The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden | A Conversation with Author Roy Diblik

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This all all images courtesy of The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden. Copyright © 2014 by Roy Diblik. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

GV’s Joyce H. Newman catches up with renown garden designer Roy Diblik, who discuses his work and new book, “The Know Maintenance Garden.”

If you’re dreaming of a low-maintenance, lush, perennial garden this spring, then Roy Diblik’s new book, The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden ($24.95, Timber Press) should be your planting bible. It provides dozens of fresh, detailed plans and gorgeous color photographs of easy-care yet stunningly artistic gardens.

Diblik is perhaps best-known for supplying the extraordinary perennials—around 26,000 plants in all—for Dutch designer Piet Oudolf’s inspiring Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago (Diblik actually grew many of the plants and helped with the layout and design). He has more than 35 years experience as a nurseryman and co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm in the hills of southeastern Wisconsin.

The book contains 62 garden plans or grids of “plant communities,” many loosely inspired by the colors, compositions, and emotions expressed in great Impressionist paintings by Cezanne, Monet, and Van Gogh. Some plans replicate Piet Oudolf’s pioneering use of grasses for The High Line in New York City while others recreate the dynamic plantings at England’s Great Dixter garden in Sussex.

Below the jump, Diblik describes his experiences and goals for the book.

Roy-Diblik-The-Know-Maintenance-Garden-1Q. What most appeals to you about perennials?

A. I enjoy perennials because of their life style, most have a giving nature, they are adaptable to many conditions, are actually easy to grow and care for and I enjoy learning where they live and flourish in their native locations.

Perennials offer tremendous diversity having many types flowers, color, foliage, stems, and roots. They also have beautiful growth habits and structural forms. To me they are living art and a simple indication of the diversity of earth.

Roy-Diblik-The-Know-Maintenance-Garden-2Q. I love the different artists’ palettes and paintings that inspire many of the plans. Why did you choose these paintings?

A. I used the impressionistic artists to provide inspiration for myself. I made plant lists relating to the tonal changes of color in the paintings and also used the flow of the colors to influence the percentage of certain plants grouped together. I used the plant lists to create the patterns in the designs, knitting everything together with short grasses and sedges. For me there is a connected feeling between the artists, their work and the gardens I create.

Roy-Diblik-The-Know-Maintenance-Garden-3Q. Your tagline for the book is: “Knowing your plants means less work.” Is that your main message?

A. There is so much confusion about buying and placing plants. Plants are purchased based on initial appearance and generally placed together based on bloom time and flower color. Many are short-lived fashionable plants that decline quickly in average garden conditions and then are frequently replaced. I believe if we take time to come to “know” plants as we do our friends, we can create healthier relationships—plants with plants, plants with people, and people with people.

Roy-Diblik-The-Know-Maintenance-Garden-4Q. How did you go about ‘testing’ the plant combinations?

A. I designed each one based on the impressionistic painting or places I have visited and read about. I have been growing these plants in the ground since 1978, so I know them well and have used many of the patterns and combinations often creating mixed patterns. With just a few, you can create continuous patterns. The plans and patterns can be cut in thirds, curved and one style blended with another. The plants can be spaced differently, or you can leave a few out. And vegetables can be placed within the planting.

Roy-Diblik-The-Know-Maintenance-Garden-5Q. What are you working on now?

A. I am growing common native, European and Asian sedge (Carex) to use as ground layer plantings under trees and shrubs to take the place of wood mulch. The idea is to create living mulch, mow the sedge once a year, and incorporate more plants within the sedge when there’s time and money. So I’m trying to create enhanced gardening practices. It’s difficult to put a healthy garden in at one sitting and many times it’s not healthy for the future development of the planting.

Right now we need to know as much as we can about the native shortbeak sedge (Carex brevior), then share all the ways we can create and design with this plant and others.

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