An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

March 5, 2009

Tidewater Garden Symposium

Today I was able to attend the 21st annual Tidewater Garden Symposium, and I look forward to this event each spring. The Garden Clubs of Norfolk and Virginia Beach are co-sponsors, and the great thing about it is the outstanding caliber of speakers for an event that is not all that large. Over the years I have had a chance to hear many excellent speakers including Dan Hinkley, Pamela Harper, Tony Avent, Ken Druse, Brent and Becky Heath, Rick Darke and the Tylers of Pine Knot Farm. This year were no less outstanding.

The first speaker of the day was Ray Rogers who has worked at the Morris Arboretum, the American Horticulture Society's River Farm, has authored three books and has won over 338 blue ribbons at the Philadelphia Flower Show. One of the books he wrote was Coleus: Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens, and this plant was his topic today. There was no leaf unturned in his talk. Coleus already happened to be one of my favorite annuals, and I plant them every year, this lecture just made my choice that much stronger.

The second speaker was J. Dean Norton who is the Director of Horticulture at Mt. Vernon. He took us through the history of the gardens and grounds at the famous home from their inception, redesign, decline and restoration. He detailed many aspects of his position and what is like to garden in the middle of archaeological treasure. I found his problems growing boxwood (no Virginia home of a certain age should be without some) and the care of the trees on the property to be the most interesting. Norton is also the current vice-president of the Southern Gardens Historical Society which I mentioned in January.

The next speaker was Paul Cappiello who is the Executive Director of Yew Dell Gardens in Kentucky. He has also co-authored with Don Shadow a major book on the genus Cornus entitled Dogwoods. Not surprisingly we got to see some new Dogwoods, most of which are Anthracnose and mildew resistant, but they are also gorgeous. I will be looking to carry some of these at the garden center as soon as they are available, particularly the C. kousa cultivar 'Greensleeves'. We also got a nice armchair tour of Yew Dell. After lunch the final speaker was David L. Culp who has been featured in many garden magazines and has also been an instructor at Longwood. We were treated to 3 trays of slides showing plants for the winter garden, and I could have sat through more. I have never been a huge fan of the Red Twig Dogwoods, maybe because I have never seen them so effectively used as he showed. I know that Hellebores have been showing up on a lot of blogs recently, but if you are not sated yet, you may want to visit his Hellebore Gallery to see some very unusual forms.

After the last talk came time for door prizes, and this was what I had a hand in, and my contributions are pictured below. The little crate included Camellia japonica 'Crimson Candles', Agave ferox, Salvia greggii, Eleutherococcus sieboldianus 'Variegatus' , Saxifraga stolonifera 'Maroon Beauty' , Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis', Gaultheria procumbens, plus a big Crinum bulb and a really huge Elephant Ear bulb.
Most years the Symposium is held at Norfolk Academy while the kids are on spring break. The school was founded in 1728 and is one of the area's most prestigious private schools. I would love for my son to go there, but tuition for this prep school is more than it will cost us to send him to university (in-state) when the time comes. The facilities and programs available at the school are top notch, and unlike public schools, there are no signs of graffiti or vandalism. There is a nice courtyard garden in the center of the school with a memorial fountain.

The current campus is located in the eastern part of Norfolk, almost in Virginia Beach. For many years of its history it was located in downtown Norfolk in a building built in 1840 designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, who was also the architect of the Capitol dome in Washington.

The inspiration of the building came from the Temple of Thesus in Athens.
During the Civil War classes were interrupted, not so much because there was a war on, but the Union troops appropriated the building and grounds to use as a camp and hospital.
I will end with these plaques I saw in the courtyard garden of the new campus, where the fountain garden is dedicated to several students whose lives had ended before they really even began.


  1. Man, I'm so envious - I'd love especially to have heard the talks by David Culp and Ray Rogers, since hellebores are special favorites of mine, and coleus as well. Can't wait until the coleus can go back outside - they always look so pathetic sitting under lights in the chilly garage at this time of year. It would be nice if one could afford to TEACH at a school such as Norfolk Academy, as well!

  2. Sounds like my kind of day Les. Door prizes AND good speakers! Yes indeed. I plan to visit Yew Dell Gardens in Louisville sometime. They have been featured many times on the Tennessee garden show and are quite close, especially since my daughter lives there. I have met Don Shadows and love his dogwoods. I hope you get some. I have 'Venus' and 'Little princess' Both have buds and I hope to see them bloom in my garden. He and Paul do good work. And personally, I think private schools are overrated, the kids can make any school a 'private school' with the amount of effort they put into learning. Your son will be fine no doubt.

  3. Wow, how lucky you've been to have heard all of those great speakers. I reviewed that coleus book for Library Journal last year and thought it was a great book. Love the quotes on the plaques.

  4. Les, another post chalked full of interesting 'stuff'. The Symposium sounds like it was great and loved the history of Norfolk Academy.

  5. What an interesting and educational post today Les. I didn't know that the Norfolk Academy had so much history. Our area is just so full of historical significance everywhere you look. What a great way to spend the day. Those plants look like wonderful doorprizes to me.

  6. It looks like you had a great time at the symposium with good weather too. Lucky you!

  7. Great info Les. I had read about the symposium in the local paper. Lucky you!
    I try to make it to Norfolk Academy's art show that they have each year. I actually participated in it a few years back. Very nice campus.

  8. How lucky to have been able to attend a Garden Symposium! I've never heard that here before :( I've never wanted to grow coleus (I'm a flowering plant guy) myself but have seen them in others' gardens where different combinations work wonders!
    Your son's lucky to have such a great father.

  9. Hi, Les--Thanks for sharing your trip and your pictures and all the great links. Will that agave be hardy? I've never tried one, though my yucca do fine (but you don't like yucca, right? or at least in your yard?) Anyway, just wanted to say "bye" before I disappear for the week. I imagine I'll come back with some pictures of agave . . .

  10. Sounds like a great day. But didn't you just want to be outside though! It was gorgeous. H.

  11. Just spent today with Paul C. of Yew Dell Gardens. He was leading a little tour through the gardens. He is a fabulous, engaging speaker and a treasure for our community. Put this garden on your "to do" list.

  12. Jeff,
    I am too impatient to overwinter coleus. I usually just buy new next year. The only problem is I can't always get some of the cultivars I really enjoy. If I ever find 'Japanese Giant' again, I will try to over winter it.

    Don't take what I wrote the wrong way - we are very happy with the education our son is getting from the public school, and I think learning to interact with a diiverse group of kids is a lesson in itself.

    Thanks Phillip. I was struck by the plaques as well. One of the kids the garden is dedicated to was only about 6 when he died. I couldn't imagine what that would do to me.

    You should try to make it next year. I think one reason it stays so small is the fact that it is always held on a Thursday.

    Before I wrote this all I knew was that the school was old and where the old building was. After looking up other buildings designed by Walter, this was about his simplest design.

    Yes we have been enjoying a good string of weather, hopefully it will stay.

    While I was there they had lots of student artwork hanging in the hallways. Much of it was very impressive.

    I like the coleus because the blend with other plants so well. The colors are so diverse there is no plant that it can't work with, and this color is not dependant on a flower which may or may not be in bloom.

    There are many agaves that would be hardy for you. You just need to make sure that the drainage is absolutely perfect. If they get standing water around the roots, especially in winter they will rot. I don't dislike all yuccas and planted one on purpuse in my current garden.

    Yes I did want to be out and spent all my breaks and a good part of lunch lurking around the campus.

    You are lucky and I already put this on my to-do list after hearing his talk and seeing his photos.


  13. Sounds like a nice symposium. Regarding the new dogwoods - any of them good for a SC coastal garden? I'd like to add another - I think there was one (maybe it was called 'Appalachian Spring') that looked like a possibility.

    As for patience, I always think that I'm going to overwinter coleus, and yet I never do. I stayed away from them for years, but have fallen for them over the past few years - I plant them in holes in my beds and they always end up getting most of the attention.

    Oh, and I need to go check out those hellebores, and enjoy them vicariously! (I still haven't found ones that do good here - I get foliage, just no blooms).

  14. Pam,
    Appalachian Spring is a new cultivar of Cornus florida that was discovered in MD doing just fine where all the other ones nearby were dying from anthracnose and covered in powdery mildew. Have you tried any Kousa Dogwoods in SC, or any Kousa hybrids? I don't know what to tell you about the Hellebores, they should bloom in SC unless they are too young. It does take a degree of maturity for them to bloom.

  15. I'm glad to find out about the symposium. I'll try to go next year.

  16. Hi Les, this sounds fantastic. I would have loved to see the slides of the winter dogwoods used well. I have red twigs, yellow twigs and newly purchased Artic Fire, and don't really know the best way to use them. Would love to see some ideas. I love coleus too, my favorite annual for containers and the best performers in our drought too. You gave some good stuff for the door prizes! ;-)

  17. I am looking forward to trying some bedding Coleus this year. Aren't the new colors and types amazing? I like it with the Lantana that looks like good idea.