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New plants, old style, timeless design

Lindner garden designed by Tracy DiSabato-Aust

Photo by David A. Ziser (c) 2009

My first impression when I saw the Lindner garden, on my initial consultation, was simply that the garden had no soul. It appeared lifeless, stagnant, and without joy. It was designed in a formal, masculine, style with huge clouds of boxwood weighing down the whole scene and a few token perennials and roses planted haphazardly for what I’m sure was meant to be “seasonal color”. Todd MacFarland the estate manager who had brought me into the project assured me there was interest in a change from this style.

When I later met the vivacious, active, and grounded Martha Lindner, I knew there must have been a “misread” between the current garden style and the client. Here was a woman, full of life, who loved flowers, color, fragrance and had memories and emotional attachments to plants from her childhood and from her children’s childhood. We needed to bring this space to life and more in line with the personality of the woman who owned it.

The goal was to create an, intimate, secluded and elegant garden that would embrace and rejuvenate body, mind, and spirit. The home was built in the 1920’s and the garden was walled. So to create a sense of time and place I felt the style of the garden should be reminiscent of the romantic 1920’s estate walled flower gardens similar to that designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman for the walled garden at Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio during that time period (see sidebar). I also thought it would be interesting to have this historical connection with another female designer and with another Ohio garden.

The garden was to be used mainly in the mornings for Martha’s prayer time and in the evenings for entertaining. Hot afternoon sun and extreme heat during the mid-day would reduce activity in the space at that time. The garden was to peak in May and June as well as again in September and October. May was most important due to a traditional Mother’s Day dinner Martha hosts annually as well as for her daughters wedding to be held in the garden in late May the year following planting. The clients travel schedule and golfing would reduce the use during the summer months.


The client’s kitchen looks out into the garden and is designed in a French country style and color theme. Consequently colors for the garden were selected that would coincide with this color palette. A polychromatic scheme (a blend of most colors) was incorporated using predominately cooler yellows, blues, pinks (the client’s favorite color), violets and some creams. Mostly pastels or tints (high values of hues) were selected to be visible in the soft early morning and early evening light when the garden would be most enjoyed by the client. No pure reds or oranges were used but pinks and peaches—tints of red and orange were suitable. Shades of red and red-violet were used in the maroon foliage of smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’) to add weight and depth to the otherwise light colors and numerous airy fine textures. For good proportion 2/3rd tints to 1/3 shades were utilized. Color is used in blocks and a mosaic, impressionistic approach, is accomplished through interplanting similar to Biddle Shipman’s style but not quiet as mixed—to keep maintenance within reason.

The textures in the garden are mostly fine and light and the forms are predominantly rounded, creating a soft feminine mood which the client preferred to bolder textures and forms. The fine textures are particularly visible in the soft morning and evening light when the garden is used. Bold textures and vertical forms are used as focal points.

Classic plants such as foxgloves (Digitalis), candytuft (Iberis), lily- of –the-valley (Convallaria), pinks (Dianthus), lavender (Lavandula), poppies (Papaver), red buds (Cercis), columbine (Aquilegia) and sweet peas (Lathyrus) were top on the clients list of desirable species. These plants fit perfectly into style and theme for the garden and many would also provide a musky fragrance. To create a garden that was practical to maintain, without the usual large gardening staff present on the estates of the past, newer disease and insect resistant cultivars of heirloom plants were often utilized along with outstanding heirlooms. Sometimes new cultivars were used for a desirable color and in limited cases non-heirlooms were incorporated if fitting. (see plant list) Dr. Denise Adam’s book Restoring American Gardens (Timber Press) was referenced to help determine plant selection for the period and for Ohio. Heirloom annuals are custom grown from seed every season by Baker’s Acres Greenhouse especially for the garden.

Every garden has it’s “issues” and unfortunately this garden is no exception. The high heat that builds up in the garden can be a problem for some of the cool season old-fashioned annuals. There was also a drainage problem along one wall which needed corrected. It can be hard to moderate moisture with such a diverse cross section of planting and invariably some areas are too dry while others are too wet. But by far the biggest obstacles we deal with are deer. They have become immune to the repellent that we had been using and we are experimenting now with others.


When designing to pull everything together, from color to texture to form one must consider the principles of design such as Order, Unity and Rhythm. We can achieve

Order through balance and mass collection—Symmetrical balance is accomplished through the pairing of Weeping Red Buds (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’) at two main entrances into the garden. Hydrangea macrophylla’Endless Summer’ are also paired on either side of all the entrances. The two long borders mirror one another with smokebush, nearly wild roses, and peonies repeating through the center which also creates balance. Mass collection is accomplished through the drift of plants and particularly the mass of Rozanne geranium which creates a low edging around all the beds and spill onto the walks.

Unity is accomplished through dominance, repetition and interconnection. Dominance of vertical form, and bold texture with hollyhocks, foxglove, and delphinium punctuate the otherwise rounded forms and fine airy texture of the majority of other plants. The smokebush also are dominant due to their color which punctuates the borders. All species are repeated in a regular fashion around the garden. Interplanting and a plant intensive design creates beautiful natural interconnection of the plants including melding of nasturtiums, sweet peas and flax.

Rhythm can be set through repetition, alternation and gradation. This is accomplished through the steady repeating of all the species at regular intervals including Rozanne geranium, snow fountain cherries on the walls and numerous poppies—both annual and perennial. Undulation is accomplished with the diverse cross section through the design and low plants moving into tall plants and then back down to low plants. Gradation is noticeable as the plants build from the front to the back of the border and the colors gradually get slightly warmer as we move from season to season creating a rhythmic gradation.

Individual combinations are also designed with consideration to a balance of form, texture and color as well as season of interest for both flowers and foliage. I’m always considering the Golden Mean and 1/3 to 2/3rd rule with color, texture and form. For example 1/3 saturated colors to 2/3 unsaturated or grayed color, 1/3 fine texture to 2/3 bold texture.

Even though there were many design principles followed and there was a keen approach to color, texture, form and plant selection the most important thing is that the garden now reflects who the client is and it is in line with the sense of the place. And happily it now has a soul.


Trees & Shrubs

Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’ (flowers on old and new wood)

Prunus x ‘Hally Jolivette’ espalier (introduced 1940)

Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ (purple-red leaves)

Philadelphus lewisii ‘Snow Velvet’

Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’

Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’

Lonicera ‘Graham Thomas’

Clematis Montana var. rubens

Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’

Symphoricarpos ‘Amethyst’

Rosa ‘Nearly Wild’


Geranium Rozanne

Iris ‘Perfume Counter’

Paeonia ‘Extra Sweet Pink’

Digitalis ambigua

Digitalis purpurea ‘Excelsior Hybrids’

Anemone ‘September Charm’ , ‘Honorine Jobert’

Aquilegia alpine

Papaver ‘Princess Victoria Louise’ , ‘Patty’s Plum’, ‘Lighthouse’, ‘Royal Wedding’, ‘Helen Elizabeth’, ‘Pink Ruffles’

Phlox ‘Tracy’s Treasure’

Delphinium belladonna ‘Bellamosum’

Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’, ‘Stargazer’

Lilium formosana

Leucanthemum ‘Becky’

Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’

Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

Aster ‘Purple Dome’

Iris ‘Caesar’s Brother’

Valeriana officianlis

Chrysanthemum ‘Cambodian Queen’

Delphinium ‘Summer Blues’

Platycodon ‘Komachi’

Coreopsis ‘Crème Brulee’

Phlox paniculata ‘Fesselballon’ ‘Blue Paradise’, ‘David’

Centrantus ruber

Lavandula ‘Provence’

Baptisia australis

Convallaria albostricta

Dianthus ‘Bath’s Pink’

Dianthus barbatus ‘Nigricans’

Thymus ‘Pink Chintz’

Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’

Linum perenne ‘Saphire’

Echinacea purpurea ‘Sunrise’

Hibiscus ‘Plum Crazy’

Alcea rugosa

Alcea ‘Watchman’

Leucanthemum ‘Sunshine’

Iberis ‘Autumn Snow’

Delphinium ‘Royal Aspirations’

Campanula rotundifolia ‘Olympica’


Lathyrus ‘Matucana’, ‘Painted Lady’, ‘Chatsworth’, Fragrant Ripples’

Tropaeolum ‘Moonlight’

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena ‘Imagination’

Consolida ‘Blue Cloud’

Dahlia ‘Bonne Esperance’, ‘Thomas Edison’, ‘Jersey Beauty’

Antirrhinum ‘Royal Bride’, ‘Black Prince’

Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Bell’, mauve

Gomphrena –pink, purple, mauve

Mirabilis ‘Custard and Cream’

Scabiosa ‘Summer Sundae’

Dianthus ‘Grenadin Yellow’, ‘Elegance Pink’

Salvia ‘Evolution’

Papaver ‘Angel’s Choir’

Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’, ‘Heirloom’, ‘Pink Peony’,

Mathiola incana ‘Lucinda Dark Rose’, ‘Tudor Tapestry’

Heliotrope ‘Fragrant Delight’

Godetia ‘Fruit Punch’

Phlox drumondii ‘Phlox of Sheep’

SPRING BULBS (numerous species and cultivars of below)





Dutch Iris


Years ago while lecturing at Stan Hywet in Akron Ohio my mother and I walked the grounds and “stumbled” upon the partially sunken walled English Garden. We fell in love with the space and learned it had been designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman. I acquired the plans for the garden not knowing that numerous years later I would come back to them and the important woman who created them.

Once I saw the Lindner garden I thought the similarity between it and Ellen Biddle Shipman’s work at Stan Hywet was uncanny. I started reading the excellent book, The Gardens of Ellen Biddle Shipman by Judith B. Tankard (Sagapress) and it confirmed this connection. According to Tankard, Shipman was known as the “dean of American women landscape architects”. She designed over 650 gardens nationally between 1914 and 1946. And more important to me (a female garden designer known for creating colorful gardens with predominately perennials and annuals) she was not only and advocate for women in the profession, but was also considered “one of the best if not the very best, flower garden maker in America”.

This title was bestowed on her by Warren Manning when he suggested to his client Mrs. Seiberling, in 1928, who was a painter and the owner of Stan Hywet, that she use Ellen Shipman, to create perhaps a new plan for the English Garden using a lighter palette of color and greater variety of flowering plants perhaps more in tune with Mrs. Seiberling’s desires. Mrs. Seiberling used the English garden as a place for refuge, reflection and inspiration.

There were so many interesting parallels between the Lindner garden and Shipman’s design for Stan Hywet for Mrs. Seiberling (and dare I say between myself and Shipman) that it would be the main inspiration for my design work for Mrs. Lindner.

Soil is the root of the issue

Matt Hickman portrait courtesy Mother Nature Network

Matt Hickman portrait courtesy Mother Nature Network

Research indicates that 80% of all plant problems relate to poor soil. Most soil we work with in the home garden is considered “disturbed urban soil” and it often contains only 2% (or less) organic matter. According to the Perennial Plant Association herbaceous perennials require a minimum of 5% organic matter for optimum growth. Organic matter can improve drainage in clay soil and increase water and nutrient holding capacity in sandy soil.  Research has also show that organic matter can increase plant growth by anywhere from 20-100% while maintaining higher than average survival rates. How does your soil stack up? Now is the time to test your soil and amend it to create a living soil that will help you be successful without synthetic chemicals.  But all amendments are not created equal. Learn more about soils in my first book The Well-Tended Perennial Garden ( Chapter 2 Bed Preparation: Insurance for Success) and click here to read Matt Hickman’s blog from Mother Nature Network “The First Amendments” and view my video on “Improving Garden Soil”.

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!

A website for women 50+,

Recently, I have become a guest contributor to the website.   You can read a brief profile they posted about me by clicking here. is an online destination for women 50+, a peer-to-peer information exchange populated by smart and passionate women, who are looking for tips and information, as well as important opinions and attitudes on culture, money, food, style, wellness, travel, gardening, politics, and more—the topics that interest WOMEN WHO KNOW. connects women who recognize the strength in each other and share each other’s desire to make the most of life every day.     My thanks to VibrantNation for giving me the opportunity to share my love of gardening with new friends  everywhere! Here is a direct link to my content on the Vibrant Nation site.

Trophy plant picks of resistant plants


Thanks to everyone who joined us for Big Blend Radio‘s “Champagne Sunday” radio show on Sunday, March 15.   We talked about my trophy plant picks of resistant pants.These are trophy plants that are resistant to drought, deer, pests, & disease!!  Some of the plants  are:

Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) which is also coverd in my books ” High Impact” and “Well-Designed”. Tumbleweed Onion (Allium Schubertii) as above,‘Jack Frost’ Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’) which is covered  in “High Impact”,Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix),also in “High Impact” , and ‘Henry’s Garnet’ Virginia Sweet Spire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet), covered in “High Impact” and “Well-Designed Mixed Garden”.  Thanks again to the ladies at the Big Blend website. (

If you are a new visitor to, make sure you sign up for our email updates (see sign up area on the right hand side of the page.)

Sow annual poppy seeds now

As plant nerds we all go through different plant fetishes. I’ve been through numerous “species obsessions” including the Geraniums, the lilies, and the Dianthus just to name a few. And currently I’m into Carex in a big way. But I’ve been in love with poppies (both annual and perennial) for about as long as I can remember. I even have a history of “smuggling” poppy seeds into the USA in my “unmentionables”J when returning from a year and a half of work/study abroad 28 years ago. The best germination success of annual species, for the home gardener in colder climates, seems to occur when the seeds are sown directly in February or March when the ground is free of snow. Also to ensure success I’ve learned to order fairly large quantities of seeds—one small packet just doesn’t cut it. I’m talking about getting ¼ lb. or even 1 lb. of seeds when available. I sow seeds of California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Red Corn Poppy or Flanders Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), and Bread or Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) about the gardens in any available space. It is harder to find large quantities of opium poppy so it may require numerous smaller packets for best effect. A great source for seeds of poppies is Wildseed Farms Also remember to allow poppies to go to seed once you’ve got them established in the garden. You can even cut off the mature seed pods and spread them about in the desired location. Good luck with these gorgeous plants.

Attention, weekend gardening warriors

Are you staying fit this winter in preparation for all the hard work you’ll face this spring? How’s that 6-pack? And I’m not talking about a six pack of pansies or am I? Now is the time to be strengthening those abs, backs, arms, and legs to avoid aches and pains or worse an injury this spring. Consider working out with me and my triathlon coach Troy Jacobson on the “STRENDURANCE” DVD.  It’s an effective and fun progressive program that can be modified to fit any fitness ability. And the sessions are only 20-30 minutes so they will work into your busy life—no excuses—I even demonstrate proper technique at the beginning of the DVD. Go to and look for “Strendurance”. Also extremely useful in this arena is Bunny Guinness and Jacqueline Knox’s new book “Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness”. “Buff” gardeners rule!!!

A special bonus just for readers of When you go to use coupon code CTA08 for $10.00 off Strendurance now through end of March.

Stretching $$$ in the garden…a hot topic

Want to save money in the garden? It is a hot topic right now. Click on the MEDIA tab to read some of the recent articles where I have shared a few ideas.

Get a free copy of my book (and others) from Garden Rant

Over at the Garden Rant blog, they’ve launched their first ever “short fiction” contest….99 words or less.  (now that is really short!).   Click here to visit their site to enter. One of the prizes includes a free copy of “50 High Impact, Low Care Garden Plants”  Enjoy!

A nice article from my hometown paper

One of the great things about writing garden books is the opportunity to meet gardeners from all over the world as I travel to do lectures and book tours.  Although my books have been covered by media outlets in many different places, it is especially nice to pick up my hometown paper and read an article like the one that appeared today in the Columbus Dispatch. If you’d like to read it, here is the link.    My thanks to reporter Tim Feran.

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