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.
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.
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
The TV Faces
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 mentionJust 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
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.
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
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.
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
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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.