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Metro Hort’s Plant-O-Rama Recap: Glamorous Plants Premiere; Landscape Design featuring Dan Pearson

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This was the best Plant-O-Rama ever. (Do I say that every year?)

Seriously, I’d argue, it was. I’ll be willing to wager there’d be few disagreements among the more than 1,000 attendees – the largest in the nearly quarter of a century that Plant-O-Rama has produced its peerless plant extravaganza, dedicated to horticulture in the New York metropolitan area; with implications for the world of horticulture.

Horticulture is one of the few careers whose professionals are ceaseless in pursuing more knowledge, more education — the pros want to explore the latest plant discoveries and releases and plant design trends – all to improve and enhance a client’s garden beauty and health and to create landscapes that dreams are made of… Tracing evolving climate conditions, we learn about new drought-tolerant beauties, or plants that thrive in sunnier or shadier spaces; along shapes and textures that contour to smaller urban or suburban gardens – and then there’s new colors and fragrance plant gems that add the glamour to our gardens. It’s like the spring runway collections on view.

Officially, this was the 22nd annual Plant-O-Rama event. The day-long program hosted by Metro Hort was brimming with its plant ‘pillars” or foundation elements, including:

  • Symposium 
  • Breakout Sessions
  • Trade Show
  • Jobs Fair
  • Silent Auction
  • Book Sale 

Adding value and sizzle to the plant “pillars” or foundation of this horticulture tradition is what enfuses and distinguishes the marquee event for the area’s hortie hoi polloi.

There’s a running joke now about how every year there is a snow storm for Plant-O-Rama (POR) — so much so that even if you were a meteorologist in training – you’d be safe in forecasting snow – no matter what the Farmer’s Almanac or the satellites were predicting!

POR is held annually at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), ever since Bob Hyland, who had recently served as BBG’s vice president for Horticulture there – hatched the concept and presented it to then BBG president, the venerable Judy Zuk. And I am forever grateful for Bob’s enduring garden design at BBG: Bluebell Wood. It’s an enchanting spring garden destination. And was the site for Dave Matthews’ Dream Girls video featuring Julie Roberts. It was fun managing this production one fine spring day when I worked at BBG.

This year, the newly installed president of Metro Hort, Charles Yurgalevitch, greeted the SRO morning audience, outlining the day’s agenda, along with touting the benefits of Metro Hort membership – including field trips to area gardens and parks, lectures, job postings, calendar of events, resources, and plant professional’s networking.

Charles Yurgalevitch, President of Metro Hort greets audience at Plant-O-Rama 

BBG’s president and CEO, Scott Medbury, welcomed the audience to the Garden, noted the annual snow that dusts the plants and marks the occasion — and the Garden did indeed look breathtaking, I must add. Very Instagram-worthy:

Medbury invited all to tour the garden in its “winter white,” highlighting new and renovated gardens and described a new, woodland garden that will premiere in 2018, to be named for Elizabeth Scholz, BBG’s Director Emeritus, former president and at 97 – a beloved icon to all.

Bob Hyland,

POR’s father/founder, who now lives in a kind of plant paradise in Portland, Oregon where he designs gardens from his Contained Exuberance – wouldn’t miss the annual event for love or money. Well… Bob thanked all the important sponsors who make the event possible: Town & Gardens, Brooklyn Brewery, media sponsor: Heritage Radio Network – along with the full list of POR sponsors. Thank you.

With full fanfare – Bob then introduced the featured speaker, Dan Pearson the celebrated English garden designer, naturalist, and media personality.

This is why we got there early to enjoy a front row seat!

Featured Speaker – Dan Pearson

With a colorful presentation that was narrated by Dan in his light, British cadence, we were taken on chronological journey detailing the life – so far – of Dan’s horticultural transitions from a child who gardened with his father to today.

His first garden triumph was a yellow border he planted at his childhood home — an early 1900’s cottage. “This was my first recorded garden plan,” explained Dan – showing a garden design drawing. “I used planting combinations to create space.” he said. This strategy seems to have become a core tenet of Dan’s landscape design throughout his illustrious career.

This charming anecdote demonstrated the garden designer possessed the gift at a very early age.

He continues to adhere to the belief that gardens are “places that recalibrate you – that make you sing.” How lovely.

Dan secured a scholarship at Wisely, the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) world-class garden to study horticulture. Here, and later traveling to such locales as Jerusalem or the Valley of the Flowers in the Himalayas, he explained was a true revelation seeing the gardens in natural setting. He showed images that he said “Draws itself back.”

From that home acre of a hedged garden to the world’s natural gardens was a journey that allowed Dan to explore, observe, learn and eventually, create a natural landscape design portfolio that has brought him worldwide acclaim.

At 17 years old, Dan was able to secure his first commission. His client was a French fashion designer with three gardens and a four-acre pallette. Here, he was able to implement a “No Boundaries” look, working a Borrowed Landscape design style with waves of plants – not unlike his garden travels showed him.

Dan also discovered how color changes mood. The “hot” colors of the color wheel could send pulses racing. As a proof point, Dan noted how Fast Food establishments use this body and mind alteration to augment their need for speed — you get you in and out faster because the color is helping to generate a sense of urgency. Yikes. Not your Gramercy Tavern idea of dining…

Next, Dan shared his first garden designs for the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Classic designs.

It was there that he met a garden design client from Rome. She slipped travel tickets under his door — and soon, he was roaring down an Appian highway with his chain smoking patron!

Here he worked with the landscape to create a naturalistic, wild garden on the 400 hectares filled with steps, walls, vistas – and plants.

I love the way he described that it wasn’t a garden “a toll” rather it was “small moods and atmospheres” — a dramatic, fragrance-filled retreat.

Love the white floribundas wisteria near the house…

Back in the Britain, Dan worked on Maggie’s Center – a cancer care facility that was clearly close to his heart.

This project was a “restoration but looking forward” according to Dan. He was inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement as inspired by Gertrude Jekyll.

This was to be a healing garden – in the truest sense. He described how often, it takes the patients (members?) more than three attempts to just get in. The enormity of their cancer is just too overwhelming… The gardens have allowed them a serenity and “a way to look at time differently” as the plants are always changing – calibrating the times of the year – pulling people in to stop and see and experience the environment. The courtyards and ornamental and edible gardens are designed to heighten the transporting plant immersion and experience.

There is a rhythm to the gardens there that all appreciate.

What did the gardens here provide? “Hope.”

Next, Dan brought us to work he did in some public spaces. Sadly, the government budgets are being cut in Britain too. But he was delighted to have the opportunity to work on London’s Kings Cross Development and its pocket parks and squares — employing his signature back-to-nature and the seasons style. He used a series of rills and a reference to old train lines to showcase a sense of place and a respect for the history there. “We got to work with really good plants; use really good horticulture practices in order to create the series of spaces,” Dan explained.

The next project was fueled with an ethereal respect for nature and the landscape.

Located in the Tokachi district in the Hokkaido prefecture of Japan — close to Russia – where the temperatures can plummet -25 degrees possesses a haunting beauty.

Owned by a Japanese newspaper magnate, he approached Dan to collaborate on a series of landscapes and to create a reconnection to the natural world; to safeguard the trees who call the 400 hectares home. The team was charged with making an ecological park that would last for 1,000 years.

It’s a soft-sell education that appeals to multi generations.

Dan envisioned and then designed a series of spaces. Once again. While designing a look that appears like the clearings at the edge of the forest.

He gently manipulated the native plants there: Forget Me Nots, Primula, a kind of skunk cabbage and persicarias.

He designed a landscape plan that included 18 plant combinations. The strongest plants take hold and are then the gardener can steer & direct the plants.

He created and worked with plant drifts in the glade and lots of ornamental grasses.

Along with Midori, the onsite horticulture lead on the landscape, Dan created a space that leads out through planting areas via a series of waves. “Children seem to disappear or to go over the edge.” Dan laughed as he described how parents watching their children from inside react with alarm at seeing what they think is their children dropping away – then run out to retrieve them – and then they too drop away.”

He added, “It gets people into landscape.”

They are making a difference – changing way people think – about landscapes and horticulture with design.

“We’ve created a dreamy feeling. Visitors can get lost in the immersive, natural landscape,” said Dan, pointing out how here again, color creates a mood.

Speaking of dreamy – before showing us a few images of his own country house in England — which is very much dreamy — he showed a massive project restoring and designing for the future of Lowther Castle and Gardens that’s been nestled in the Lake District since the 1700’s.

Peppered with a family history that rivals a film narrative, but grounds that boast Capability Brown elements too, this is an incredible garden story that includes some magic, lots of discoveries, and personalities. He’s been working on this scale since September, 2016, taken in bite sized, 2 year project pieces.

He said he doesn’t tend to use specimen plants but here it worked — stately trees that set off the oak benches in the courtyard that’s used for events such as Halloween or Guy Fawkes.

Here’s a time-sped video of the planting in the courtyard:

And creating parterres as tapestry.

Those walls are an incredible gift of a backdrop.

Also, Himalayan poppies are special things with high Horticulture value seen in the high windows as aperture.

He’s also creates a rose garden with a maize to move through – using a rose as the blueprint for the paths to lead you through.

I love that he designed the benches with legs as thorns.

His own place is 20 acres in Peckham, near Bath.

“It has Incredible soil!” he shared with glee. Of course he has incredible soil. What luck…

He created series of landfalls here, the first was an edible garden.

Again, he uses the borrowed view to design his garden rooms.

“I’m in tune with the seasons. With the environment, here. I can experiment with plants and designs.Not on client.”

It’s a living portfolio.

You can follow along on his Blog, Dig Delve.

And you get order his book, Natural Selection. I got my autographed copy for my home library.

More from Plant-O-Rama

Underused Plants of Interest

This was a breakout session hosted by Jim Glover, Glover Perennials and Joyann Cirigliano, Atlantic Nurseries. (What a happy hortie name: Joyann!)

Jim was a very good speaker – I liked his honest and pragmatic – and passionate delivery. “Some aren’t so great!” and “These are good performers” appealed to me and the audience of working gardeners.

A few of Jim’s stars included: Primula sieboldii ‘Fuji Snow’ that is a good choice for hot, humid summers.

He also showed ‘Drag Queen,’ ‘Seneca Star’ and ‘Musashino’.

Jim pointed out a number of great Ferns – that are great companions too for Platycodons for the ephemeral spring gardens. The Bellflowers are excellent cut flowers and hardy to Zone 4, he noted.

There were so many great plants Jim showed and described.

Here’s a partial list:

Geum triflorum – a spring-blooming reddish pink herbaceous plant – the Native ‘Prairie Smoke’ that is astonishingly pretty in pink.

I will surely use this in border garden designs this year.

Deer resistant Zone 3

Zizia aptera ‘Alexanders’

Heart shaped leaf big yellow umbles . May – July attract pollinators

Full sun – some shade

Zone 4. Three-feet tall natives – and they self sow. So be careful.

Jim said they work well in Rain Gardens or a Meadow — as they are best with a plant interplay.

Monarda bradburiana, Bee Balm.

May- July. Exceedingly drought tolerant pinkish, small 12-18-inch tall; doesn’t take over. Blushed copper on new growth. Beautiful seed head fall to winter.

Love this. Will joyfully pursue using this beauty.

Astrantia major ‘Abbey Road’

(Photo:NetPS Plant Finder)

Pink Masterwort pin cushion to white to purple 2-3 ft tall Versatile. June to August bloom prefers light shade

Attracts pollinators.

White Giant and Roma are gorgeous bloomers in the same family.

Spirea alba MeadowSweet is a July to August bloomer that grows 3-4 ft and is “Super versatile” according to Jim. Because of its moisture requirements, it’s a top recommendation for Rain Gardens. It has a dry flower stem in a chestnut brown with native burnt orange fall foliage

Deer resistant pollinator.

Chamaecrista fasciculata, Partridge Pea: Self sows! – Be careful. Yellow blooms July and August. The pea pods are 2 feet tall. Attracts pollinators = Jim showed us an unbelievable congregation of bees and butterflies in one place.

Native, deer resistant.

Jim suggested to sprinkle seeds in the garden for following season- no gaps – and you will get a tapestry affect. I say, “be careful.”

Fargesia robusta – Clumping bamboo 10ft tall best privacy screening. Evergreen wide 6-8 foot wide. Takes pruning.

Solidago – Goldenrod: drought and deer resistant

Leucosceptrum japonicum – Fall bottle bush

Selaginella braunii is an arborvitae – looks like a fern – with a bronze winter foliage

Joyanne’s suggestion for Woody Plants

First off, Joyann claimed she’s an Ecosystem Specialist but not “Native Nazi.” Rather, she follows the pollinators as a way to explain her love for certain woody plants and trees.

Quercus alba – white oak. Her favorite. “We need resistant cultivars” she admonished.

Paper Birch – Prairie Dreams stress tolerant Zone 6-3, Single or multi stem

Sweet Gum Tulip Poplar – ‘Little Volunteer’ – 30 feet or less

Nyssa sylvatica, Red RageⓇ – Wildfire Black Tupelo – single stem that birds adore.
‘Sheri’s Cloud’ – variegated clone of a black gum. Medium sized tree with green leaves and a creamy white variegation that turns to pink then bright red in autumn!

Picea – orientalis golden tipped spruce yellow foliage that gets better as it ages.

Abies koreana – Indigo blue pine cones, silver color

Pinus strobus ‘Angel Falls’ weeper with a mini twist waterfall branches

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Gyokuryu’ that has green foliage growing in pretty sprays. (cryptomeria means “hidden parts!”)

Cercis ‘Pink Pom Poms’ is a new fruitless redbud!

Cotinus coggygria ‘Velveteeny’ – a royal purple Smoke Bush that stays red all summer. Gotta have it!

Crepe Myrtle Ebony Series– flowers seem to glow against the almost black foliage.

Ilex crenata ‘Jersey Jewels’ – dwarf shrub holly.

Ilex Crenata ‘Drops of Gold’

Thuja ‘Ember Waves’ plicata, has bright gold foliage that matures to chartreuse, and in winter, it turns deep gold with orange tips. Thuja plicata has a ripcord like grass and is compact.

Spirea japonica Candy CornⓇ with leaves that are orange to yellow. I’ve never been a fan of what I consider a “too-common” shrub but this baby is pretty glamorous.

Same goes for Blue KazooⓇ another hearty but now pretty with its cool blue foliage.

New blue berries: Bluecrop blueberry with two harvests – self-pollinating and works in colder climates.

Plus, vines and ground covers, two new Knockout Roses (a peachy coral and pink floriflorious): and new small hydrangeas and more.

Plants are so glamorous…

Some of the highlights from the Trade Show included: Womanswork.  I purchased two pair of garden gloves – one pair is an Arm Saver – that thumb-to-elbow protection often needed when working with some tough plants.
I also learned our beloved and respected horticulturist and author, Ruth Clausen, has an “Ask Ruth” column featured on the Womanswork website.  No better authority than Dear Ruth.  Kudos!

I also highlight my friends at Pennoyer Newman whose antique and handcrafted resin pots, containers, and sculpture I recommend and use for my clients. I love Virginia and team so much that I bid on the pot they provided POR for the Silent Auction – and won!  (I just need to figure out how to get it home from BBG!) 
I also loved seeing Siebert and Rice – the leading American importer of handmade terracotta planters and urns from Italy.
There was the Structural Fiberglass Planters by Tintori Castings that caught my eye. I like their grey, lightweight planters that work so well for rooftops and places where weight is an issue. A kind of skinny pot!

The Horticultural Associates are a grower’s resource for the landscape artist. 


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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
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 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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