Thursday, February 14, 2013

Roses aren't the only Flowers of Passion

Normally, when a person shows up at the garden centers information desk at this time of year it's quite often regarding pests on houseplants or just someone looking for the bird seed.  So image our surprise when the inquiry turn into a labor of love.

A young man came into the garden center with a mission to find a name for picture he had on his cell phone of a beautiful blue flower.  He wasn't your average gardening type, with a few tattoo's and piercing, it would lead you to believe he was going for some high nitrogen fertilizer for his tomato's in the basement.  For those unaware, 'Tomato's in the basement' is code for another illegal foliage plant that you need to hide out of sight, such as a basement.  He was desperate to identify the flower as it was a challenge given to him.  In explain his predicament further, it turned out that this challenge was given to him by the girl of his dreams.  She wouldn't consider any of his advances until he was able to identify the flowers that she had sent to him on his phone.  Desperate, he came to us, probably because Lowe's and Home Depot aren't sources of detailed information.  A little searching and keying out the identification parts of the bloom a name was found, success!

The only request I had, was if that if the relationship resulted in an offspring, they were obligated to named the baby 'Robert', to honor the person who identified the flower (being yours truly).  Of course, Anemone hepatica is hardly a name you could give a baby, unless of course the baby had deep blue eyes as deep blue as the mystery flower that started it all.  Who needs red roses when love can come in the form of this little but beautiful flower!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

America's Top Gardeners

Here's a question for you all.  Can you come up with a list of America's most influential gardeners? Sounds easy doesn't it, or does it?

The UK's Daily Telegraph put together a list of 'Britain's most influential gardeners'. Many of the names were iconic gardening gods that I remember whilst still living in England, but a good deal were new faces too. A reassuring sign that gardening in the UK is still as strong as ever.

However, their list made me wonder who America's movers and shakers are in the gardening world? Who are the people that are selling gardening to the masses? To follow up on my last post; 'What happened to gardening?',  I thought it would be interesting to come up with a list of my own. As I soon discovered, it was a lot harder to come up with names, leaving me to assume that this may be part of the problem of why American's don't garden.  Like the author of the Daily Telegraph's article, this list isn't a run down of America's gardeners. But instead, a list of people who impacts gardens across America through their work.

Being titled the 'Most Influential Gardener' does necessarily mean the most popular, but can include mavericks who have changed the way of thinking. Of course television presenters will dominate any list even if we don't think of them as active gardens, but to be influential you must first be in a position of influence to begin with.  The only criteria to being included on this list is that: (1.) they must be American and (2.) they must be alive.

The Educators

Michael Dirr

The godfather of all Tree and Shrub knowledge in America!  Professor of Horticulture at University of Georgia, he is America's voice on woody ornamentals for the garden.   With a vast amount of scientific papers to his name, he authored or coauthored 7 books, including the weighty but valuable 'Manual of Woody Landscape Plants'.  There's not a student of horticulture, past or present in this country, that doesn't own a copy of his manual.  Other works of his include introductions into Viburnums and much loved Hydrangeas, valuable additions to any gardeners bookshelves.  Writing aside, his breeding programs have released over 60 new and improved cultivars that can be found in many gardens today.

Allan Armitage

Armitage is to annual and perennial plants as Dirr is to shrubs; a fountain of herbaceous knowledge!  Again, many of his books are used as reference across the country, from keen gardeners to dedicated professionals.  A profuse speaker around the country, he can also be found teaching also at the University of Georgia.  Seemingly, the epicenter of American horticultural teaching!  His legendary wide brimmed hat makes Armitage's presence known in either a book, a magazine, a TV show or a room full of people.

The Environmentalists

Doug Tallamy

Author of one of my favorite books, 'Bringing Nature Home', that changed the way I see the role of gardens as habitats.  Maybe not a big name like others in this list, but his work is changing the way we view native plants and insects in the garden.  I for one don't look at insects on my plants as a negative, but instead leave them alone for nature to deal with.  A regular featured talker at many seminars, he can be found working out of the University of Delaware as Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

William 'Bill' Cullina

Anyone interested in growing native plants would have heard of Bill Cullina.  His books are well written and beautifully presented, tempting the reader to include many of the (featured/selected) plants in their gardens.  Previously the director of the New England Wild Flower Society he now heads the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.  Recognized as an authority on North American plants, his knowledge is always in demand from garden clubs to professional groups to whom he frequently lectures.

The Plant Hunters

Tony Avent

To say this man has gardening in his blood is an understatement.  He is gardening!  Owner of  Plant Delights Nursery, a specialty mail order nursery, he is probably this countries leading plant hunter/collector.  His love of plants lead him to create Juniper Level Botanic Gardens in Raleigh, North Carolina where he tests many new plants as well as educates on how to incorporate them in displays.  Both the nursery and the gardens are located adjacent to each other.  His annual catalogs are treasured by many gardeners who'll drool over the pages for endless hours dreaming of obtaining many of the gems he offers.  His business is the modern day version of Veitch and Sons, making little known plants available to the plantaholics of the gardening world.

Dan Hinkley

Former owner and founder of Hersonswood Plant Nursery, Dan can now be found heading up new plant introductions for Monrovia Nurseries as well as establishing his own garden in Washington state.  His old nursery catalogs are just as much sought out by gardeners for the same reasons as Tony Avents, for highlighting little known plants.  Now his path has taken him to exploring the world for new or lesser known plants and writing about his adventures in several excellently presented books.

The TV Faces

P Allen Smith

To be honest, P Allen Smith isn't really my cup of tea when it comes down to television presenters but his huge fan base is proof that he appeals to many others.  I often meet people who come into the garden center quoting from his books or talking about something they've seen on his TV shows.  His level of influence has been noticed by many in the trade to the point where he headlines collections from Proven Winners to Berry Family Nurseries to name a few.  I've been told that his clean appearance is an illusion just for TV, but instead he is just as down to earth and dirt covered as many other gardeners.  One day I hope to see a photo of a sweaty, less groomed P Allen to prove this true.

Paul James

A victim of HGTV networks movement away from gardening shows, favoring makeovers instead. Paul may not of been the typical stuffy horticulturist but instead has a infectious jolly personality that made watching 'Gardening by the Yard' a joy.  Though the show was geared mostly to the amateur it was entertaining and humorous which made many seasoned gardeners tune in each week to watch.  He was probably the last nationwide network gardening host before 'Crashing' a persons yard became the norm!  For any TV executives that might be reading this, Gardens are created over time, not thrown together in a 30 minute show.  It's like basing a cooking show around 'popping it in the microwave for 5 minutes and your done!'.  That's not how its done in the real world.

Jamie Durie - Honorary mention

Just like in the Daily Telegraph's article, a foreigner has made this list although just as an Honorary mention!  I had originally written Durie off as another pretty face with a good tan muscular body and a womanizing accent but no real depth.  Contrary to my personal belief, he is actually a very seasoned and dedicated gardener.  In fact his reach goes as far as former Vice President Al Gore and the Dalai Lama working on various projects they champion.  However, I can only provide an honorary mention because I haven't seen it published that he's an American citizen but in the end included him because of the influence he's had on gardening in America.

The Power People

Michelle Obama

Not that I'm trying to get an invite to the White House, but I'm free anytime you need me!  Seriously though, Mrs. First Lady (not sure on the protocol of addressing) has done a lot to promote and highlight vegetable gardening through her book 'American Grown'. Although the book is not considered a 'how to grow your own', but instead, 'why don't you grow your own' book, her position has brought attention to the need to grow fresh vegetables to supplement our lacking diets.  Its highly unlikely that you'll ever find Mrs. First Lady digging aged manure into the beds, although DC is known for its manure, she has raised the interest across the country.

Martha Stewart

Martha's nomination to the list is similar to Michelle Obama's name appearing here too.  Many of the people I spoke to about who to include were either very much for or very much against Martha being mentioned, but her contribution to gardening cannot be denied.  Martha is more likely to have gardeners working for her, than be out there pulling weeds.  However, she is a home and garden guru and has her hands in many projects, some probably requiring clean finger nails, something a gardener has a hard time with.  But, through her vast media empire she has inspired many to look at their gardens as an extension of their homes and to strive for better gardens.  Her influence has also brought people like Dan Hinkley and Jamie Durie to the forefront of gardening, as featured personalities in both her magazines and TV shows.

James Van Sweden

Being a great Landscape Architect doesn't necessarily make you a great gardener but in Van Sweden's case its quite the opposite.  Van Sweden was once paired with a great plants-man,  the late Wolfgang Oehme and together they created a design concept that became known as the 'New American Garden style', based on perennial plants found in the Prairies.  (The two complemented each other perfectly, one brought design and the other plant knowledge to where they fed off each other and became one of the same).  The fact that their trademark style has been reproduced by so many is testament to how game changing their work is.

The Written Idols

With so many authors to choose from, this was particularly difficult to come up with a very short list of only two.  To help in the selection, I polled many of my colleagues for their opinions and it came down to whose books were mentioned the most by customers.  These were the winners;

Tracy DiSabato-Aust

Considered the guru of perennial plant maintenance,  her first book the 'Well-Tended Perennial Garden' is considered the handbook for aftercare and one of the best selling titles on the subject.  Since that she came out with 'The Well Designed Mixed Garden', helping readers demystify plant combinations and arrangements; equally as stimulating.  Her work has taken her around the world, talking in some of the world's most prestigious places like Kew Gardens, Oxford University and the Smithsonian to name just a few.  No wonder her books are in the hands of customers looking for new perennials to try out.  

Mel Bartholomew

Who? I hear you say! Well, Mel's book is probably the most mentioned book by customers coming into the garden center. 'Square Foot Gardening' is all about planting small but intensely planted gardens and combines the concepts of organic gardening, composting and raised beds.  It removed the need to do heavy digging while increasing production in a small area, making it appealing to home owners with small yards.  With over 800,000 books sold,  his books are the largest selling gardening books in America  today, with no others coming close.  Maybe that is why he's nearly #1 in any 'Top Gardening Books' surveys!

The New Kid On The Block

Rob Woodman

Image not actual interpretation
Maybe the young up start should be classed as a honorable mention, but Woodman has stormed the scene in recent years to demand attention.  No books to his name and lacking a prestigious educational position in any University, he's set to become the new face of the gardening revolution.  His agenda is clearly to unplug today's generation from their plugged in lifestyle and to get them back to real, self gratifying work of dirt, sweat and muscle aching gardening.  For that, he's one to watch!

I think you'll agree its quite a list.  However it still comes up short when you compare the Daily Telegraph's list which was of 30 of Britain's most influential gardeners, selected out of a list of about 100 contenders.  Although we have some pretty heavy hitters in the world of garden talent we still come up short in terms of real movers and shakers.  No one can disagree that gardening in North America needs a 'face lift' if we're ever going to get people interested in gardening.  The fact that there isn't any quality gardening shows on TV is testament to that.  You can probably name more celebrity chefs than gardeners, and so why they dominate the TV.  We have to start promoting new voices as well as the people of today, so that gardening can appeal to a wider range of people.  Its time to cultivate more than just plants, we need gardening heros!

Do you agree, or have other nominations for the list?  Please voice your comments and give your opinion.  Likewise, if your a blogger and want the challenge of heralding your own list, send me a link and I'll be happy to display it.