This week’s Garden Notes:
My favorite hydrangea in the trial garden.
— September 19, 2014 —
The Snow Just Melted, Right?
The summer of 2014 has nearly come and gone and I missed most of it. My favorite seasons are pretty much any season that is not winter. I’m not a fan of winter, especially last winter, and the thought of the 41 degree F temps predicted for tonight makes me cringe. My garden looks so beautiful right now and I have so many plants to get into the ground still.
Even though I’ve been home for the last two weeks, I spent most of the summer traveling to trade shows, giving lectures on various topics and visiting many plant breeders. I calculate two weekends that were spent at home, in my garden from June to September. I did not empty my travel jewelry bag from late May to last week. Boy, was I tired of wearing the same earrings over and over.
And how many suitcases did United Airlines loose and re-route for me this summer? Let’s just say there were too many nights spent in hotels with the “Female Overnight Bag” – the standard issue of deodorant, shampoo and a white tee shirt to wear to bed.
I’m not complaining about the travel. It was all fun and well worth the time. I wish my trips were a little more spread out though. I also wish my children played winter sports. That would be so much easier for me than spring and fall sports. Imagine an entire Saturday to work in the garden in the spring or fall.
I call myself the kamikaze gardener. Between lacrosse and soccer games, hours before getting on a plane – whenever I can fit it in. It’s not Zen-like or relaxing in anyway, but it’s what I can do during these busy times.
My developing ¾ acre garden/trial site requires about four hours a week to keep the weeds at bay and tend to the many plants from around the world. That doesn’t include time to plant, water or mow the ever-shrinking grassy patches. Those four hours are just maintenance on what’s already in the ground.
Missing all that time really put me behind and I swear, I never even got to arrange my aloe/agave/dyckia/bromeliad collection on the back deck. I remember taking them outside in May and never going back to finish the job.
Finding time to write in the summer was really hard. I promise to do a better job next year, but I figure you’d rather read a good story than read a post that says, “No time to post, so please look at some pretty pictures while I’m out and about.”
So where did I go and what did I see?
It’s way too much for one post, so here’s Part I.
After Cultivate’14 in Columbus, OH (formerly known as OFA Short Course), I was off to Cincinnati for the Perennial Plant Association meeting and to give a lecture on how to sell more perennials. The lecture topic was difficult. They wanted me to speak on trends and to have some magic answer as to why more perennials are sold in Europe than in the US, especially since we have so many people in our country. As I contemplated the lecture, there was no magic answer, but I did a lot of thinking – deep thinking – about possible reasons. What did I come up with?
Exposure to lots of mass plantings in public spaces, commercial sites and even home gardens is the missing link. In Germany or The Netherlands or even in the UK, when you walk from neighborhood to neighborhood in larger cities, there are walk-thru gardens and parks where people pass through each and every day by foot or on their bikes, or even in cars, on their way to work. More times than not, these spaces are filled with masses of shrubs and or perennials. Not just some shade trees and mown grass, like you would see here in the US.
For example – look at this picture I took from my airport hotel window in Amsterdam. Yes, you are seeing that right, this is a mass planting of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) and Bugbane (Cimicifuga)
Another thing I noticed while traveling the countryside and along the highways of Europe this summer were the naturalistic plantings and non-mowed spaces along the roads and bike paths. There’s not mile after mile of mowed turf. Instead, you see wildflowers and naturalized perennials and annuals and colorful grasses that form mosaic carpets of color.
Driving up and down highway 95 and from Boston to Ohio for Cultivate’14 this simmer, I really started to notice how much time and energy we waste on mowing.
How many milkweed and goldenrods and little blue stems were mown to the ground, not only taking away precious pollinator habitat, but taking the color and beauty away as well.
If you look at a very well thought out Piet Oudolf planting you’ll see exaggerated mosaic carpets, overflowing with powerful colors and textures that keep your eye busy, yet balanced as you pass through. Un-mown highways can have the same texture and color – albeit subdued, but it’s so very pretty to look at and soothing to the eye. This kind of no mow situation also exposes the millions driving these roads to an organized chaos that makes for wonderful garden design.
We have American Landscape Designers introducing this style as well. Designers like Roy Diblik at Northwind Perennial Farm and Adam Woodruff are stepping it up with masses of perennials and grasses, creating textural masterpieces for home and commercial landscapes.
If passers-by saw thousands of golden rods, milkweeds and little bluestems weaving a carpet along the highway each day, all summer long, as they drove into work – would they be more prone to wanting masses of perennials in their own gardens? Would they be calmer and more balanced when they got to their destination?
Even if they weren’t all natives, masses of Russian sage, perennial salvias and ornamental grasses like you see here in this perennial display garden at Appeltern, in The Netherlands, would sell a heck of a lot of perennials.
I would love to see some research on this and to know why the heck we mow so much along the highways. Gosh, I’d rather see a field of naturalized chicory and Queen Anne’s lace – neither of which are native – than mown grass. It’s pretty and soothing to me.
If there were more public spaces like the Highline in New York City, The Lurie Garden in Chicago and The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway in Boston, would people be exposed to masses of plants and want more in their gardens too?
We can only hope, otherwise, we may have hit the limit on the number of perennials sold in the US, which pales in comparison to the number of annuals. I calculated some rough numbers by taking the total number of perennials sold in 2012 – according to the USDA survey and dividing it by the total population of the US and got that 1 in 3 people has a perennial in their garden. Now, this is unreliable because a lot of the people counted in the total population are children and many live in the same household, but still…that’s a ridiculous figure. Even if every house in the US planted one perennial – that would still be sad.
So, how do we sell more perennials – and plants for that matter? What’s your take on how to increase those numbers?
People in Europe garden more and they are exposed to more gardens on a daily basis. People in the US are exposed to mown grass along the highways and silly evergreen foundations outside most homes with one token perennial or annual planting, if they are lucky.
If trends in home decorating and fashion are mimicked, how can we translate that into mimicking of garden styles?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Drop me a line and let’s chat.
For now, I’ll be in the garden-because sadly I have very little time left before the snow comes again in Massachusetts.
Next week -What I learned and lectured on at the Garden Writer’s Symposium in Pittsburgh.
Enjoy the last warm days of summer and Happy Weeding!
Angela Treadwell Palmer
Founder and Co-owner, Strategic plant finder, In Charge of Magic
Plants Nouveau, LLC.
Angela’s Garden Notes:
You might be wondering – what looked really good this summer in my garden?
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Haas Halo’ has had an amazing summer.
It’s a selection of the native smooth hydrangea with pure white lace cap blooms that are often 14” wide. I love this plant for many reasons:
#1 – it’s a nativar (an improved selection of a native)
#2 – the pollinators that visit my garden LOVE it
#3 – it never flops
#4 – it’s pure white – not creamy white or greenish white – like many other selections
Last, but certainly not least:
#5 – when dry, it takes well to spray painting for holiday decorating. A few of these ginormous dried flowers on your Christmas tree make for one snazzy statement.
Read more about Haas’ Halo here.
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