This past winter I attended numerous trade shows, garden talks, private gardens, educational seminars and horticultural symposiums. And all the while I knew that the last one on my list, for this past winter, was going to be spectacular. Month’s prior, I had registered myself and a few friends for the Master Gardeners of Mercer County’s event held at the Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, New Jersey. An event limited to 400 people, the facilities capacity was sold out in less than 2 weeks. On the docket for this mid March event was Dr. Michael Dirr, who needs no introduction, Heidi Hesselein, co-owner of Pleasant Run Nursery and Barbara Bromley, the Mercer County Horticulturist and Master Gardener Advisor. And while I had to leave early that day, missing Barbara Bromley’s talk, I am told her talk was as equally brilliant as the previous two speakers. A long time fan of both Dr. Dirr and Heidi Hesselein’s, the information they put before all of us, attending that day, was timely, educational and well, brilliant! What was most comforting about these talks was that in many ways it qualified the advice that myself and many other horticultural professionals dish out to our customers year in and year out.
Dr. Dirr kicked off the event with his typical rhetoric, speaking so quickly that even the most accomplished stenographer would get writer’s cramp. I learned a long time ago, when listening to Dr. Dirr speak, you should just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. His delivery combines the most academic of teachings coupled with a wit and sincerity that grips the listener and keeps him/her begging for more. In short, the guy is awesome! His first talk, “In Praise of Noble Trees”, spoke of the data that supports the economic benefits of Noble Trees and the many reasons for praising and planting these trees. Those trees included in his talk were Maples, too many to list here, Birch, European/American Hornbeam, Katsura, Redbud, American Beech, Ginkgo (my favorite), Kentucky Coffeetree, Tuliptree, Tupelo, Chinese Pistache, Planetree, Cherries, Oaks, Baldcypress, Elms and Zelkova’s. Of course there were a ton of cultivars he spoke of here too! But, the point is, these are solid choices to stick with. “True meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit” Nelson Henderson.
Heidi Hesselein’s talk was “Enriching Your Garden with a Plethora of Perennials”. Her passion, in part, lies with her perennials and she stuck to the tried and true. Perennials like Agastache, Amsonia, Asters, Baptisia, Bergenia, grasses, sedges, Delosperma, Echinacea, Heuchera, Hosta, Phlox and Salvia were all discussed at length. So detailed in her talk, at times, I was fearful that she wouldn’t get through it all. But, in fine form and a true professional she delivered a compelling talk and hit her timeline, more or less. Her handout was chock full of new cultivars nestled in amongst some old favorites. Heidi and her husband Richard are known for their passion for “growing rare, new and unusual woodies, perennials, grasses, ferns and groundcovers.” I have known the entire Pleasant Run team for some years now and am proud to have them all as my friends. You can bet that a Pleasant Run plant is true to name, was well groomed and is ready for your garden.
Dr. Dirr’s second talk, a bonus after lunch, was about “Adventures in Breeding Hydrangeas and Viburnums.” “Hydrangeas have accelerated in popularity and numbers in the last decade, the impetus being Endless Summer, a remontant cultivar that injected excitement and hope into the genus” Dr. Michael Dirr. Dirr’s arrangement of words here I found to be both clever and truthful. While everyone knows ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea, Dirr spoke of some new ones to get excited about. ‘Bloomstruck’, ‘Ruby Slippers’ and ‘Jet Stream’ were name dropped to wet our appetites while ‘Qickfire’, ‘Limelight’ and ‘Pinky Winky’ are ones that excite him and worth trying and revisiting. On the Viburnum front, ‘Mohawk’, ‘Pink Beauty’ and ‘Popcorns’ fall color all got high marks. However it was ‘Susy’ and ‘Louise’s Sunbeam’ which clearly spoke of Dirr’s private and personal side.
Dr. Dirr and Heidi Hesselein’s grasp of horticulture is both quantum and encyclopedic! Their understanding of plants and their ability to recall the countless stories from which plants are born was storytelling at its finest. Dr. Dirr had several tree quotes throughout his talks. Clearly a man who is well read, opinionated and witty, a profound quote that stuck with me, that Dr. Dirr shared, was “The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its (agri) culture” Thomas Jefferson.