get asked, what do you think is the most common mistake gardeners are making?

At least 70% of a garden should be comprised of lower maintenance plants. Particularly plants resistant to pests and disease that don’t require frequent pruning to look their best. Many gardeners, including myself at times, have too many high maintenance plants, and therefore keep up with managing the gardens design integrity.

At the 2017 Northwest Flower and Garden Show (NWFGS), you’ll be featured in all kinds of contests and panels! You are speaking on Thursday about The Well-Designed Mixed Garden and about pruning perennials on Friday. I’m especially excited to see the container gardens you create during the Container Wars! What makes NWFG unique?

It’s always an honor—and it’s always fun—to speak at the NWFGS. There is a contagious, passionate energy for plants and garden design that exudes throughout the show. Ranking #2 out of all consumer flower and garden shows in the country makes it feel packed with fellow plant nerds, all returning to the mother ship in preparation for another great growing season!

You’ve said that “the lure of pruning is working like a sculptor to form and shape plants.” In what ways is gardening artistic?

Gardening is so self-expressive, creative, and artistic in it’s use of color, texture, form, and plant selection. But it’s also analytical in the proper implementation of these elements through principles of design such as order, unity, and rhythm. No matter how well designed a garden, it’s of no use if it can’t be planted and managed properly using sound scientific horticulture.

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

Maintaining long-term relationships with clients who are so committed to their gardens and to me has been a very rewarding aspect of my design career. As for a single project, the Hayden Run Community Garden is the largest in my career. The garden spans three football fields long and one football field wide, and it includes over 10,000 herbaceous perennials! How fun is that?

As a writer, the successes of my books, Well-Tended, The Well-Designed Mixed Garden, and 50 High Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants, have opened up opportunities to speak and travel around the globe. In life, my greatest accomplishment has been building a beautiful life with my husband Jim and together raising our kind, intelligent, and talented son Zach.

You and your family race as All Americans in international triathlons and duathlons. Are there any parallels between training as a triathlete, writing books, and gardening?

Absolutely! All three require focus, determination, and consistency day after day after day. The level of persistence is not for the faint of heart!

You are a famously busy woman, traveling, writing, lecturing, gardening, and staying physically active. What is your advice for people trying to make time for gardening?

Creating a balanced life seems to be something we all strive for and struggle with throughout our lives. No one should to be a slave to their garden. A garden should be enjoyed and give peace. Select the right plant for the right spot, and focus on the best mix of low-maintenance plants.

If you could give only one piece of advice to a beginning garden design professional, what would you say?

Be uniquely yourself, offer exceptional service, and believe passionately in the importance of what we do to enhance and improve peoples lives and the planet.

How have your personal gardening strategies changed most over time?

I’ve learned to embrace that my gardens have a mind of their own. I nurture a free spirit in them with self-seeding. I try to work with my gardens rather than trying to control them.

Tracy DiSabato-Aust has earned international acclaim as one of America’s most entertaining and knowledgeable garden writers and professional speakers. She has extensive experience in the United States and abroad with more than 35 years in the industry and is a gifted and award-winning designer who combines artistic vision with practical horticultural strategies.


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