Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hiddenhaven: The Gardens of Tracy DiSabato - Columbus, OH

We drove down and around some rural roads this afternoon, not unlike those of our home territory in the northwest part of the state. Except that there were hills. The locals wouldn't call them that, I'm sure, but they're more than we ever see out our back door and they roll just enough to add some character to the countryside.

Somewhere outside of Columbus, we turned off the road and drove a little ways back a lane, parked the car and headed off on foot, in the direction of the rooster crows. What a bucolic scene this was, as the lane meandered through the woods, leading to a comfortable haven of a house, surrounded by well-tended and well-designed perennial gardens.

This was the home of Tracy DiSabato-Aust, internationally-known garden designer, speaker, and author of two books and numerous magazine articles. Tracy had been gracious enough to open her personal gardens to the Master Gardeners and one straggler (me).

Mom and I had arrived before the Master Gardener bus group, so we enjoyed some one-on-one time with Tracy and some of her neighbors and friends, as well as several of her six cats. And let me tell you, her cats are every bit as charming as Tracy herself. Neo staked his claim to my lap within minutes and I was more than happy to be a cat chair for awhile. We just hit it off right away.

A short while later, the Master Gardeners arrived and our visit officially began with Tracy giving a little history of how Hiddenhaven gardens came to be and what she does to create their beauty. Maintenance of the gardens is taken care of by Tracy and her husband, with help from friends on occasion, when things are especially busy, like during spring planting.

Since the gardens are 98% organic, with chemicals being used only when absolutely necessary, pest control is for the most part by hand. Cutting the chewers in two and crushing the other creepy crawlers is the method of choice, but garlic spray is sometimes used. We got to see this first-hand, as Tracy grabbed a grasshopper and crushed it with her "big-girl shoes," as she calls them.

Tracy also explained how cutting back perennials can manipulate both their size and bloom time. I've done that with a couple of my own plants the last two summers, but I'll be much more bold with my pruners now that I know it's 'okay.'

To the side of the log house is a glass conservatory, which was open to us today. Blue ceramic tiles decorated the floor and stairs of the upper level, where a table and chairs as well as a sitting chair were situated. A forged iron railing ran across the upper level and there were two ceiling fans with lights at the ceiling's peak. Shelves rounded the opposite end, and these were laden with potted plants. There was a section where several large specimens were planted with their roots below floor level.

With so much to see, the time spent there went very quickly, but Tracy and her friends were available to answer any questions about plant identification, pruning, siting of specific plants and recommendations for combinations. We made several rounds in and around and through the 4000-plus square feet of beds, and each time, we saw something we didn't see before.

One thing that stood out for me, the nearly novice gardener, was her use of annuals mixed in with the established perennials. Many of the gardens I've visited in the last three summers have made use of annuals and perennials together, of course, but most have tended to keep the two somewhat separate. If they are mixed in, there is a general boundary between the two, whether it be by spacing or by container. In these gardens, the annuals grew right alongside the perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees, as if they'd been there from the beginning of time, not merely since the middle of May.

There were the usual surprises of whimsy here and there, and several sculptures and statuary pieces that were as well-placed as any living thing we saw.

I especially liked the statue of a girl lifting her hands to the sky and judging from the comments I heard as others passed by, I wasn't alone in my admiration of it.

A just-right-sized pond lies behind the house, with a meadow beyond, which plays host to many butterflies, both real and one very large stationary one. A tree house was the launching pad for a zip line that ran across the pond - all sorts of fun, everywhere you looked!

As the tour reached an end, Tracy had both of her books available for purchase and for signing:

his was a rare and appreciated opportunity to glean golden nuggets of practical advice from someone well-respected in the horticulture world and who was more than willing to share her expertise with us on a nearly-perfect September afternoon.

* Clicking on a photo will bring up a larger version *


Tracy DiSabato-Aust has over thirty years in the horticulture field. She obtained her B.S. and M.S. degree in Horticulture from The Ohio State University and has achieved international acclaim as a garden designer and speaker. She has worked with Longwood Gardens in the U.S., Montreal Botanical Garden in Canada, the Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium, and Knightshayes Court in England.

Her first book, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, has become the biggest selling book in Timber Press' publishing history. Tracy has contributed or been featured in articles in many magazines, including Fine Gardening (she is a contributing editor), Horticulture, Country Gardens, Garden Gate, Organic Gardening, Midwest Living, American Nurseryman, Real Simple, and Garden Design.

When she isn't in the garden or on the lecture circuit, she is training and competing as a triathlete.

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