Saturday, 18 February 2012

Perennial Plant Conference

From the left, Ray Stephenson, Ron McBeath, Ed Snodgrass, Tammi Hartung,
Panayoti Kelaidis, Susan Band, sitting infront, Georg Uebelhart

For the fifth year in a row a winter conference on perennials has been hold at Die Bildungsstätte Gartenbau in Grünberg in Germany. As usual, George Uebelhart had put together the exellent program and he also acted as moderator during the three days, Friday-Saturday, last weekend.

Even this time the program was well composed with very interesting talks and it was Susan Band from Pitcairn Alpines in Scotland who had the honor to open the conference with her presentation.

Ron McBeath from Lambereton Nursery in Scotland gave two talks, one on plant hunting and plants in the Himalayas, Sikkim, Nepal and China and one on rock plants, and he showed beautiful pictures of the high mountains and Primula, Meconopsis, Gentiana and other plants.

Together a total of three educational lectures on plants from both alpine and subalpine environments as well as other mountain plants. Particularly, I now feel tempted to some time go myself to the Himalayas.

Under the heading A Passion for Stoncrops Ray Stephenson spoke in glowing terms of small and obese Sedum species. Ray from Coppington, UK, is the holder of The National Sedum Collection and he has made many trips to various parts of the world in order to find different stonecrops. He is also chairman and editor of the Sedum Society Newsletter and the writer of the comprehensive book Sedum - cultivated stonecrops.

Rhodiola bupleuroides, male plants. From The Sedum Society Newsletter

We had great fun all the time, not just because of  the fascinating lectures, but also thanks to all the nice delegates from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and of course Germany. The Swedish group consisted of 15 plant enthusiasts and only Germany had more participants.

In the late afternoons till early mornings, in the cozy German Bierstube, the vague memories of today's lectures were diluted by chilled and tasty beer.

Since all the lectures were interesting, it is difficult to select a single presentation that would be better than any of the others, but when Ed Snodgrass began to show pictures of roof gardens and mentioned their importance to biodiversity I smiled contentedly inside where my heart is situated.

This was the fifth perennial conference and Ed Snodgrass is also a fifth generation farmer and nurseryman, and the president and founder of Emory Knoll Farms in Maryland, US. He is the co-author of the books Green Roof Plants: A Resource and Plant Guide (2006) and The Green Roof  Manual: A Professional Guide to Design, Installation, and Maintenance (2010).

Green Roof Plants at Emory Knoll Farms in Maryland. Photo: Emory Knoll Farms, Inc

I was also very inspired by the lectures of the two Colorado residents Panayoti Kelaidis from Denver Botanical Gardens and Tammi Hartung from Desert Canyon Farm, Canon City.

Panayoti Kelaidis is a true plant lover and a devoted collector, and when he lined up image after image from beautiful Colorado, I felt quite quickly that there I have to go. He has written several books such as Flourish: A Visionary Garden in the American West and participated with his brilliant photographs in others as in the monograph Penstemon by Robert Nold.

Tammi Hartung told us about the use of herbs in food and as health supplements. That is an area that particularly interests me and for me there were therefore many familiar plants she talked about, but also some more unusual and less known. Tammi gave us several recipes that we could try at home. More recipes can be found in her books Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs and Growing 101 Herbs That Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies.

On the whole, this year's ISU conference was very successful and we got all really inspired so now I am already looking toward next winter, and the sixth perennial conference. But as early as this August the ISU congress is held in the Netherlands. See you there?

The informal talks are equally important and fun as the conference itself

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Dynamics and biodiversity in the garden

Under the heading "Blütengarten der Zukunft" in the German magazine Garten Praxis the editor Jonas Reif has invited different garden personalities to share their views on the flourishing gardens of the future. The title is taken from Karl Foerster's famous book "Vom Blütengarten der Zukunft", ie future flower garden, which came out in 1917.

In the latest issue, released in February, I am contributing with an article translated into German. If you do not have access to Garten Praxis and prefer English I am here publishing the original text. Go ahead, enjoy!

A Poppy meadow - the opposite of a static planting

A good example of the strictly controlled, static garden is the classic perennial border.
Here the perennials are planted in blocks or patches and the idea is that they should remain in the spaces allotted to them, not to sneak off to their neighbors. The planting is then usually viewed from a mowed lawn.

Even if static plantings of course can be very beautiful, they always look unnatural and arranged. In nature, you rarely stand on a mowed lawn and look at the forest, the meadow or the beach. Instead you are an integral part of the habitat you visit. You're actively in the forest and can move freely among the trees and flowers and are not merely a passive observer.

And above all, here the plants are not growing in rows or squares, rigid blocks or distinct modules. On the meadow the perennials are developing without the gardener's constant restrictions. That kind of plantings I want to see more of in the future.

Although all plantings are arranged to some extent unless the plants have invaded the site on their own, the method of planting in well-defined blocks makes it also appears that it really is artificial. In the future I would like to see more ecological, dynamic gardens where succession is a desired concept, where the plants are allowed to self-seed and spread, where the leaves gnawed by insects is an aim in itself and where biodiversity is a priority.

We can create sustainable plant communities, where the beauty is not only found in the individual plant and its color, shape and structure or the group of plants, but furthermore in the co-existence and competition between the plants and between plants and the fauna.

It is possible to make a wide range of different biotopes in parks and gardens as groves and woodlands, swamps and bogs, wet meadows and dry meadows, prairies, heaths and steppes.

These days, when more and more gardens are covered with slabs and other stone materials, it would be a great opportunity to introduce the well-drained, long blooming, low maintenance stone and gravel garden to a broader public. I'm very surprised that this garden trend has not already occurred, because the extreme dry habitat garden is very exquisite and extremely easy to maintain.

If we used limestone in the garden, both slabs, gravel and boulders, we could create a paradise for sun-loving plants and insects and still have room to walk and sit. It could be like the big Alvar of Öland in southern Sweden, where one can walk around among flowering herbs. The spring could start with thousands of flowering bulbs and then the garden blooms continuously until November.

You can use any type of sand and gravel in a dry habitat garden, but with lime stone fewer unwanted species will thrive. Anyone who have ever seen a well composed flowering steppe-like planting will want to have one in their own garden. But the steppe as theme isn't only suitable for a family garden but even more for public spaces where it is important with low maintenance costs.

Despite the influences from Karl Foerster, Richard Hansen, Rosemarie Weisse and some others, all kind of habitat plantings still are rare in Germany and elsewhere. Let us change that! Start digging and create your flowering steppe already today!

Vom Blütengarten der Zukunft. Das neue Zeitalter des Gartens und das Geheimnis der veredelten winterfesten Dauerpflanzen.