My Horticultural Summer

Part of the beauty of my industry, aside from the plants, is that you can never know everything. Gardening tricks, academic answers pitted against practical solutions and the rate at which new plants are thrust into retail certainly keeps you on your toes. My favorite part of my job, however is traveling. Whether it is to nurseries, arboretums or a customer’s backyard, there is always a “take away” for me. This summer afforded me several traveling experiences learning new plants and new ideas.

The beginning of July, I found myself touring a nursery in Connecticut, learning about a new series of hydrangea, the Seaside Serenade collection. A collection of hydrangea diverse in color with improved hardiness, compact growth habits and refined aesthetics. Nine different selections will have gardeners looking forward to extra dark green leaves, sturdier stems, long lasting and repeat flowering types as well as PH sensitive types, so you can adjust the color as needed. All varieties would look magnificent en masse!

The end of July had me traveling with my friend and mentor for nearly thirty years, Tony Maiello of Metropolitan Plant Exchange in West Orange, New Jersey. Tony has given me more expert tutelage, both personally and professionally over the years, than one could ever hope for. We have traveled around the country many times and this time we were in Oregon. Extensive nursery tours had us traveling about 100 miles in every direction from Portland, gobbling up nursery stock for our garden centers for this fall and next year. Sharing similar passions for plants, politics, family and business, it has always been helpful, for each of us, to use one another as a sounding board. Our aggressive schedule had us visiting five nurseries in two days. Conifers, deciduous ornamentals, perennials, tropicals, advanced pruning methods, IPM (Integrated pest management) solutions and of course networking was all covered here. Perhaps one of the most stunning trees I saw, this time to Oregon, was a Hedge maple type, Acer campestre ‘Carnival.’ In absolute awe of a mature one in a private garden, this eye- catching tree had my attention from several hundred yards away. Mature leaves of green and white, more white on this one, almost called me over to say “Hi.” ‘Carnival’s’ new spring growth emerges with a blush of pink and its slow growing habit makes it suitable for smaller footprints. Hardy to zone 5, ‘Carnival’ benefits from being placed in semi-shade, where the hot summer sun won’t scald the white portions of its leaves. Truly a beacon in anyone’s garden! What helped to complete our trip, aside from the plants, the food, Mt. Hood and the Timberline Lodge and a day of wine tasting was a little help from Google. I asked where I could find a large Monkey Puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, in the Portland area, and voilà… it appeared! Traversing the Willamette River and a few local roads of downtown Portland, Google granted our wish with a seventy-foot tree. How Google knew where roughly 40 of the largest Monkey Puzzle trees were, in relation to our whereabouts, overwhelmed us.

August 1st was the next stop of this horticultural whirlwind. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania really needs no introduction. A public garden set forth for the sole purposes of “exhibition, instruction, education and enjoyment” ( Last year’s attendance alone had over 1.5 million visitors appreciating their programs, exhibits, architecture and plants. Our day began with a private tour appreciating the nearly two hundred Littleleaf Linden trees, Tilia cordata ‘Greenspire’, that our tree supplier had supplied. Wrapping the Main Fountain Garden and most of its $90 million revitalization, we were proud for our friend who helped build such grandeur. The other highlight of the trip was listening to a gentleman named Tim Jennings speak passionately about Longwood’s prized Water-Platters. Giant, water lily with massive, floating mid-green lily pads that can reach up to 8 feet (, Tim is charged with their upkeeping. Longwood hybrid Water-Platter, Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’, is a cross between Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana. Tim spoke about the weight these Water-Platters could hold, displaced over 100 pounds, and its thorns on the sides and bottom. He spoke about water garden design, training the eye to stop with vertical plants like Lotus, and explained the Lotus effect… in a word ultrahydrophobicity! Tim knew his audience this day and made it so all could understand what he clearly is so passionate about.

There is nothing more I love to see than someone who loves their work. “I don’t have time for hobbies. At the end of the day, I treat my job as a hobby. It’s something I love doing” David Beckham. By the way, as I write this, the summer is not over… stay tuned!