It was a long and warmer than usual fall and early winter so it’s not a surprise that we’re now getting socked in by winter weather. Last week we had chilly weather from the polar vortex so this week will seem like a holiday with temperatures in the high 20s and mid 30s.
Even with this week’s “warming trend” this weather pushes me back to the books. This week’s goal is to set my garden to do list for spring, flesh out my plan to make this year’s entry garden better than ever and to establish my native plants garden in the yard that leads out to our vineyard.
I've written before about one of my go-to books for determining what I will work on first - Tracy Disabato-Aust’s The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
This, Disabato-Aust’s first book, has been my bible for perennial gardening for the past 20 years. Now that we’ve remade the entry yard of our home completely into a flower garden (I’m allergic to grass which was a great incentive) I’ve found that I’m constantly referring to her book as I blend my favorite native and adaptable plants into this space. My goal is to make entry to our home a show stopper from May to October.
That means moving plants at the optimum times, understanding the strength and weakness of each new plant I’m considering and making sure my “to do” list coordinates with the calendar for each effort.
That’s been made significantly easier with The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, which has been updated into a third edition my gardening friend Sue tells me. The information Disabato-Aust provides on gardening and on plants is extensive and I appreciate her effort to make her advice a blend of academic and practical information.
Disabato-Aust’s work is such a good guide for gardening because she’s got the education and experience that shows in everything she writes. She has bachelors and masters degrees in horticulture. Beyond that she’s worked as a landscape designer and horticultural consultant. That tells me she knows science and she’s experienced – something that I consider critical. Best of all, the plants she writes about are all things she’s tested.
In this book you’ll learn the relationship between garden design and plant selection with garden maintenance, the importance – if you didn’t already know – of bed preparation, planting, transplanting, weed control, pests and diseases, plant division and staking… basics for the garden. She also talks about renovation of existing gardens, which is what I feel that I do every year. She also includes sections on deadheading, cutting back plants and pinching, disbudding thinning and deadleafing of plants to maintain or renew their appearance all through the season.
But wait… there’s more. There are photos of both Disabato-Aust’s home garden and of the gardens that she’s designed and worked on (I love garden pictures and the ideas they provide). Best of all, in my judgement, is her A-Z Encyclopedia of Perennials where she gives information on the Climate Zones where the plant can be grown, both the Latin and common names, the family of plants an entry belongs to, a description of the plant’s flowers, its full grown size, the type of sun exposure it needs – or doesn’t need - and the time of the year you can expect it to flower. This is all great information but the sections of the encyclopedia I rely on are pruning and other maintenance. When you’re making a garden “to do” list this is invaluable.
For example last spring I reviewed my salvia plantings. As I looked through the encyclopedia on salvia the last sentence stands out “Any dividing should be done in the spring.” Because of our wacky weather last spring I didn’t get these plants divided and transplanted it’s going to be top of my list for next year.
Another valuable section of the book is the Perennial Garden Planting and Maintenance Schedule. Since Disabato-Aust lives and gardens in southern Ohio while I garden in Northern Michigan, I mentally adjust her planting and maintenance schedule to fit the differences in climate. It’s not unheard of, despite our proximity to the lake, to have frost in May so some planting chores are sidelined until Memorial Day or later. That said, her maintenance lists are great for keeping garden work on track.
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