by George Looby
The Lewis B. Rome Commons at the University of Conn, in Storrs, CT was the site of the Sustainable Landscape Conference. This conference was designed for the landscape and horticultural professionals and given the diversity of the target groups it is certain that everyone came away with very useful take-home information.
Leading off the program were Lisa Cowan and Irene Barber. Lisa is Principal at Studioverde, a collaborative of landscape architects and others who work together to create high performance landscapes. Irene is the founder of Greenscapes Designs, an ecologically considerate company that focuses on therapeutic and interactive garden/landscape spaces. Their work together in bringing life to a most challenging federal office building in downtown Bangor, ME shows what can be done on a limited budget. Obstacles to be overcome included minimal sunlight and frigid temperatures for much of the year. Not only did the plantings match the setting, but they also managed to create a waterway with unique stone placement that added much to the landscape.
Richard Harper, the next speaker on the program, is an Extension Assistant Professor of Urban and Community Forestry in the UMass Dept. of Environmental Conservation. Richard offered the group some ideas to help them make their own diagnoses when confronted with a problem. One of the common errors that Richard encounters is placing too much topsoil on the base of newly planted trees and shrubs. This, together with the common practice of overwatering, can impede the critical time after transplanting.
The extremes of weather often can set back or destroy plantings. Extremely hot weather or torrential rains can cause plants to shut down when stressed. Insects are an ever-present problem. Among the insects mentioned in the talk were the oak spider mite, the gypsy moth and the honey locust plant bug.
When evaluating a site for possible shrub or tree transplants the degree of soil compaction should be determined and the soil porosity should be 50 percent or more. If the degree of compaction exceeds acceptable limits then corrective action needs to be taken to break it up and make it more porous.
From Burlington, WI came Roy Diblik, co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm, who offered some insights about plant behavior, adaptation and care. Roy is a strong believer in letting plants do what plants want to do. For millennia plants have grown and thrived in the wild each surrounded by its own debris and not necessarily arranged neatly in rows like tomatoes. Plants of similar varieties need to grow together to achieve their maximum potential. Their natural debris should not be treated as something foreign to the plant, it is part of its natural cycle and should be encouraged.
Water is the most critical component in any garden and is necessary until new plants are well established. There is a need to establish gardens that can do well on average annual rainfall needing additional water only during the months of July and August.
Roy suggested a German Gravel Garden as way to reduce labor and water usage. Using plants that do well in dry conditions, select an area where there is good soil, cover it with 4 – 5 inches of pea gravel and place the plants just above or at the level of the soil base. Push the gravel around the plant, water every other day for 8 to 10 weeks. Once it is well established, it should need little to no water again.
Sedges constitute a very large plant family and are a low maintenance plant. Members of this family are adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions from moist to dry. They can be used to form living mulch around and under trees and shrubs eliminating the need for wood mulching.
Bulbs are an essential part of any garden and the speaker suggested that over hybridized Tulips and Narcissus be left out of plantings as they do not grow well with others.
Angela Treadwell-Palmer challenged the attendees to take a long hard look at their own
marketing programs to see if they are targeting the audience that will become their customer base for tomorrow. Angela founded and now co-owns Plants Nouveau LLC, a company that
specializes in introducing and marketing new plants to the nursery industry. Angela challenged the attendees to look carefully at their current marketing strategies and be prepared to change them to maintain a strong contact with a new generation of gardeners. This group of consumers buys in a different way than their parents and more changes are on the way. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Yelp all need to be part of any marketing program to insure Millenials have a means of communicating they are comfortable with.
It was suggested that the target audience equates gardening with hard work, this mindset needs to be changed and gardening’s many benefits pointed out in an upbeat, positive way. The message to those operating garden centers seems to be: Get with the program or be prepared to lose your present share.