Best-selling author – Professional speaker – Horticulturist – Designer – TriathletePosts RSS Comments RSS

Locally Grown Sustainable Specialty Cut Flowers

Double-Quick-Orange-VaseNew to the plant scene at Hiddenhaven are exciting specialty cut flowers. This past season we grew 5,000 amazing sunflowers in our field. Ten different cultivars were tested. Two plantings occurred with the first on May 10 and the second on June 1, 2010. A light application of chicken manure was spread prior to planting and llama manure was placed between a few of the rows after planting. Seeds were hand planted 6 inches apart for non-branching varieties and 12 inches apart for the branching types. Harvesting started July 6th and continued until August 20th. These beauties touched so many lives bringing smiles and joy to all. Due to popular demand I’ll be growing them again this year but have upped the numbers to 6,000 and 12 different varieties—this could easily get out of hand!! Order you seeds now to bring some sunshine into your gardens.
In addition to the sunflowers 80 spectacular heirloom and specialty dahlias were grown in a new cutting garden test plot along with zinnias, cosmos, Craspedia globosa (billy buttons), Trachelium caeruleum , and Gophrena ‘Fireworks’ to name a few. For early cutting a few of my favorites that were incorporated right into the mixed beds were Verona, Peach Blossom, and Willem Van Oranje tulips. Signs of their return are just starting to peak through the soil. Enjoy the images! I’ve provided you with some sources as well so you can experience the joy of these cut flowers first-hand. If you are a specialty floral designer or event planner and would like to purchase some of these unique cuts contact me at [email protected].

Cut Flower Sources

*Baker’s Acres Greenhouse 3388 Castle Road Alexandria, OH 43001-800-934-6525
*Old House Gardens Heirloom Bulbs Ann Arbor MI 734-995-1486
*Brent and Becky’s Bulbs Gloucester VA 877-661-2852
*Wildseed Farms Fredericksburg, TX 1-800-848-0078 for large quantities of poppy seed!
*Johnny’s Selected Seeds Winslow Maine 1-877-564-6697 Large selection of sunflowers!

Growing A Greener World


Tracy and Joe in gardens at Hiddenhaven
[ photo by Carl Pennington ]

I had the opportunity to have Joe Lamp’l aka Joe Gardener visit me in my gardens at Hiddenhaven and film a segment, on pruning perennials, for his new gardening series on PBS called “Growing A Greener World”. We had a blast and it was such an honor to spend time sharing my craft with such a knowledgeable fellow gardener. We hope you enjoy watching the video and reading Joe’s article. Check out his informative site at and be sure to watch “Growing A Greener World” which airs in every state on most PBS stations.


Tracy being filmed by Carl Pennington pruning Phlox paniculata [ photo by Joe Lamp’l ]

The mission of the show is to travel the country, telling the story of how people, places and organizations are using the garden and eco-friendly practices to promote environmental stewardship and how viewers can apply these same principles to make a difference in their own little corner of the world. The program covers organic/sustainable gardening and also features a cooking segment each week with fresh in-season ingredients….Cool!

May I design a garden for you?


Photo by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (c) 2009

Many people who visit this website do so because of my books and lectures.   This website has been a great way to stay in touch with the many wonderful friends I have made through those projects.  I greatly appreciate you reading this site.

One of my real joys is doing garden design work.   If you’d like to learn more about my activities in that area, click on the word DESIGN in the menu at the top of this page.    I’d love to design a garden for you!

“The Well-Tended Perennial Garden”, now completely revised!

I was recently interviewed by Timber Press about the new and completely revised edition of The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. Visit the Timber Press blog for the full interview!

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.

Read the rest of the interview here! or // here to purchase your copy of the new book!

“The Well-Designed Mixed Garden” Interview

DSC_3106I had the wonderful opportunity in the autumn 2013 to speak on “The Well-Designed Mixed Garden” for the Swiss Association of Flower Arrangers at the Swiss National Museum in Prangins Switzerland just outside of Geneva. I did this interview with Hester Macdonald, World Radio Switzerland, in the gorgeous vegetable garden after the talk.

Included are a few photos from Caroline Sykes garden, my gracious hostess, for the event. Note the Swiss Alps as the “borrowed landscape”.

During this same European trip my husband Jim and I raced Triathlon Worlds in London and visited The Royal Botanic Garden Kew. I had spoken at Kew many years ago and it was a delight to revisit and enjoy their “Incredible Edibles” display… yes, that’s sweet corn growing outside the Victorian Palm House!! Delighted as well they were carrying all three of my books in their gift shop!!!

DSC_2992 DSC_2993 DSC_3053 DSC_3129 DSC_3290 DSC_3295_2 DSC_3307


Design Focus: Small Enclosed Gardens

[Update: April 2011] In the spring of 2011, herbaceous plants were added to this garden. Here is a partial plant list and some updated images from the garden. Enjoy!
[portfolio_slideshow include=”951,952,953,954,955,956,957,958″]
Dicentra s. ‘Gold Heart’, Anemone ‘September Charm’, Spigelia marilandica, Helleborus ‘Pink Parachute’ , Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’, Aquilegia alpina, Ascepias tuberosa, Papaver o.’Beauty of Livermore’, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Canna ‘Pretoria’ Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Lilium henryi, Hakonechloa m. ‘All Gold’, Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Dahlia ‘Winsome’, Zinnia ‘Benary Giant Orange’, Lobelia cardinalis ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ , Papaver rhoeos


  • Organize space clearly and creatively
  • Especially important in enclosed small gardens: Connect architecture of the house to the garden (Style)
  • Provide strong structural outline – extending the walls of the house to the garden with either living or nonliving boundaries for privacy and intimacy.
  • Utilize vertical space for vines and /or espalier. Trellis can be attached and a cutout or mirror(s) can hint at distant or not-so-distant spaces.
  • Select plants appropriate to the period or style of the home. They should have at least two seasons of interest if not more
  • Cooler colors make an area appear larger but may not be desirable in all seasons.
  • Planting smaller leaved plants in the background or finer textures increases the feeling of space.
  • Change of levels and bricks placed on their narrow sides also create greater depth.


rector-designOVERVIEW: Beautiful historic home built in 1895 in the charming German Village district of Columbus, Ohio. Client is an enthusiastic gardener but the overall design of the garden needed an update from the existing 20 year old plan. Key elements include: A keen sense of place. Heirloom, native, and fragrant, plants many which were available from local nurseries during the period in which the house was built. Mirrors placed in garage windows and gothic art piece reflect the space and increase its apparent size substantially. Custom made wooden window boxes scrolled with the same engraving that is above some of the windows on the home. Custom made trellis for utilization of the vertical space on the fence and for hiding the air conditioning units. Espalier fruit and ornament trees. Beautiful neat, and uniform, living walls for intimacy. Old Oak whisky barrel installed as rain barrel.

SITE EVALUATION: Small enclosed garden approximately 30’ x 25’ including a 14’ x 14’ brick patio in the center. English ivy had taken over the garden and had developed into a mature deeply rooted woody plant that required the entire season to eradicate before establishing the new garden. Most of the other existing plants were overgrown and dated. A soil test indicated 8% organic matter content – which is a good star – however the ph was high, even for this area, at 7.6. Beds were amended with 4” of a blend of different organic matter (See The Well-Tended Perennial Garden). Sun patterns performed by the client in the peak of the growing season revealed that most of the bed spaces receive only 1-4 hours of sun except for a couple raised beds near the house which receive about 7 hours of sun. The garden is in a protected USDA hardiness Zone 5/6. One of the main challenges was installing the large plants and irrigation into such a small space.

STYLE: The house and neighborhood dictate a European/German influenced historic style. German gardens are typically neat, and orderly with an emphasis on fruit and vegetable culture along with a love for flowers. Houses are frequently adorned with ornamentals and there is an interest in new plant material along with a high degree of craftsmanship in stone, wood, and iron.

FUNCTION: Gardens are primarily for the personal enjoyment of the clients. However due to their highly visible location along a sidewalk leading to a large park they are viewed and enjoyed by many of the residents of the community.

COLOR, TEXTURE & FORM: In the spring the colors will be cooler and softer including pinks and whites but the client’s passion for bright saturated hot reds and oranges will dictate the palette for summer and autumn. Variegated foliage and yellow foliage will also be part of the colorful picture.

PEAK SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring, summer and autumn would be the seasons the garden would be enjoyed.

PLANT SELECTION: Colleague and friend Denise Adams author of Restoring American Gardens (Timber Press) was contacted for suggestions on plants which would fit the period and location. She provided a plant list for the Columbus Nursery which was located three quarters of a mile south of town on High Street (German Village) and was established in 1855. I used the list to help drive the plant selection. Native and fragrance were also part of the criteria for many of the plants.

WOODY PLANT LIST (more woodies and all the herbaceous to come in spring)
3-Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ Athens Sweetshrub
12-Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ Upright European Hornbeam (used as living wall)
1-Clematis terniflora Sweet Autumn Clematis
3-Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ Carol Mackie Daphne
5-Deutzia gracillis ‘Nikko’ Nikko Deutzia
6-Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ Limelight Hydrangea
2-Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ Graham Thomas Honeysuckle
1-Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ (espalier) Bracken’s Brown Beauty Southern Magnolia
1-Magnolia x ‘Jane’ Jane Magnolia
1-Malus ‘Gala’ Gala Apple (espalier)
1-Passiflora incarnata Passion Flower
1-Pyrus ‘Kieffer’ Kieffer Pear (espalier)
3-Rhododendron viscosum Swamp Azalea
3-Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ Moonlight Japanese Hydrangea Vine
3-Symphoricarpus x doorenbosii ‘Marleen’ Marleen Snowberry


[email protected] For more design lessons from Tracy see: The Well-Designed Mixed Garden.
Copyright 2010 Tracy DiSabato-Aust

Budapest Bound

Follow Tracy and Team USA at Triathlon Worlds in Budapest - photo by Jared Langston

Follow Tracy and Team USA at Triathlon Worlds in Budapest – photo by Jared Langston

Budapest Bound for Triathlon Worlds!! Follow my daily blog for Team USA as we compete at the Triathlon World Championship in Budapest Hungary. Click on the picture to the left, or go to for more information. Also see my triathlon page for 2010 race results updates.

Updates and events

Hi! I just wanted to let you know the triathlon page on my website has been updated. Also, check out the article in this month’s Columbus Monthly – “Fitness Freaks At 50”. Come and join me at the The Central Ohio Home & Garden Show – Ohio Expo Center, this Saturday Feb. 27, 1pm & 3pm for Design and High-Impact, Low-Care Plant talks. For more info and an article featuring “Tracy’s Trophy Plants” visit page 34.

South American Gardens and Landscapes: Lessons for North American Gardeners

South American Flower

South American Flower

View the image gallery here

Recently I had the opportunity to speak in Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was fortunate to also be able to visit several gardens there as well as tour Machu Picchu in Peru. I want to thank my hosts Pilar de Arteaga de Pereira, who worked diligently with me for 2 years to arrange this lecture, and her fellow members of the Garden Clubs of Uruguay as well as Sonia Blaquier and the members of the  Horticulture Society of Argentina. It was a great honor to speak in both countries to such keen groups of gardeners about mixed garden design and color theory from my book The Well-Designed Mixed Garden. Also what a chance in a lifetime for my husband Jim and I to spend time in our hosts homes and gardens and get to know firsthand the life and culture of these kind, warm and generous people. Machu Picchu is such a sacred, majestic place that words can’t even describe its beauty and impact. Enjoy a few of my images and note the uncanny connections between the design elements of these ancient ruins and the design elements found in S. American gardens today.

View the image gallery here

Some Key Points

  • The style of the gardens closely match the personality and style of the owners
  • Outdoor kitchens were prevalent and expressive of the S. American gardener’s passion for life
  • In Uruguay and Argentina form and line were key garden elements
  • Incredible the connection between form and line in Peru at the  Inca Ruins in Ollantaytambo  and at Machu Picchu (terracing) and the form and line used in garden settings (steps and terracing)

    S. America 2009 175

    Machu Picchu

  • Note the framing of views at Machu Picchu and the framing of views/entrances in garden settings
  • Enjoy the same forms of the mountains and rooftops at Machu Picchu as the shrub and topiary forms in an Argentinean garden
  • Design Principles of Order (Balance & Mass Collection), Unity (Dominance, Repetition & Interconnection) and Rhythm (Repetition, Alternation, & Gradation) are prevalent in gardens and ruins.
  • Spectacular studies of light and distance and its effect on color, texture and form are possible
  • Key Plants: Orchids (over 300 species in Machu Picchu reserve), Bromeliads, succulents (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, Aeonium arboretum ‘Atropurpurea’), Petrea volubilis (Bluebird Vine), Tea Roses, Eugenia, Photinia, Pittisporum
  • Markets and Farming: Epitome of locally grown—everything is used from all parts of plants, to Llama fiber and dung, for dyes, weaving, compost and fuel etc. Crops include numerous beans, potatoes, and corn.

View the image gallery here

The Well-Designed Mixed Garden Now Available in paperback for a great low price!!

well-designed-mixed-garden-cover-pb-250pxSome people’s eyes glaze over when the subject of conversation turns to garden design. And you can’t blame them — “design speak” can sound like a lot of highfalutin gobbledygook. So it’s a cause for celebration when you come across a writer who can communicate the elements of garden design clearly and effectively. And if that writer can also instill in the reader a sense of joy and enthusiasm for gardening, it’s time to uncork the champagne.

These admirable qualities can be found on every page of The Well-Designed Mixed Garden: Building Beds and Borders with Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs, Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s masterful guide, now available in an affordable paperback edition. In part 1, she discusses the rationale for planting a mixed garden (beauty! variety! a long season of interest!), explains the design process and the principles of good design, and elucidates the complex ways in which color, texture, and form interact. Part 2 provides examples (including both photographs and design plans) of small, medium, and large mixed gardens, and part 3 consists of an encyclopedia of 27 plant combinations.

As if that weren’t enough, the appendices brim with useful information. There are extensive charts that list the design characteristics and cultural needs of 743 plants; 33 lists of plants by specific design traits (for example, blue flowers, variegated foliage, bold leaf texture); and 5 lists of plants by maintenance requirements. By any measure, it’s a very generous package.

So if, in the past, discussions of garden design have made you want to leave the room, it’s time to come back in. Tracy’s talking, and she’s worth listening to.

Hiddenhaven Gardens & Pruning Tips: An Overview for Garden’s Illustrated Magazine

My garden, Hiddenhaven, functions not only as a constant source of inspiration and enjoyment but it is the living laboratory used to test various cultural techniques as well as aesthetic qualities of plants. Over the years this information has been used as a basis for my work as an international writer, speaker and designer. It’s a garden whose primary function is to educate. For example all of the perennial pruning strategies that are present in my book The Well-Tended Perennial Garden were carried out in the gardens. I did evaluative research studying the flowering times, heights, and quality of the floral display of pruned plants compared to unpruned plants. Other maintenance information in the book is also garnered from the gardens. Such as the effectiveness of various organic soil amendments, staking and division techniques, as well as information on pests and disease. The gardens are cared for with environmentally friendly techniques and are not only occupied by humans but numerous cats, dogs and chickens!

Hiddenhaven July 020Trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs are also evaluated at Hiddenhaven for their aesthetic effectiveness in the garden. Color, texture, form, scale and proportion, and effects of light are just a few of the elements observed and used as a basis for my design work as well as my book The Well-Designed Mixed Garden. At just about any time and any day the gardens need to be poised for photography for publication in books or magazines or for speeches. The information in both books has been shared for many years in lectures with audiences from the across the US to S. America, New Zealand, Australia and England. In England I’ve spoke several times at Wisley, The English Gardening School, Brookhill Garden Courses, as well as Kew, Oxford Botanic Garden and for Specialty Plants.

Most recently I completed a new book titled, 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants. All of these high impact low care selections grow in the gardens and I’ll discuss many of them in the following text. The book was inspired by my desire to have dynamic highly ornamental plants that will be low maintenance due to my active lifestyle and the need I saw among other gardeners with hectic lives. Between family, running a business, and extensive training and racing in triathlons at the national and world level, I don’t have the time or the patience to devote to difficult divas! Plants must earn their keep if they are going to be allowed to stay in the gardens. They need to be long-lived, tolerant of cold, heat, and the humidity of the region. They shouldn’t require frequent pruning or division, staking, heavy feeding, and they need to be disease, insect and drought resistant, non-invasive and deer proof.

Due to my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture and my early work in gardens such as the Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium and Knighthayes Court in Devon, the garden’s design is plant driven. They are literally gardener’s gardens. Hiddenhaven is located in central Ohio north of Columbus, the capital of the state. It is in the USDA hardiness zone 5a (average minimum temperature of -20 F (-28.8 C), and heat zone 5 which has 30 to 45 days above 86 F (30 C). The gardens receive an average maximum precipitation of 36 inches (91.44 cm) per year. We have difficulty with heavy clay soil and have numerous pests including fourlined plant bug, Japanese beetle, bag worm, pine sawfly and deer. I’ve been asked on numerous occasions “can you actually garden there?” There are numerous states in the Midwest with very similar conditions. And although there are many areas in the US and England where the climate is more suitable to gardening we have embraced our conditions to create artistic, beautiful gardens in spite of it all!

Poppies 2009 021The gardens are comprised of about 8,000 ft. sq. of mixed borders which sit one-third of a mile off the road in the middle of 35 acres of fields, wetland and woodland carved with paths for hiking and cross country skiing. It was originally farmland and is still neighbored by horse and dairy farms. The gardens started as tradition herbaceous borders inspired by the British borders I had visited and worked in as a student. They contained give-away plants that had survived my master’s research on overwintering and cold hardiness of perennials. Many deletions and additions have occurred throughout the years and the gardens are always changing. I’ve been fortunate to have talented women who have helped me in the gardens once a week to gain experience so they can then go on to form their own design and maintenance businesses.

To create a sense of place in accordance with our location and log home, the gardens are designed in an informal style with native and non-native plants creating somewhat of a stylized meadow in many of the areas. Here plants are allowed to seed and colonize. Large drifts of gateway Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’), summer sun heliopsis (Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Sun’), Korean angelica (Angelica gigas), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and various ornamental grasses such as bottle-brush grass (Elymus hystrix), wild-oat (Chasmanthium latifolium), cosmopolitan maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cosmopolitan’) , and princess fountain grass (Pennisetum purpureum ‘Princess’) mingle to create an explosive display within an envelope of surrounding woods . In another area of the gardens rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), look again phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Look Again’), Rehbraun switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’), tall purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinacea ‘Skyracer’) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa) create another meadow-like feel.

Due to my extensive travel abroad the overall style of the garden is extremely eclectic which also conveys my rather obsessive plant and art collecting tendencies. Color is key throughout the gardens. Foliage color, texture and form are currently featured and unusual plants grow alongside more common plants used in uncommon ways. Unusual annuals add needed punch among the hardy plants- Cordyline fruticosa ‘Dr. Brown’, inky pink coleus (Solenostemon ‘Inky Pink’), redbor kale (Brassica olereacea ‘Redbor’),magilla perilla (Perilla frutescens ‘Magilla’) and honey bush (Melianthus major) are few of the favorites. Also containers full of drought loving plants like agaves, manfreda, furcraea and kalanchoe thyrsiflora spend the summer on the back porch as a respite from winter in the conservatory. Many hydrangea grace the gardens due to their high impact and ease of care. One vignette features complementary colors with Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Penny Mac’ and brilliant autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliant’). I use numerous dwarf and intermediate growing conifers such as dwarf corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica ‘Compacta’), and skylands spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) which provide much needed color and form during our long winters.

Hiddenhaven July 056The front border’s split complementary colors are based on the colors of Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ including violets, blues, blue- greens, and yellows in the spring and they heat up in the summer with Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) , dragon’s eye pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis’), Lilium lancifolium var. splendens, and Lilium henryi, blue fortune agastache (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’), Issai purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’), spiny bear’s breeches (Acanthus spinosus), and plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides). A large vine of Graham Thomas honeysuckle grows on the front of the house up a custom made iron trellis whose style is repeated in an adjacent porch railing and arbor in the back garden. The scent of the honeysuckle permeates the warm summer nights and stirs emotion.

A customized chicken coop that houses 10 different “designer breeds” which lay blue, turquoise and brown eggs reflects the properties heritage. But it sports modern bright colors of yellow, cobalt blue and red which repeat through the garden in benches, pots, glass sculptures and trellises. These colors are also repeated in our home, on our porches and in the conservatory attached to our home to create unification of all the spaces.

I feel that I and my family have grown along with the gardens. After years of working in cooperation with it in an attempt to make it into the way I’d like it and accepting that it will also teach me the way it’s going to be I’ll have to say that I’m content with it. And I’m extremely appreciative of all that it has given to me, both in my career as well as personal life. I think that’s a good place to be.

What’s next: For the next year I’ll tour promoting my new book and high impact low care plants. I’m taking on design commissions again and currently I’m working on the details to speak in Uruguay and Argentina in September 2009.

Pruning Perennials: 5 quick tips

  1. Many spring flowering perennials such as Iberis, Arabis, Aubrietia, Phlox subulata, and Dianthus gratianopolitanus should be cut back by one-half after flowering to maintain a dense mound and prevent an unsightly hole in the center of the clump.
  2. Multi-branched summer and autumn flowering plants such as Heliopsis, Echinacea, Phlox paniculata, and asters can be cut back by one-half prior to flowering when the plants are 16-24 inches (40.64-60.96 centimeters) in height to delay flowering (in an attempt to time bloom for a special event or combination), and reduce plant height to eliminate staking. Flowering can be delayed by 10-14 days in most cases.
  3. Mounded perennials like Baptisia and Amsonia respond to being sheared by one-third after flowering to form an attractive full shrub-like plant rather than a leggy irregular form.
  4. Plants that may have had pests or disease during the season should be pruned for the winter and debris should be removed from the gardens to prevent further spread of the pest. Plants that are slightly tender for the area should not be pruned for the winter as they may overwinter more successfully if protected by the foliage. Prune in the spring after all danger of cold has passed.
  5. Select the right tool for the job. By-pass pruners (secateurs), never-dull or bonsai/grape shears, as well as hedge shears are used for various pruning jobs in the gardens throughout the year.

Next »