function is the bottom line

Piet Oudolf at work on a new project, Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan

For the past fours years, I have not missed a  Perennial Plant Association Symposium.  PPA is like a family. A family you see infrequently, but enjoy.  It doesn’t matter who you sit next to… at dinner, on the bus or on a tour.  It’s always friendly, welcoming and interesting.  This year the symposium was held in Chicago.  The “keynote” speaker was Piet Oudolf;  followed by Laura Ekasetya, Director of the Lurie Garden; followed by Roy Diblik.  Some might call this the trifecta of the new Dutch Wave.  Piet was asked to give a biographical talk.  He did include some anecdotes about his design process, but the bulk of his time was spent conveying how someone who had never gone to school for horticulture or landscape design is one of most well-known and innovative designers on the planet.

Piet’s drawing for the new garden on Belle Isle, Detroit.

The Lurie Garden 2019. Liatris pycnostachya (prairie blazing star) Native to the Chicago Region.  Laura Ekasteya:  “No, you’re not weeding, you’re editing.”

The Lurie Garden in Chicago is one of Piet’s masterpieces.  “I wanted to translate the prairie into the city.  I forced myself to do something different.  This was the first time I tried a matrix planting.” Piet Oudolf

Echinacea.  Roy Diblink recalled Piet asking him “What makes something beautiful?”

Laura began as a gardener and Lurie and has become the Director of Horticulture.  The Lure Garden was opened in 2004. “We keep to the INTENT of the design –  which means not necessarily keeping it the same.” – Laura Ekasetya.  Almost every 2 ft. there is a sign asking visitors not to step into the garden.  It was easy to see why this is.  The garden is full of some many insects and birds, people want to get up close and personal.  The only fault in the Lurie Garden, there is no pathway into the garden – it’s all look and don’t touch.

There could not have been a greater contrast in garden styles, then The Lurie Garden and the three private estates we visited on Monday, July 29.  Each of these estates has a full-time gardener on staff plus many other supporting gardeners and landscapers. If you close your eyes, you might have been in one of great gardens of the UK.

After all this perfection our next stop was at a 50’s ranch style house on an ordinary street.  The owner jumped on the bus.  She knew we had visited three vast estates before arriving at her doorstep.  She enthusiastically stated:  “I am the only one works on this garden.  I have no help. I love plants. Please enjoy.  Three are cookies and lemonade on the back porch.”

The following day during the education sessions, it was Kelly Norris, Director of Horticulture and Education at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden whose task  was to ask the big question:  how to reimagine the perennial palette.

The lawn and garden in America circa 1970.

Norris: “We are a special time in the American landscape.  Traditional notions of romance associated with the garden are out.  By 2050, it is predicted that 90% of the population will live in urban areas.”  For Norris, this means that public gardens and parks will become more important than ever.

Eryngium yuccifolium, (rattlesnake master) native to the Chicago region.  The Lurie Garden.

For Norris, the future is the intersection of horticulture and ecology.  We were a nation of “turf” enthusiasts.  The invention of the lawn mower and corporate products for the lawn changed gardeners into yard workers. Today, we  are in the process of reframing the idea of the front lawn.

Silphium laciniatum (compass plant) Flowers are borne on stalks that can reach 10 ft. in height. The Lurie Garden  Norris mentioned that Silphium was one of the only plants that made through the dust bowl.

The leaves of the compass plant are deeply cut, rigid, sandpaper-like texture. They are held vertically toward the base of the plant and will orient their blades in an east-west orientation – hence the common name compass plant. In addition, on the day we visited, the outside temperature was approximately 85. The leaves were cool to the touch.

Resilient landscapes are our future… landscapes of diversity… gardens that are self-perpetuating.  If you feel depressed about the current state of affairs, and it’s hard not to be these days.  The best remedy is to attend one of these symposiums – where the future is full of potential.

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