Fans of The Well-tended Perennial Garden may be surprised by Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s latest, 50 High-Impact, Low Care Garden Plants. It’s a very different approach: instead of detailed advice on pruning, deadheading, and cutting back plants so that they maintain peak performance all season long, with particulars on individual cultivars, the new book presents a list of plants that fulfill at least 9 out of 12 criteria for low maintenance and 5 criteria for beauty and performance.

This is not the kind of book I expect from this author, but after talking to her for a while at a regional gardening seminar (see post below), I began to see how and why she got to the book. Which paraphrases the first question I asked, and here’s how she answered it:

“I have a passion for what we do. But we need to be reaching out to a bigger audience, with gardening. We have so much to offer, and we need to give people things they can get excited about. How many times do you hear ‘It’s a lot of work’ ? We need to say here are fabulous plants that will evoke memories, stir emotions, and enlarge our lives. But they’re also no-brainers, tough plants that aren’t rocket science to grow and maintain. And many of them are unusual.”

Yes, I see that there aren’t any daylilies in here.

People don’t need me to tell them about daylilies or hostas. I need to provide quality information that hasn’t been provided [as much], that’s not dumbed down, that’s environmentally sound. And people do like lists.

On the 12 criteria you have “deer resistant,” “doesn’t require staking,” “cold-hardy,” and “non-invasive,” [not to be confused with non-aggressive] but you don’t have “native.”

About a quarter of them are native; I think there are many non-exceptional natives. The natives here are exceptional—like amsonia hubrichtii and baptisia austalis. They’re tough, handsome plants that only need a shearing back once a year.

I see that you’re establishing an internet presence. You have a blog, now, and we follow each other on twitter.

I’m a reluctant blogger, but I find I have endless information to share, endless photos. I write not so much to write, but to provide information, to make the contribution I can make.

And how long have you been a triathlete?

We started about five years ago, and do 2-3 races [running, biking, swimming] a year at the international level. This is another reason I want to talk about plants that need less attention. [DiSabato-Aust has 140 acres of her own at Hidden Haven, her home in Ohio, most of which seems filled with trees, shrubs, and perennial borders of various types.]

Looking back on 34 years in horticulture, which of your mentors do you think were the most important?

Beth Chatto really made my career, by referring to my writing in her lectures. And Steven Still, my advisor in the late 80s, who is now president of the Perennial Plant Association, was very important during a time when perennials were just beginning to be big.

Do you have another book in mind?

[look of horror] No, I’m not one of those people who’s always writing a book! I don’t know how you ladies do it—I commend you! I love books when they’re done.

There were more questions and much more off-topic conversation, but we’ll be catching up with this writer again, I’m sure. I have some plants marked as must-buys in 50 High-Impact, notably a couple of the grasses for shade, the paeonia obovata (wow!) and maybe the purple-leaf ligularia. Others I have and agree on their value: agastache Blue Fortune, hakonechloa Aureola, and geranium Rozanne. Others I’ve tried with no luck: allium schuberti, most of the sun-lovers.

It’s a fun book and a fun author. I’ll be interested to hear what others think.

Though I hope it doesn’t turn into another native/non-native argument, as I see is happening on the post below. I’m big tent on this. I use many non-natives and always will; same goes for natives. But I know I have no control; it’s up to you, dear readers.