Masters of Horticulture

Plant Conference
October 19, 2012

Noel Kingsbury
Christine Ten Eyck

Ken Smith
Kelly Norris

Hope and Change was Obama’s campaign slogan 4 years ago.  I don’t know what it is this year, but the horticulturists and landscape architects at the Perennial Plant Conference took a page from his playbook. 

Noel Kingsbury, author of more books than you can count, and friend of all “cool” garden designers, talked about making the garden mimic nature in its diversity and complexity.  No more drifts, no more design; instead high density, intermingling, habitats and communities.

When you garden in Texas and Arizona as Christine Ten Eyck does, it’s the memory of water that informs your work.  The arroyo is a metaphor for all of her designs.  Although interesting to listen to, many of us could not figure out what any of this had to do with a perennial plant conference in the Northeastern US.

“Chic Plants for Hip Gardeners” was the title of Kelly Norris’s rant.  He was on a mission to put passion back into the horticultural world.  He recently returned from the GWA conference in Arizona. Appalled by the suggestion that in order to attract younger gardeners, we need to dumb down gardening Norris argued, it’s all about creating a fashionable plant palette: Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Muliplex’, Corydalis nobilis, Tellima grandiflora, Eucomis ‘Kilmanjaro’ and Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri.  

For me the star of the line-up was Ken Smith, landscape architect.  He gardens in urban spaces with conditions antithetical to making gardens:  shade, wind, lack of soil, weight load requirements, steam and water utilities under the ground.  People hire him to solve these problems and still create something they can call a GARDEN. 

A private terrace with limited weight loads and a requirement that all the features on the terrace be movable on a periodic basis, so that window washing operations can take place would send most designers running.  Smith developed a program that appealed to the owners interest in Japanese gardens, mimicking their love of scholar rocks and raked sand.  This is a lesson in how to market an idea.

Copyright Peter Mauss.  No usage without permission.
Stuck for two hours at the Lincoln Tunnel, I had plenty of time to reflect.  Designing gardens allows me the illusion that I can control the landscape, but lately I am all for seeing what happens when I relinquish some of that control.

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