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Sowing Wonder; Hip Hop Environmentalism & A Plantastic Future!


It has been two spring plantings and fall harvests since Metro Hort held its annual flora fiesta.  (But who’s counting?!) In fact, the January 2020 event was probably the last gathering for so many plant-aholics before that other “P” word* shook us to our, ahem, “roots” ~ (hort humor is irresistible.)  

Fast forward. Last week marked Plant-O-Rama’s (POR) triumphant return to In Real Life (IRL) / “in person” symposium and trade show for horticultural professionals where we learn about how plants will change our world.  And that change starts in our gardens.  As you’ll read, there’s plenty of wonder to astound and  astonish… 

The event kicked off with a Zoom meeting on Monday featuring Thomas RaShad Easley, Ed.D. who spoke to us about Forest Rhythms; Hip Hop Environmentalism.

Dr. Easley introduced the Metro Hort members to a “new mindset and heart around diversity, equity, and inclusion in urban forestry; how to work side-by-side to increase canopy and a green environment in an equitable way.”

The next day, me and my garden designer friend, Lynn, owner of Lynn Torgerson Gardens, subway-teamed our way to the in person event at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, my beloved former “work” place.  

After registering, enjoying the most-anticipated bonhomie with the hundreds of gardeners, designers, growers, educators and more ~ alongside the breakfast treats ~ we headed to the keynote talk, where our Metro Hort president, Charles Yurgelvitch welcomed all, thanked Bob Hyland, former VP of Horticulture at BBG who, along with a few other hort visionaries, including Margaret Roach launched POR 27 years ago.  Wow. Thank you for your dedication.

Charles then introduced BBG president, Adrian Benepe.  What a treasure Mr. Beneppe is. (So is his father! In the seminal book, Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover”s’Companion to New York City, I’ve written about Mr. Barry Benepe, the father of Gotham’s greenmarkets.)

And then, it was a kind of a magic garden ride when Jared Barnes, Ph.D., the Keynote Speaker took the audience on a rather fantastical journey with his talk: 

A Plantastic Future.

From the Metro Hort overview: “With all the challenges we face on Planet Earth, plants are poised to change the 21st century. In this enthusiastic keynote, Dr. Jared Barnes will share how we can sow passion, help gardeners take root, graft interests together, and much more to help the horticulture industry blossom. Associate Professor of Horticulture, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX.”

Jared Barnes

Jared Barnes



More to Learn

Prior to our preferred breakout session, me, Lynn, and my new hort friend, James, from the Narrows Botanical Garden in Red Hook (and a good birdhouse maker), did our self-guided walk to the Native Plant Garden. As I had worked at the Garden for so many years, we didn’t need the Guided Tours offered via POR.

Starting with the glorious metal gates at the entrance to the Native Plant Garden, this was always one of my favorites because of the plants, of course, but also because the founders of the Garden had such vision way back when this garden was designed and nurtured throughout the Garden’s history. It’s not a design that was installed when sustainable and native plants became the sacred mantra of smart gardening ~ a kind of futuristic path to garden enlightenment while taking a page from our rich horticultural past…

At the same time, the Native Plant Garden was painstakingly and thoughtfully made ready for its closeup by Uli Lorimer, who was the Curator when I was there. (Uli was a dream to take to interviews, especially the Martha Stewart TV Show). His success and leadership in forging the path to what is now de rigeur native plant gardens, created a garden that was long overdue for its starring role ~ ready for its closeup.

What was once a kind of sooo-native to be almost spooky is now readily accessible; the signage and clear paths make touring this garden space an educational and enjoyable walk to discover our natives. (And please do note the Best Practices here; the curators “leave the leaves.”)

There were Breakout Sessions offering professional insight and management on a variety of garden and horticulture topics.

I was looking forward to this one: Anthony Bulfamante, A. Bulfamante Landscaping; Richard Pacailler, Town & Gardens, Ltd.; Whitney Parkerton, Parker Meadows, Inc.; Mark Davies, Higher Ground Horticulture, was the moderator for the panel: Sustainability Stories: Landscape Contractors Building a Greener Future. The three diverse urban and suburban landscape contracting companies talked about changing practices, equipment, and green initiatives building toward a greener future.

Ever the fashion-forward stylist, I was also keen to learn about the new plants ~ to see what the plant palette breeders were serving up to improve the health ~ and beauty of my garden designs.

POR wrote, The number of new cultivar and trademarked plant introductions for woody plants and herbaceous perennials is staggering and often confusing to buyers in the trade, let alone consumers. Craig Pine, Sales and Purchasing Manager at Half Hollow Nursery, Long Island, led the session. Here we were introduced to many new plants that have been hybridized.

My observation was that the plants shown were not so much bred or cultivated for beauty as they were to overcome environmental issues, diseases, and pests ~ surely all signs of climate change and aggressive weather patterns. Some of the introductions addressed the need for smaller-sized plants that will work better in suburban homes and condos/apartments. Good idea.

Regrettably, there weren’t too many good images in the presentation that I can share with you. However these are the plants and I’ll provide as many images as I can locate:

“Little Missy” Boxwood & NewGenⓇ ~ Nice and small for suburban spots and containers and a replacement for traditional, English box; touted as a boxwood blight fighter.

Petite Knockout, and Oh So Easy ~ small, continuous bloomers. 

Hydrangea ~ “Pop Star” is more compact, mounded; flowers similar to those in the “Endless Summer” series. (Photo: Roberta’s Garden)

Also, First Editions’ panicle “Little Hottie” (love that moniker!)

Encore Azaleas ~ Honestly, I’m not so certain these are “new” plants as I’ve been planting at garden design clients’ for a number of years. But in any event, I highly recommend the plant. They are a compact (between 2.5 and 5.5 feet) shrub and bloom their lovely blossoms from spring through autumn. It’s a great look for near the front of the border and around some trees that are usually too difficult to cultivate other plantings near them due to the root issues.

Miscanthus, “Bandwidth” ~ These new cultivars are sterile. If you don’t know or weren’t aware, miscanthus in our parts anyways, is shunned because it’s not native and is too invasive. So here is “Bandwidth” a compact that breeders claim to not reseed

Juniper, Blue Arrow ~ From Monrovia, this cultivar they say is “An improved selection with tight, bright blue foliage and a very narrow, upright form. Perfect as a tall, narrow screen where space is limited. Makes a colorful addition to the garden. Produces silvery blue berries from late spring to late winter. Evergreen.” 12 to 15 feet tall but only 2’ wide. Nice. Love the color too. I often use the soft blue conifers/evergreens as they look so pretty in all seasons ~ they play well with perennials whose blooms in purple, pink or salmon marry especially well. And in the snow (if that ever comes again around here!)

Greenfinity Volcano Cherry Laurel ~ A dwarf version of the classic Skip Laurel. It’s an evergreen, hardy, smaller-sized workhorse was first “discovered” in 2006 in the Netherlands while some say Hungary. Oh brother. Nevertheless, it’s grown here in the US now and features red-bronze new growth. Its green leaves claim to offer green variations as it matures; the same white, fragrant spring flowers and black berries that birds love. Volcano grows to no more than 6-7 feet tall and 5 feet wide, good in most all kinds of soils, drought and salt-spray resistant. Sounds like a fire plug of a shrub. Think of it as a replacement for the Otto Luyken.

While me and my tribe were not looking for work, Plant-O-Rama again featured its very robust Jobs Fair with 35 organizations in the Steinhardt Conservatory, recruiting employees and offering seasonal internships.

We did want to peruse the vendors showcasing hort offerings so we walked over, past the gardens that flank the Lily Pool Terrace. I always loved the Edgeworthia there and are in bloom now.

So too, the hellebores. It seemed a wee bit early for the Galanthus but hey, there was no denying they looked so pretty, especially fronting that handsome cinnamon bark on the crepe myrtle.

Forty exhibitors were in Palm House featuring wholesale & retail nurseries, pottery merchants, horticultural supplies and apparel.

I got these dove-gray goatskin pruning gloves from WomansWork that feel soft as butter but are tough enough to thwart those pesky rose thorns. Or Pyracantha pruning. A story for another day ~ but suffice to say here that once when pruning a client’s Firethorn ~ with my team ~ and I was wearing another maker’s gloves, my arms ended up looking like something from Sweeny Todd. I wore opera gloves to a friend’s wedding that following weekend!

I have admired the practical solutions, designs, and craftsmanship in the City Tree Guards maker’s offerings. Whether you’re an urban planner or a garden designer or a homeowner, their recycled tree bed / tree guards fencing is an attractive solution.

Soon, there were delicious mocktails being served and a DJ spinning music. And the attendees were gathered to talk plants, gardens, horticulture, and life… Finally, we were together. IRL.

Plantastic xoxo

Opinion ~ OpEd

I will offer two last observations. Not about Plant-O-Rama. But while at the event, I was given two fliers: One is from the The Earth Bill which seeks a pledge of support to save the planet with Renewable Energy, Zero-Emission Vehicles, and Regenerative Agriculture. I will research more and you can too but I think it’s something I can get behind and support.

The other flier is from the Davey Institute ~ tree folks who claim to “support arborists and technicians in diagnosing and prescribing based on the latest arboricultural science.” Wellll, their “Tree Doctor Tips” sheet is advocating for a tree “Plant Growth Regulator (PGR)” The flier shows three photos of trees in need of PGR to better stunt, er “inhibit” the plant’s growth: one shows tree roots growing into a parking lot (heavens to Betsy ~ how dare that tree impinge on a car park!), the other “shows tree branches that have grown into the power lines and pose a risk to the lines.”

Don’t get me started. I have previously urged utility companies here in my blog and at my talks, to invest in the communities they serve and put the power lines underground. Many, many communities do. I do not believe the utility’s claims that it would be just as expensive and they’d have to cut trees so often to keep them from the cables. “Telephone” poles or utility poles are antiquated, old school ~ they were first used in the mid-19th century in America with telegraph systems.

(photo: Wikipedia)
The irony here is that utility poles are made from trees! According to the American Tree Farm System bulletin, An estimated 130 million wooden poles are in service across the nation, according to the North American Wood Pole Council. For Tree Farmers, utility poles have the potential to provide an excellent return on investment. Southern yellow pines and Douglas fir are the most popular trees due to their size, but Northeastern red pine, Western red cedar and other softwoods that grow tall and straight are also used.

Most folks/citizens don’t know that the utility companies operate in communities as approved by local governments. It’s supposed to be a bid process. In reality, there is little to no competition. Therefore, the utilities get the contracts indubitably.

There is no doubt that storms have become increasingly aggressive. And frequent. And are forecast to get worse. And with no incentive to look to a future-forward solution to power lines coming down, the utilities claim the trees exacerbate the problem so they Cut. The. Trees. Down! This is wrong for so many reasons. It infuriates the citizens who often don’t know this is going to happen to their street until the trucks arrive. You only need to do a quick online search to read of many cautionary tales from anguished homeowners when there is a clash between overhead wires and the public’s demand for safe, reliable power and the need for sheltering, life-affirming and beautiful trees. Years ago, just in one area the utility spent $24 million to trim trees. Surely, most of that budget can fund alternative solutions that will benefit all. We are talking about a natural resource that benefits our ecosystem.

And now this: Using a chemical to inhibit the plant’s growth hormone in order to slow the tree canopy and to reduce the amount of pruning effort. Arrgghhh…These PGRs are promoted as an “alternative to plant replacement or aggressive pruning programs to make plants fit.” You read that right. “Fit” How about turning the tables here?

Moreover the chemical that is inhibiting the growth is Paclobutrazol (PDZ) whose active ingredients can cause a host of health issues to people and pets and animals and birds. An April, 2022 study published by Science Direct reported:

  • Paclobutrazol and uniconazole can cause thyroid endocrine disorder.
  • Both paclobutrazol and uniconazole induced sex-specific disruptions in plasma lipid metabolism.
  • The thyroid endocrine disrupting effects of paclobutrazol and uniconazole are related to the PI3K and MAPK pathways.

Sooo, if this is “applied to the soil around the base of trees and shrubs in a precise dose based on the particular species and individual plant stem diameter… to slow down shoot elongation for two to three years” at which time it will be reapplied. But, but, what if, the technician doesn’t apply the “precise dose?” Think about that, too.

I can’t get on board with this. And I do think homeowners and citizens should be informed and allowed to respond to this for themselves. Chemicals that rob trees of their growth (which is just so wrong) while presenting the potential to harm unsuspecting children and pregnant women is horrific. I can just see a Mom walking her baby with her dog trotting alongside and being exposed every day on their “wellness walk.” Not good… There is another way…Especially in this era of climate chaos, we need our trees ever more. Trees support life.

Let’s stay with Plantastic, please.

Thank you, Metro Hort.

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 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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