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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in garden writers (3)


Joseph and His Plants of Many Colors

Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener, Joseph Tychonievich, Timber Press.

When I learned that garden writing colleague, Joseph Tychonievich, had published his first book, I felt both joy and sadness. The joy I experienced was a culmination of several years of watching this young scientist’s career blossom – literally – before my eyes.  

The sadness arose when I realized that I did not have the academic credentials to give his work, on plant breeding for the home gardener, the review it deserved. That is why it makes me happy anytime someone else reviews the book. 

A few years ago, while in a post-graduate program at university, Joseph began a garden blog. He wrote his posts in an effortless and entertaining manner. On his site, he used words-  as a cartoonist uses pen and ink - to deliver his thoughts and feelings into the imagination of his readers. For a scientist, that is a remarkable and enviable talent.

Through his posts, I felt his enthusiasm for his chosen field and was inspired by his vibrant approach both to gardening and to life itself. Even now, his deceptively simple yet original use of language, both in his blog posts and on Facebook, allow readers to feel his pulse and share in the adrenaline racing through his body.

Eventually, just as cream rises to the surface of milk, Joseph attracted the attention of Timber Press who offered him a book contract. I was not surprised.

In short, Joseph is a natural born communicator who leaves his readers smiling. His enthusiasm for all things botanical is palpable in almost everything he writes. He has an original voice and uses it effectively. With simple words to create powerful imagery, he has created an endearing style of writing that reveals a warm, joy-filled personality. His followers can’t help but grow fond of him even if they have never met him in person.

This month, on behalf of his association with Arrowhead Alpine Plants, Joseph brought a collection of spring flowering plants to Detroit Garden Works, the design studio of Deborah Silver. His display was so colorful, that it inspired Ms. Silver, who usually features conservative-colored plant compositions, to share Joseph's vivid choices in a photo-essay on her blog, Dirt Simple.

From the moment he appeared online, Joseph attracted the eager attention of gardeners, bloggers, writers, and horticultural professionals. He impressed Timber Press to add him to their roster of authors and inspired Deborah Silver to illustrate her blog with richly colored images.  

He brings a smile to the faces of his fans and so moves those who have met him that some wish he were part of their family. Joseph is a reminder that if one chooses a career out of passion, every day can be a celebration of life.

Recently, I was pleased to discover that horticulturist Geri Laufer has written a glowing review of his first publication. Echoing my sentiments and in her words:-

“The author’s gift is to present the technical world of plant breeding so simply and in such a captivating manner that anyone can understand it—and everyone will want to try it. After all, it’s like making chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.”

Ms. Laufer has described the essence of a talented scientist-communicator who is able to make plant breeding as enjoyable as baking cookies. Few garden writers touch people’s hearts as deeply and effectively as Joseph does. That is why his book deserves our attention. 



Brunnera Jack Frost; Does it Really Need a Perennial of the Year Award? 

Photo by Walters Gardens, Inc.

Recently, the Perennial Plant Association selected Brunnera Jack Frost as Perennial of 2012. Many of my garden writing colleagues reported this news as the innocuous, recurring, marketing strategy that it is; except for one who was unhappy. This garden writer argued that such awards are responsible for taking exquisite, unusual, and beautiful perennials and turning them into common, over used ones. I disagree.

I believe that how a plant is used, that is, where it is placed and how it is combined with other plants, is more important than its exclusiveness. There are flowerbeds around the world that have been designed effectively with the most common perennials, and yet they capture our attention with their artistry.

For example, a wild Rudbeckia perennial self-seeded in one of my most successful flowerbeds. I used to dislike this plant; I was never a fan of its gold and black coloration, and it is seen in almost everyone's garden on the street.  Nevertheless, combined with the taupe-brown tone of the home’s façade, the yellow Rudbeckia’flowers looked amazing; they took my garden design to a level higher than I could ever have imagined possible.

I do not feel that my professionalism is compromised when an exquisite, rare, unusual plant earns award-winning status and becomes ubiquitous. I am unmoved when these gifted plants are used in every parking lot across the country. What I do care about is that they will be used. I, for one, will continue to design with them.

From a business perspective, it is effective marketing to designate one perennial as special. At the nursery or in a mail order catalogue, when a plant is flagged to be out of the ordinary, it draws consumers’ attention. That may determine which plants the customer will buy.

While this tactic may be of no value to seasoned, knowledgeable gardeners, I’ll bet it comes in handy for the less-than-omniscient gardener, overwhelmed by the vast number of plant options. Believe it or not, some are delighted to have choices made for them in the guise of an award winning perennial. It makes the selection of plants easier.

So thanks, but no thanks, for the Perennial of the Year awards. I don’t need them, neither do any of my colleagues. However, I know many gardeners who do. Anything that helps a homeowner create a more beautiful garden is an asset to our industry.

Photo by Walters Gardens, Inc.

With this year’s selection of Brunnera Jack Frost our secret is revealed. Now, EVERYONE will know about the sublimely beautiful shade plant that turned all my clients’ sunless gardens into sculptural collages. The texture of its foliage is a work of art and the white highlights on the green leaves capture daylight to make this plant glow in the shade.

Brunnera Jack Frost will illuminate a dark spot in the garden, from early spring until late fall. In spring, mature clumps of this no-care perennial will produce frothy bouquets of light-blue flowers to touch the hearts of all.

Oh! I forget to mention its elegance. Holy Cow, what elegance!  In every garden, no matter how messy or haphazard the flower composition, this plant exudes serenity and good taste.

If this perennial becomes over used, as it surely will by the end of the 2012 season, some designers will feel uncomfortable using it to create a flowerbed with an original, exclusive vision. That is exactly what lies at the heart of the disdain for the Perennial of the Year award. It may be good for retail business, but as designers, it’s not good for ours. Few, if any, should sympathize with us. Instead, rejoice that another great plant has been "found".


Does Your Garden Advice Lose Its Flavor On the Blog Post Overnight?  

Are there garden experts out there that resent the abundance of horticultural advice that is posted online? Sometimes, I get the impression that they would prefer to be the only authoritative voices. I first became aware of this situation last year when I discovered disparaging remarks written by an established garden expert. She was insultingly critical of some garden writers’ opinions and, to avoid censure, stealthfully buried her thoughts in the “comment” section of a fellow gardener’s blog. Another garden expert was not so discrete and publicly expressed her dismissiveness of garden bloggers, as an off-the-cuff response to a question on a radio progtam. She stated that they tend to post incorrect advice. [I learned about this latest affront from Sheila at The Stopwatch Gardener].

The goal of every gardener is to create beauty and pleasure. As we strive in that direction, we adopt rules that seem to help us accomplish our objectives and we discard rules that are obstacles. If, along the way, we have made mistakes in judgment; nature will tell us so by not permitting a plant to thrive. Whether our actions in the garden appear to be successful or disappointing, we are eager to report the results to our supportive blogging peers. The absolute right to post our thoughts is now a forgone conclusion.

When we publish advice that is mistaken or that is not universally applicable, members of our online community tell us so and the doubtful information is usually corrected. Furthermore, some of our blogs are read by many garden hobbyists outside our circle and, for their sake, we need always to be as accurate as possible. However, because we are human, sometimes we stumble. Fortunately, the blogging community is far more forgiving of inaccuracies or omissions than are members of other media.

With or without professional credentials in horticulture or writing, and for better or for worse, technology has permitted many to become garden writers or botanical photographers. Judging the high quality of some of the work that is posted online daily, either as a blog, a photo journal, or a comment, it is clear that we have exceptionally talented people within our garden blogging community.They deserve to be celebrated and not derided.

I wonder if we garden bloggers are accelerating the dialogue of new ideas at a speed uncomfortable for a few established experts. Some are not prepared to welcome modernity in gardening techniques or design, and others are unable to appreciate garden blogging altogether. Regardless of their attitude, we must be prepared to be confronted by them, at any moment. It might be their destiny to forever be dismissive of those who err, who contradict them, or steal their thunder. Perhaps they are unaware to what extent they demean themselves when they broadcast disparaging remarks or derisive comments.