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.

January 28, 2011

Another Dispatch from the Front Lines


As is traditional for me at this time of year, I spent the past week at the Mid Atlantic Horticulture Short Course, in Virginia Beach. Regular readers and local green people may know this is where arborists, designers, retailers, wholesale growers, turf people, landscapers, grounds people and others go to hone existing skills, learn new ones, hear about new plants and in general learn the things that keep us professional. At the end of the week, the doors are opened to the general gardening public and some of the same speakers put on a day long, themed program that always sells out. This year was a little different for me in that I am now on the board of the group (The Virginia Horticulture Foundation) that sponsors the conference, so I ended up having to work a little more. However, I was still able to attend the following classes, all of which were time well-spent.

- What's New in the World of Irises
Kelly D. Norris, Rainbow Iris Farm
It may have been January outside, but inside the darkened room it was May and the wall sized screen was showing some new versions of one of my favorite perennials. Fortunately the lights were up enough for me to write down the ones I want.

- Crazy About Coral Bells
Dan Heims, Terra Nova Nurseries
If you have fallen in love with all of the new Heuchera hybrids that have been hitting the market lately, well you can thank Dan Heims for about 99% of them. And we Southerners owe him a particular debt for injecting many with Heuchera villosa genes giving them the ability to withstand high heat and humidity.

- Great Trees in Great Landscapes
Robert McDuffie, Virginia Tech
Professor McDuffie leads horticultural tour groups all over the world in search of great gardens, and I was fortunate enough to go on a one of his trips to England and Wales back in 2000. You can see some of the places he visits and his excellent photography here.

- Wondrous Water Plants
Tamara Kilbane, Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Another good class, and one in which I learned, among other things, that the effort to breed hardy water lilies with tropicals to expand the color and climate range is paying off.

- Green Cities
Susan French, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Ms. French introduced us to how municipal landscaping and land management can make our cities greener, more pleasant and more sustainable. The city of Virginia Beach was used as an example and I was pleasantly surprised by what has been accomplished.

- Keeping a Pleasure Garden Pleasurable
Dan Benarcik, Chanticleer
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit the gardens at Chanticleer in Philadelphia, then I do not need to tell you how very special this place is. If you haven't been, then make plans to do so. It is one of the most fantastic gardens in the country.

- Garden Archaeology: Designs from the Past
Michelle Palmer, Cornell University & The Society for Garden Archaeology
Ms. Palmer showed us how the skills of traditional, and not so traditional archaeology are changing what we learn about historic gardens. She highlighted in particular her work at a villa near Mr. Vesuvius. This was class was fascinating.

- Deciphering the World of Hydrangeas
Vincent Simeone, The Planting Fields Arboretum Historic State Park
I am always willing to learn more about one of my favorite shrubs, and I was pleased to see that the majority of Hydrangeas he spoke of were ones I carry at work.

- Behind the Curtain
Nicholas Staddom, Monrovia Nurseries
Mr. Staddon is the Director of New Plants for Monrovia, and he showed us how the people of his company come up with all the new plants they are famous for introducing or promoting. There was no mention of their recent financial troubles, just plants and people, as it should be.

This was just a very small taste of what was available this year. If you would like to see my previous dispatches they are here.

Before I leave this link-heavy post and head back to the battlefield, I feel a need to invoke my usual disclaimer in that I have not been compensated in any way for mentioning any organization, corporation or concern. However I would not refuse a no-strings-attached Iris 'Zooboomafoo', Hosta x 'Empress Wu' or a lovely Melianthus major 'Antonow's Blue'.


  1. Les, that's an amazing lineup of speakers and wonderful that you open things up to the amateur enthusiasts at the end of the week. I would particularly love to see the speaker from Chanticleer - that topic of keeping the pleasure garden pleasurable is of great interest!

  2. Boy that Mr Heims gets around, I was just at a function with him last night here in Oregon! Sounds like a great line up and you're smart to take advantage of as much of it as possible. Did the Monrovia fellow happen to mention how widely distributed their Schefflera taiwaniana will be this year?

  3. Green Archaeology! That's the one for me. What a great opportunity.

  4. If the school near my house is any indication, VB's landscape philosophy seems to be "scorch the earth." They show up a few times a year, mow the lawn down to dust, run over anything green that isn't in a straight line and leave it to stagger back to life on its own.

  5. Chanticleer is about 5 minutes from my house and nursery. If you are visiting there, you should stop by. The conference sounds great. I would like to remember to look into it for next year.

  6. Well gee if I could offer you that iris I cannot spell let alone pronounce I'd surely send you one. How neat to be able to hear all these talks and learn so much! It's my favorite part of the garden circuit!

  7. If I only had time, I would take the Cornell class that goes to Italy each year to excavate (probably not the right word) those ancient gardens. That's work I could work up a sweat for.

  8. Sounds exciting. Is this open to the public for a charge, or only to the professional community?

  9. Les, Wow! I could spend the day visiting all the sites you've linked to~I must step away from the computer! gail

  10. What a great sounding event. And yes, nothing like getting a hit of great plant pix in January. Up north I also like the Villosa heuchera hybrids and have found them the best growers and they always look good. The problem these days is finding the Latin names and parentage listed on plant tags.

    I also grow hardy water lilies and have limited myself to yellow and white — partly for aesthetic reasons but also color limitations. Maybe one of these days I will be able to buy a hardy blue water lily. Now I will know to start looking again ... And thanks for all the links.

  11. Amazing line up of talks and experts. Lucky you.

  12. Cyndy,
    I hope you have had the opportunity to see Chanticleer with your own eyes.

    Dan Heims is a great speaker as well as a frequent flyer. A picture of the Schefflera was shown, but it was not mentioned.

    I have a passing interest in that topic and thoroughly enjoyed that class.

    Clearly the city has a way to go.

    We head that way about once a year. My brother lives north of the city.

    I have found the Iris on-line and will order this summer during their shipping season.

    The coast of Italy sounds nice right now, volcano be damned.

    The conference is open to anyone, but the first three days are geared to all levels of professionals. The last day is geared toward home gardeners. Many avid amateurs volunteer some time to help out and get to attend classes in exchange.

    Wait for the snow to start, then park yourself in front of the screen.

    I think Terra Nova's site should list the parentage on the Heucheras. The hardy water lily of the year (who knew there was such a thing) has some tropical genes in it. The petals are salmon colored with lighter spots.
    Here is a pic link for "Wanvisa':

    I am lucky.