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Author : Tracy DiSabato-Aust
Timber Press Inc, Portland, Oregon, 1998. Hardcover, 269 pages.

Reviewed by DEE DIXON

Ok, ok, I did see the lawn creeping up on the closet bed - I call it that because a Climbing Joseph's Coat rose hangs on an arbor there. I did see it and I really did intend to get back out there and yank it out. In fact, I was even going to put down some edging, but I didn't have any so I would have to go to the store and we needed groceries so if I went I should pick up them up too, but I didn't have the list ready and I needed gas and cash and that would require a stop at the ATM and the gas station. I also had been digging all morning and looked like it, I would want to change, but my good jeans needed to be washed and ... I was out of laundry soap. Now re-read this paragraph for the next 52 Saturdays and you will come to understand why the grass, concerned only with total domination, has the upper hand in the battle for the closet bed ... so much for good intentions.

I have been trying to get my hands on The Well-Tended Perennial Garden for obvious reasons ever since I heard about it in 1998. Well, I have, and now I must tell you that you need this book. The waiting list at the library is long so my best advice is to add it to your Christmas wish list and hope Santa has plenty.

It contains truly ground-breaking information that you will refer to often. My garden has moments of true beauty, but rarely can I string together more than a week when I am satisfied with what I have done.

In the past I have checked this off as one of the inherent challenges of gardening and gone off to create another garden in another place that will look pretty in July. I spend the summer moving my chair around my yard from spot to spot looking for something that pleases me. I have discovered it hasn't necessarily been the rules of nature or the limitations of my plants, but my own ignorance of the plants I have tried to grow well that has frustrated my gardening experience. 

As I have already pointed out, staying on top of things is not necessarily what I am best at. Ms. DiSabato-Aust has ample advice for people just like me. She broadens the usual soil preparation discussion with exact proportions and testing specifications and explains very clearly why having great garden soil eases maintenance and helps make a beautiful garden possible.

DiSabato-Aust has spent years studying and practicing cause and effect in her perennial garden. As a consequence she is able to tell us when it is best to prune, deadhead, pinch back, thin, disbud, cut back and deadleaf to which perennial to get the absolute best from our plants.

Have you ever been encouraged to prune parts of the same plant at two week intervals to extend it's bloom time? I haven't, but what an interesting idea. There are basic discussions of perennial garden planting and maintenance, including chapters on design, bed preparation, planting and establishment, pests and diseases, staking, division, and how to renovate an established perennial garden.

The second section is devoted to the various techniques we need to practice to become true artists when we prune. The plant encyclopedia alone is worth the price of the book. It is an extensive catalog of most garden perennials; they are fully described and their specific pruning and maintenance needs listed in a step by step format.

You will pull this book off the shelf and read up on every new plant you buy! The appendices offer a month-to-month schedule of perennial garden chores and lists of perennials for specific pruning and maintenance requirements. All of this information is presented in a easy-going style that is simple to read and understand.         

This spring my grand-daughter and I colored Easter eggs. They turned out great and I wanted a beautiful way to display them. I found an old wire bucket, lined it with moss (the very same stuff that was intent on strangling the life out of my lawn - I did spread the lime shortly afterward, only a month or so late) and dug a shovel full of the errant grass in the coat bed that had conveniently surrounded a blooming clump of daffodils. The dirt, bulbs and grass went into the moss lined bucket with the Easter eggs tucked in on top. It was beautiful - I couldn't have planned the effect any better. There is great reward in the garden for even the worst of us.