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The Well-Designed Mixed Garden is a design book with a difference. Written for gardeners who are passionate about plants of all kinds, it reflects decades of professional experience and artistic innovation.
Tracy DiSabato-Aust provides not only inspiration but also scrupulously organized information on design and connoisseur plants. A gallery of detailed design plans is included, as is an encyclopedia of plant combinations with notes on design considerations and tips on how to keep the combinations looking their best. The result is a nearly foolproof guide to every aspect of designing superior gardens with superior plants.
With more than 250 color photos and illustrations, this paperback edition of a design classic is as much a feast for the eyes as it will be a trusted reference for the library shelf.
"A gorgeous and practical guide to having it all ... The Well-Designed Mixed Garden is one of those enormous and comprehensive works that is equally at home on your coffee table or out in the potting shed."
"Tracy DiSabato-Aust does not skip a stone over the pond of an idea; she immerses herself in it and swims deep and wide ... This book, an outstanding work of gardening scholarship, is at the same time down to earth, inspiring, practical, and altogether useful if you want to develop an extraordinary mixed garden."
"This new paperback edition puts the emphasis on design and helpfully explains how to put one's own design ideas on paper."
When gardens that you've visited linger pleasantly in your memory, what do they look like? Do they have trees above to protect you? Are the trees underplanted with rhododendrons, hellebores, and daffodils? Perhaps there are old-fashioned roses, whose fragrance you can almost still smell. Around the roses are alliums, foxgloves, and dianthus, the wall behind may be covered with honeysuckle and clematis. A group of nigella in soft blue, seeded from the previous season, adds a soft grace to the romantic scene. Maybe you remember a garden with the bold tropical foliage of cannas, the bright yellow flowers of heliopsis, the swaying panicles of miscanthus. The enlivening scene was grounded by the solidarity of a boxwood hedge. These picturesque images are of mixed gardens, the gardens I find to be the most spectacular and emotionally rewarding.
A mixed garden is one that is planted with a combination of herbaceous (soft-stemmed) and woody plant material. Trees and shrubs, roses, and perhaps large-growing ornamental grasses may give the garden its outlining structure. Herbaceous perennials and annuals, along with spring- and summer-flowering bulbs, vines, and sometimes vegetables, fill the remaining space. The planting is diverse, derived from a wide palette of plant material, making for a garden that has interest and function year-round. Varied textures, forms, and colors abound in a mixed garden. The rhythm of undulating plant heights and habits makes for a dynamic scene. Planting in layers, utilizing all available space, frees the designer and gardener to choose from the wider variety of plant material; space is used more creatively and efficiently. Sections of light and shadow provide the ability to grow sun- and shade-loving plants in close proximity. Mixed gardens are particularly important for small spaces, where the luxury of separate spaces for a shrubbery (shrub border), an annual bed, and a perennial garden are not possible.
What I call mixed gardens or borders are often an extension of the traditional perennial border, yet they offer several advantages over a strictly herbaceous garden. The framework of deciduous and evergreen shrubs or trees can add tremendously to the winter garden. Annuals, tropicals, and early spring, summer, and autumn bulbs further extend the season of interest in a mixed garden. We need not rely on flowers for the predominant interest but can look to fruit, bark, and autumn color from the woodies to provide further drama. Vines incorporated to utilize the vertical space in the garden can add scale if used on a freestanding structure such as an obelisk, or they might soften a wall or hide a fence. Aligned as it is with planting in nature, a mixed garden often has a more natural feel to it than a purely perennial or annual planting. Hearken back to fourth-grade science (yikes!) and its lessons about the layers of the forest: canopy, understory, shrubs, and herbaceous groundcovers. For plantaholics — those of us who love all kinds of plants, no matter if they are herbaceous or woody — planting a mixed border better satisfies our fanatical plant-lust. It turns a collection of plants into an artistic garden.
Barnes & Noble.com: How did you first get started designing gardens professionally?
Tracy DiSabato-Aust: I actually started designing small gardens in high school, which was over 25 years ago (that's scary to think about!). I had a basic feel for it at that time. Then I went to The Ohio State University and studied horticulture and continued to do some design work on the side as I learned more about design principles and technique. My work in England, again some 20 years ago, helped me develop an initial style, and as with most designers, my style and focus have continued to develop over the years. Teaching design at OSU also really helped to center my approach -- which is plant-intensive designs.
B&N.com: There's a tendency to want to jump right in and plant, but you recommend taking time to observe and draw out a plan on paper.
TDA: I know it may sound like a bit of a bore to plan, but it can be key to your garden success. It also saves time and money in the long run. Experience a site for a bit before impulsively going to a nursery or garden center and buying what looks good that day (even though we have all done that and more often than not ripped it out the following season or so). Every site has an energy associated with it. The light moves through it in certain ways that with an understanding can enhance your designs. Knowing the soil and microclimates and best views of the area will further enhance your enjoyment and success with the garden. Plus, you need to know your objectives such as color preferences, function, time for maintenance, etc.
Putting the garden on paper to scale and at least placing some key structural elements be they plants, art, or walls and walks, helps direct your objectives. It also prevents things from being planted too close together or, just as bad, too far apart. Even if you don't put an actual plant name down for each space, you can put your intentions down and work from there when shopping for plants. For example, if you decide that you need a small tree in one space and a dwarf conifer in another and you map to scale the approximate sizes and perhaps the forms they should be (i.e., vertical or perhaps mounded), then you can work with these objectives as a base when you are standing there looking at the plants or poring through catalogues.
B&N.com: Isn't planning a garden similar in many respects to decorating and other creative pursuits? The principles of color theory, for instance.
TDA: Yes, principles of design composition and color that are used in garden planning are often the same principles that are used in interior decorating, photography, or painting. They may be phrased with slightly different terminology, but they often have the same meaning and are used in the same way. In fact, it's really exciting to study color theory and the use of color in art classes and then see how it applies in garden design. When working in a garden, however, we deal with the element of time as well as life and death -- not normally an issue with the other arts. Plants will change in size, form, and color over time, and worse yet we may loose one, two, or even more of them, in our compositions. Not many painters have to deal with part of their painting dying out, and not many interior decorators need to worry about a couch losing some of its parts and changing its form or function.
B&N.com: Your book gives a thorough grounding for beginners, but you also address professional landscapers.
TDA: Yes, it was my hope to provide a step-by-step format that even a beginning gardener can follow and understand but include savvy plants and designs that would appeal to my fellow colleagues and advanced gardeners as well. I think it's fun to marry the two needs. I think different parts of the book will appeal to different gardening levels. For example, beginners have said to me that they enjoy the early chapters on getting started as well as the encyclopedia, which takes them through the design composition and maintenance requirements for each vignette. Professionals like the elaborate designs and the extensive reference charts and lists.
B&N.com: Fashions come and go with gardens. Tell us a little about the history of mixed gardens and why they are so suited to today's gardening.
TDA: Mixed garden designs are actually based in the late-18th-century concept of a shrubbery, and then the likes of Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson inspired a resurgence of it in the late 19th century. Here in America, it really gained force in the early 20th century due to writers such as Louise Beebe Wilder. In 1993, Ann Lovejoy wrote An American Mixed Border (which I loved at first sight) and promoted the mixed concept. However, strictly perennial gardens have reigned for many years and they can lack at times winter interest. And some people are still doing annual borders or beds. With limited space it's a perfect time to be combining all these plants in the garden. A mixed garden blends a wide palette of plant material and (if designed properly) offers season-long interest from not only spring or summer flowers but fruit, bark, branching habit, varied textures, forms, and foliage colors. Often the shrubs and trees require less frequent care than the perennials and so in some ways help reduce maintenance. The garden is layered with numerous plants and it's dynamic, exciting, and fun!