The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond


What’s on Your Reading List?

After the patio was installed, I spent the winter pouring over gardening magazines and reading books checked out from the nearby public library. Who knew there was so much to consider? I got hooked. And I bought two books I refer to regularly on gardening.  The Missouri Gardener’s Guide by Mike Miller and the more complex but very thorough The Well-Designed Mixed Garden by Tracy Disabato-Aust.

Mike Miller’s book was a great way to start. The book is simple to read, has nice photography and is broken into easily digestible sections. A recognized expert in gardening, Miller provides us home gardeners lots of guidance on plant selection for the Missouri landscape. Applying his ideas to my backyard, I organized my thinking around selecting plants that are either native to Missouri, are drought hardy and (key here) easy to maintain. In addition to the description of a particular specimen, every selection includes Where, When and How to Plant, Growing Tips, Care, Companion Planting and Design (love that!) and a Did You Know tidbit. And all of it is contained to one page with a beautiful glossy photo. Thank you, Mike. Your easy-to-read books–he has another one on Missouri gardening–have been great resources for this novice gardener.

Disabato-Aust’s The Well-Designed Mixed Garden is another matter completely. This meaty book is big…in size and ideas. By the time I picked up this gardening resource, I knew I wanted to create a cottage garden with a mix of color, shape and flowers. I wanted a heavy emphasis on low care shrubs and colorful perennials. And I was looking for advice on design and plant selection.

The book’s section on design is not for the meek. It’s probably aimed more for the professional but it contains some great food for thought. She explains the importance of understanding design principles (think order, unity, rhythm) in designing an aesthetically pleasing garden. Then she gets into scale and does a deep dive on color selection. Overwhelming? Yes. Intimidating? Check.

So why do I continue to dog ear the pages of this book? Disabato-Aust really got my wheels turning on thinking about color and texture. I also started to map out my design ideas on graph paper. That was a painful process but I still refer to that horribly drawn “map.” Mostly, I really love all the appendices in the book, which are terrific resources for design characteristics, maintenance and the names of plants. There are lots of photos showing plant combinations. I like that this design pro shares with you some of her mistakes; seeing garden do’s and don’ts is helpful.