I had the good fortune to sit in on an altogether too short presentation by Richard Hartlage, this week. His topic was trends in landscape design; the title should have been "Garden Envy 101, or how to spend three-quarter of a million dollars on plants for your yard." I do not jest. Hartlage's upscale residential design projects start at half a mil and average $750,000, figures practically unheard-of in our local market. If you want to know what sort of garden that sort of cash will buy you, peruse his portfolio. Make a cup of tea, get comfortable, and get your Pinterest-clicker ready; you'll be there a while.
So what does the proprietor of a modest little garden centre gain by learning about such garden opulence? Other than fodder for wistful garden dreams, and another reason to gamble on a lotto ticket?
Plants are back, says Richard. Think for a moment of the industrial designs you see in the city: the landscapes of straight lines, paving for miles, and four different plants (that you saw in 12 different installations down the road already). The very best landscape architects today are foregoing this starkness for richly layered gardens. The gardens Hartlage assembles (curates, more accurately) are designed for five to 10 colour changes throughout the year. He uses flower bulbs (a lot), layers up perennials, and fills in with annuals. One garden becomes a world of colour in a single season. They call this matrix planting.
Plants are back in drifts. Hartlage had generous words to say about minimalist landscape designers who have learned to warm up sleek, modern plans with effects that good old Gertie Jekyll popularized. We're talking about hundreds of plants (all the same) in a single garden space. How do you do this economically? Hartlage installs his plants as plugs, which are the young starters growers buy from propagators to raise into the bigger plants you find in our store and others'. Plugs aren't usually sold to home gardeners for many reasons, not the least is the fact that baby plants (like baby everything else) need more care and attention, and that babies grow up and need out of their little trays quickly. But, we can always custom order plugs if you want to try your hand at your own meadow planting. Plan to spend a hundred bucks on plugs where the same plants would run you a $500 or more when purchased in one-gallon cans.
Vegetable gardens should be lovely. You don't have to grow veggies in rows; they can be as gorgeous as annual plantings. Craft them into beautiful carpets like those at the Brooklyn Botanical Herb and Vegetable Gardens. If you aren't planning a trip to Brooklyn any time soon, be a tourist closer to home: UBC Botanical Garden has figured this out on a manageable scale. Montreal's Botanical Garden also has a really special kitchen garden display; the photos (left) are from Bill's visit to that garden in late summer 2013.
Eryngium 'Blue Sapphire' is the most asked about plant in the Chihuly Glass & Gardens installation, which Hartlage designed and maintains. This didn't surprise me. One year, Heritage Perennials featured this plant at the now defunct VanDusen Flower & Garden Show. It was a show stopper in a gorgeous urn, surrounded by a glorious albeit temporary garden design by Heritage Perennials' own Kelly Schroeder. Everyone was talking about it. The thing is, this plant looks scraggly in the typical ready-to-buy nursery pot. I had a dozen last season that elicited little more attention than a raised eyebrow from our customers. Eryngium needs a chunky container or a bit of space in the garden in order to reward a gardener with its icy-blue, long-lasting blooms. Give it a chance, and you'll be wowed.
Chihuly Glass & Gardens is now on my bucket list. What say we put together a tour bus and go together?
Educational sessions like this are never wasted, even (especially) when the speaker works well above our pay grade. There's always a nugget to gather. At very least, a good garden speaker offers horticultural therapy without even a hint of backache.