From Highlands to High Tides: Ecological Restoration in the Mid-Atlantic

On March 14th, Fellow Keith Nevison attended the 11th Annual Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration’s (SER) Mid-Atlantic chapter at the Stockton Seaview Inn & Conference Center in Galloway, New Jersey. Over 130 restoration ecologists attended, representing federal and state agencies, universities, private contractors and conservation organizations with participants coming from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, and West Virginia. The theme of the Conference was Highlands to High Tides: Restoring our Watersheds, and most of the talks featured projects from coastal New Jersey, including numerous successful designs installed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which had a devastating impact on the Atlantic coast when it hit in October 2012.

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Red Knots and horseshoe crabs. Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons

In New Jersey, Delaware, and other Atlantic states, significant restoration efforts are underway to improve habitat for horseshoe crabs, whose eggs are a major food source for red knot birds migrating from southern South America to Arctic Canada and back. This migration at 9,300 miles (15,000 kilometres) is one of the longest documented by any species in the world. Unfortunately, red knot populations have been steadily declining over the years and they are now classified as a threatened species.

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The American Littoral Society had a few representatives who delivered presentations and submitted posters. The organization’s mission is to promote the study and conservation of marine life and habitat, protect the coast from harm, and empower others to do the same. They are headquartered in Millville, New Jersey.

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The many exhibitors included Octoraro Native Plant Nursery, a wholesale grower in Kirkwood, Pennsylvania which produces trees and shrubs for restoration projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

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This year, nearly 30 posters were submitted from individuals representing 9 universities. This poster Rewilding the Rhodopes by Rachelle McKnight (SUNY-ESF) featured her work assessing the habitat and home range of released semiferal Konik horses in southern Bulgaria.

Keith also serves as the Student Representative for the Board of the Mid-Atlantic chapter and worked to organize the Student Scholarship and poster competition for the event. The Student Scholarship, which was sponsored by energy company PEPCO, allowed 18 students from 7 universities and 1 high school to attend, most of whom presented posters on their ecological research.

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This year’s winning poster Using the Past to Restore the Future… was submitted by Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate student, Christopher Gatens, who is in his junior year of a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Environmental Studies, and Chemistry. Christopher examined tree stumps which were previously submerged by a dam project to determine the pre-perturbation vegetative composition of a wetland area to be restored. These results will better inform decision making around revegetation projects, particularly in wetland ecosystems. You can find his major findings at the VCU Scholars Compass page.

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The runner-up winner of the poster competition was Julia Westermeier of Temple University, who presented her work Assessing the Cost-Effectiveness of Upland Meadow Restorations. Temple University is one of two Student Associations in SER’s Mid-Atlantic chapter, and their School of Environmental Design trains students in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture with a bend towards restoration ecology.

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Thanks to all who attended the conference and to everyone who works to restore ecosystems in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond!

Spring in Australia

If there’s one thing better than fall in the USA, it would have to be spring in Australia! October saw this second year Fellow travel home to Australia to attend the Botanic Gardens Australia New Zealand Conference (BGANZ), do some research for my thesis, and recharge my Aussie accent.

I am researching how Australian and United States Botanic Gardens are planning to manage their living plant collections in the face of water shortage. The Curators of the Australian gardens I interviewed for this research were very generous with their time, offering plenty of insights into how they are planning for the challenges associated with climate change and competition for water. I was really impressed with the level of planning that some gardens have already undertaken, and in particular the holistic approach they are taking to this immense botanical challenge.

Albury Botanic Gardens is distinguished by its collection of Australian subtropical trees, including the dome-shaped Araucaria bidwillii, the Bunya Bunya Pine from Queensland.

Albury Botanic Gardens is distinguished by its collection of Australian subtropical trees, including the dome-shaped Araucaria bidwillii, the Bunya Bunya Pine, from Queensland. I traveled to this delightful regional garden as part of my thesis research.

The BGANZ Conference presentations ranged from an entertaining and informative session on social media communication, to the unveiling of a new ex-situ plant conservation partnership among southern New South Wales botanic gardens.

BGANZ Conference was hosted by Wollongong Botanic Gardens

BGANZ Conference was hosted by Wollongong Botanic Gardens

BGANZ had considerately elected to hold most of their conference across the road from the ridiculously scenic North Wollongong Beach. But just in case we got sick of seeing too many Norfolk Island Pines and ocean views, the conference moved to the Illawarra Escarpment for a day in the rainforest, a move the plant geeks (i.e. just about everyone) definitely approved.

Australia has its fair share of of Southern conifers, particularly the Araucarias and Podocarps. Many New South Wales are fringed with Norfolk Island Pines, Araucaria heterophylla

Australia is a home to many southern hemisphere conifers such as the Araucarias and Podocarps. Many New South Wales beaches, like North Wollongong, are fringed with Norfolk Island Pines, Araucaria heterophylla.

‘Plant Geek Day’ started with a visit to the Wollongong Botanic Garden, then on to Mt. Keira for Conference workshops at the Scout Camp.

The view north of Wollongong from Mount Keira.

The view north of Wollongong from Mount Keira.

Some of the Escarpment’s remarkable subtropical rainforest can be seen on the slopes of Mt. Keira, where we were lucky to see the native Illawarra Flame Trees (Brachychiton acerifolius) in full flower.

The brilliant scarlet flowers of the Illawarra Flame Tree light up the rainforests of the Escarpment.

The brilliant scarlet flowers of the Illawarra Flame Tree, Brachychiton acerifolius, light up the rainforests of the Escarpment.

And because too much plant geek action is barely enough, the day ended with a visit to the Illawarra Grevillea Park, with its fabulous collection of Grevilleas and other unique Australian plants.

Conference delegates were like the proverbial kids in a candy store when they were let loose at the Illawarra Grevillea Park

Conference delegates were like the proverbial kids in a candy store when they were let loose at the Illawarra Grevillea Park

I also presented a conference session on different approaches to community engagement and caught up with plenty of colleagues from ‘down under’ botanic gardens. My visit back home was over way too soon, and before I knew it, it was time for that 10,000 mile trip back to the USA. Farewell Australia, I’ll see you again soon!

A Happy Oaktober at the International Oak Society Conference

Second year Longwood Fellow, Andrea Brennan, was excited to be able to take part in the recent International Oak Society (IOS) Conference in Lisle, IL.  The conference was hosted by the Morton Arboretum in late October – prime time of year to catch the trees resplendent in their fall color!  The oak is the state tree of Illinois. In honor of this, and of the value contributed by Morton Arboretum to the state, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently declared October to be State Oak Awareness Month, better known as “Oaktober”.

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Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) leaves frame the view of a pond at the Morton Arboretum

In reference to the genus name of oaks, Quercus, oak fans proudly call themselves “quercophiles”. The IOS conference was quite inclusive and welcomed anyone with a love of oaks, from the hard-core scientist to the homeowner with the majestic trees planted in their yard. The wide diversity of attendees made for a fascinating variety of presentations, workshops, and tours in areas such as conservation, propagation, breeding, phylogeny (evolutionary history), collections management, and ethnobotany (study of the relationship between plants and people).

A line of trees, including a White Oak (Quercus alba), silhouetted against the setting sun at the arboretum

A line of trees, including a White Oak (Quercus alba), silhouetted against the setting sun at the arboretum

Andrea presented a poster on her thesis research of oak conservation through tissue culture. Tissue culture involves taking a piece of a plant, called a tissue, and placing it into a small container such as a test tube.  At the bottom of the container is a gel-like material that contains all the nutrients the tissue needs to survive and grow into a new plant.  Oaks tend to be difficult to grow via tissue culture, and so more research is needed to determine the best conditions for reproduction.

Oaks play a vital role in ecosystems across the globe, but the survival of many species is under threat. Tissue culture could be a valuable tool in saving these important trees.

Andrea’s remaining “oak army” growing in tissue culture

Some of Andrea’s “oak army” growing in tissue culture

Andrea had a number of oak tissues, called explants, still growing in tissue culture left from her recently concluded experiment, so she took the conference as an opportunity to give them to one of her committee members, Dr. Valerie Pence.  Dr. Pence is Director of Plant Research of the Center of Conservation Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and will continue to study and grow the young oaks in her lab there.

Oaks standing tall at the arboretum’s Schulenberg Prairie

Oaks standing tall at the arboretum’s Schulenberg Prairie

The International Oak Society Conference was a wonderful experience with immense and enjoyable learning, engagement, and networking opportunities. This gathering of quercophiles gave attendees the chance to … branch out.

Supporting Pollinators

In mid-October, Longwood Graduate Fellow Keith Nevison attended the inaugural Protecting Pollinators in Ornamental Landscapes Conference (PPinOL) at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC. The conference was co-sponsored by North Carolina State University and Michigan State University Extension and featured presentations assessing honeybee and bumblebee health in the face of numerous environmental stressors. Speakers discussed industry and extension office efforts to promote beekeeping and pollinator protection while balancing consumer desires to safely apply pesticides to combat pest and disease outbreaks.

Interesting presentations abounded.

Interesting presentations abounded

The PPinOL conference was quite timely, as the White House recently released a National Strategy to Promote Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. To further promote pollinator conservation, the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN) was formed to register one million public and private gardens in support of pollinators. NPGN is an unprecedented collaboration between national gardening clubs, conservation non-profits, and garden industry partners, including the American Public Gardens Association, the National Wildlife Foundation, American Hort, the Xerces Society, and others.

Fall in full effect in the Smoky Mountains.

Fall was in full effect in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Kanuga Conference Center was an ideal setting for the conference and provided ample opportunities for recreation and reflection, with its 1,400 wooded acres and miles of trails. Kanuga has operated since 1928 and welcomes over 25,000 guests each year to its conference facilities, retreat center, summer camps, and Mountain Trail Outdoor School.

Kanuga Lake forms the heart of the property.

Kanuga Lake forms the heart of the Kanuga Conference Center property

After the conference, attendees were offered the chance to tour the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned house in the United States. Our tour was provided by Director of Horticulture Parker Andes, who formerly served as Landscape Superintendent at Longwood Gardens. Parker painted a picture of the early Vanderbilt family and their efforts to turn their property into America’s first forestry education school, with opportunities to study the effects of logging and reforestation, among other practices. At its height, the Vanderbilt Estate encompassed over 125,000 acres, and in 1911 a significant parcel was sold to the United States Forest Service to become Pisgah National Forest.

Very fine greenhouse on the Biltmore Estate.

Exquisite greenhouse on the Biltmore Estate

Asheville in mid-autumn is beautiful and provided a perfect setting for this fall conference–Thanks to the team who came together to make it a success!

Volunteer Engagement in Santa Barbara, California

Volunteers are the heart and hands behind many public gardens and play an integral part in garden operations and engagement. First Year Fellow Tracy Qiu represented the Longwood Graduate Program at the 2015 American Public Gardens Association Volunteer Engagement Symposium, held in sunny Santa Barbara.

Fellow Tracy Qiu examines the beautiful tilework at Ganna Walska Lotusland

Fellow Tracy Qiu examines the beautiful tilework at Ganna Walska Lotusland (photo credit: Allie Skaer, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens)

The Symposium kicked off with an opening reception at Ganna Walska Lotusland, and docent-led tours provided attendees with fascinating insight on the life and loves of Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer and garden enthusiast. Her sense of style was visible all over the themed gardens in the form of lush tropical plantings, soda glass-lined gravel paths, oversized seashells surrounding a decadent pool, and many other details. “I’m an enemy of the average,” Ganna Walska is often quoted, and her vision of Lotusland certainly supports her words with its dramatic and whimsical designs.

The enchanting soda glass of Lotusland is also available in the giftshop as a souvenir!

The enchanting soda glass of Lotusland is also available in the giftshop as a souvenir!

Presentations began with a keynote address from noted environmentalist Sigrid Wright, followed by a risk management session – always an important topic when working with volunteer groups. The afternoon brought about an excellent exploration into diversity within volunteer workforces. Nayra Pacheco of Just Communities used a combination of guided exercises and free discussion to dialogue with the audience about the complex issues of race and privilege and how it relates to our volunteer workforces.

In the evening, shuttle buses whisked attendees to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where native plants, sustainable practices, and conservation highlight over 1,000 species of indigenous plants. A highlight of the event was an installation of yarn and fiber arts, surprising guests with bursts of color throughout the California landscape.

The breathtaking skyline of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The breathtaking skyline of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Leadership was the central theme of the final day, with sessions that discussed leadership roles within the volunteer workforce and the multiple roles that volunteer program leaders must fill on a daily basis. The Symposium closed with a tour and reception at the spectacular Casa Del Herrero, a fine example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

Tracy’s favorite memories of the Symposium include Lotusland’s charismatic cacti and succulent garden, the “mirrors and windows” exercise for diversity and representation, “extreme examples” in liability and risk management, and dinner at Mesa Verde with a fabulous group of garden and volunteer professionals.

Beautiful Santa Barbara, California

Beautiful Santa Barbara, California

Many thanks to the American Public Garden Association and planning committee for organizing the symposium, and to the staff and volunteers of Ganna Walska Lotusland and Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens for such a welcoming and invigorating experience! Fellows always look forward to opportunities to develop professional skills and to network, and the 2015 Volunteer Engagement Symposium surpassed expectations.

Summer Summary: Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now

Beginning the 2015-2016 school year this week has us reflecting on our accomplishments this past summer and looking toward what is ahead:

The Class of 2016 traveled throughout Massachusetts to visit The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Mount Auburn Cemetery, and other locations owned by the Trustees of Reservations at the beginning of June. Fellows also presented their research and experiences at the American Public Gardens Association Annual Conference in Minneapolis in late June.

July brought the Class of 2017, who dove into learning about all the departments that comprise Longwood Gardens, meeting public horticulture professionals in July and August, and formulating their thesis research topics.

Several Fellows attended the American Society for Horticultural Science annual conference in New Orleans, LA at the beginning of August. They received the following awards and presented their research:

2015-07-14 00.02.57 (1)Elizabeth Barton, Class of 2017
Award: Industry Division Student Travel Grant

Research: Moderated an oral session and presented her research, “A Comparison of Organic Matter Amendments for Use in Extensive Green Roof Substrates”

 

Andrea ASHS Poster

Andrea worked hard this spring to complete experiments central to her thesis research on oak trees


Andrea Brennan, Class of 2016
Awards: 3rd Place in Scholars Ignite Competition for her speech Tissue Culture for Oak Conservation: Graduate students share their research discoveries and creations to a non-specialist audience in under 3 minutes; ASHS Travel Grant

Research: Presented posters on her research, “The Effect of 6-Benzylaminopurine (BAP) on Bud-forcing of Twelve Quercus L. Species” during two sessions: Propagation I and the Graduate Student Poster Competition

2015-07-14 00.06.12Erin Kinley, Class of 2017
Award: American Society for Horticultural Science Scholar Award

 

 

 

 

Most recently, the Class of 2016 have been guiding the Class of 2017 throughout this year’s Professional Outreach Project, which is focused on Bright Spot Farms and creating an updated program and business plan. Lead Fellow Stephanie Kuniholm will share our experience at the beginning of October.

Fellows are also gearing up for the 2016 Symposium, the annual International Experience (for the Class of 2017), attending conferences and looking forward to classes this semester. Check back for updates every two weeks this fall!

A Wonderful Conference at Scott Arboretum

On Friday, July 17, several of the Longwood Graduate Program Fellows and Longwood Gardens  Interns attended the Woody Plant Conference at The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College. While Swarthmore College was founded in 1864, the arboretum was officially dedicated in 1929. The Fellows spent the day listening to several inspiring speakers and engaging with other professionals from the region, as well as enjoying the lovely sights of the arboretum.

Fellows and Interns alike loved the landscapes at Scott Arboretum

Fellows and Interns alike loved the landscapes at Scott Arboretum

After a welcome from Scott Arboretum Director Claire Sawyers, Rebecca McMackin of Brooklyn Bridge Park took the podium to share her experiences with helping create a biodiversity-focused public garden on reclaimed shipping piers in New York City. She was followed by Dr. David Creech of Stephen F. Austin Gardens in Texas, who spoke about the best woody plant selections available for our shifting climate. Longwood Gardens’ own Pandora Young then gave a wonderful presentation on trees and shrubs that not only look great in landscapes but can also provide us with delicious new foods.

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The Scott Arboretum planned an incredible conference, even down to the floral finishes

After lunch in the arboretum’s stunning outdoor amphitheater, conference attendees returned inside to hear Jeff Jabco of Scott Arboretum, Joe Henderson of Chanticleer, and Jessica Whitehead of Longwood discuss the regional clematis trial being done as a joint effort between the three organizations. Next, Jim Chatfield from the Ohio State University Extension program gave valuable insight on analyzing signs, symptoms, and plant health for diagnosing plant problems. Patrick Cullina ended the conference with a riveting presentation on plant use and selection in public spaces, including projects such as the High Line in New York City.

First year Fellows enjoying the beautiful weather after the conference

First year Fellows enjoying the beautiful weather after the conference

The Fellows would like to thank all of the conference staff and volunteers who put together such a wonderful program. We hope to see you again next year!

Watering Our Roots to Grow Our Communities

Minneapolis Scuplture Garden on a lovely June day

Minneapolis Scuplture Garden on a lovely June day

Beautiful Minneapolis-St. Paul was the location of this year’s American Public Gardens Association Annual Conference. The Fellows enjoyed every aspect of the week, especially the hospitality of the co-hosting institutions, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

Minnesota Lanscape Arboretum is currently hosting Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks as a temporary exhibition; the colors of this dragonfly perfectly accent the astilbe

Minnesota Lanscape Arboretum is currently hosting Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks as a temporary exhibition; the colors of this dragonfly perfectly accent the astilbe

Public garden leaders presented on wide variety of topics during sessions throughout the week, such as leading organizational change, interpreting science for the public, mapping plant collections, and tackling challenges of growing membership at “gateless” gardens.

Not only did the Fellows attend sessions, but several Fellows had the opportunity to share their research and experience with conference attendees as well:

Andrea Brennan (Class of 2016)- Exploring Horticulture and Chrysanthemum Culture in Japan: A presentation on the Class of 2016’s International Experience in January 2015 in Japan.

Frances Jackson (Class of 2016)- The Maddening Crowd? Collections Protection Strategies to Welcome More Visitors to Your Garden (presented with Rebecca McMackin, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Melanie Sifton, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Thomas Smarr, Friends of the High Line)

Sarah Leach Smith (Class of 2015)- Evaluation of Trial Garden Practices at Public Gardens and Arboreta

Bryan Thompsonowak (Class of 2015)- Pressures, Priorities and Strategies for Managing Tree Collections Across Budget Restraints

Sarah Leach Smith presents about her thesis research

Sarah Leach Smith presents about her thesis research

In addition to presenting and learning from the engaging sessions, Fellows explored the Twin City metro area on tours and took in the beauty of both the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in the evening.

The stunning Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is celebrating 100 years in 2015. She's looking pretty good!

The stunning Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is celebrating 100 years in 2015. She’s looking pretty good!

Ford W. Bell, former president of the American Alliance of Museums, energized attendees with his opening speech about the importance of advocacy work. Later in the week, Andrew Zimmern, TV personality, chef, and food writer, showed his appreciation for the work of gardens and arboreta in educating the public on key environmental issues. The acclaimed Dr. Peter H. Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden and George Engelmann Professor of Botany Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis, concluded the conference with an inspiring conservation message, leaving each of the conference participants energized to return to their home institutions.

Dr. Raven discusses conservation and biodiversity at public gardens

Dr. Raven discusses conservation and biodiversity at public gardens

Thank you to our hosts and to the planning committee for putting together another fantastic conference!

The Classes of 2015 and 2016 were together for a final time before welcoming the Class of 2017!

The Classes of 2015 and 2016 were together for a final time before welcoming the Class of 2017!

BGCI Education Congress in St. Louis

Biodiversity for a Better World: Wild Ideas Worth Sharing

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is the global organization of botanic gardens. BGCI is devoted to plant conservation and educating the world about plants and biodiversity. BGCI’s Education Congress is held every three years, bringing together garden educators, horticulturists, and plant scientists to share their insights. This year the congress was held at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, and with over 300 delegates attending from nearly 40 countries, it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up on the latest thinking in education, interpretation, and communication at botanic gardens.

Fran and Mackenzie were just happy to be here!

Fran and Mackenzie were happy to be representing the Longwood Graduate Program!

A focus of the congress was reflecting on how botanic gardens in the 21st century can ensure that they become firmly embedded in the fabric of the community in which they are located, and are not seen as a place that only cetain sections of the community can access and enjoy. Dr. Bernadette Lynch’s presentation on the five-year initiative Communities in Nature, a program that aims to encourage botanical gardens to grow their social role was particularly fitting. Kew Gardens’ Grow Wild campaign, and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s BioTECH High School were two outstanding examples of forward-looking gardens. A high school for botanists – can you imagine? Fairchild not only imagined this, but worked with the local school board to make it happen.

The Japanese Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden

The Japanese Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden

Shoots & Roots Bitters, a New York-based company founded bybbotantists, hosted a Science of Taste workshop, which taught participants the science of why food tastes the way it does, and why humans taste food as being sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami. A favorite activity tricked our taste buds into thinking we were eating something particularly sweet after we ate miracle fruit, although we were really eating lemons.

Missouri Botanic Garden was the perfect setting for this Congress, and delegates enjoyed an idyllic welcome reception at the gardens proper as well as a Bluegrass and BBQ dinner at the beautiful Shaw Nature Reserve – 2,441 acres of natural area, with at least eight different vegetation communities, including woodland and forest, tall grass prairie, and a spectacularly beautiful wildflower garden. The reserve is a must-see when visiting St. Louis; it’s a great way to gain an understanding of the different plant communities in the Ozark Border country.

Shaw Nature Reserve's wildflower walk

Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve

Missouri Botanical Garden was dressed in its very best spring color and the weather could not have been better. The irises were timed to perfection, the dogwoods were in full bloom, and the azaleas at their peak, too. A delightful place for a congress about education in botanic gardens–kudos to our hosts from Missouri Botanical Garden and BGCI!

Getting to know Missouri's trees a little better: A wonderful interpretation tool - tree climbing for absolute novices at Shaw Nature Reserve

Getting to know Missouri’s trees a little better: delegates try their hand at tree climbing at Shaw Nature Reserve

Longwood Gardens student representation at the St. Louis Cardinals baseball gam-- they were playing the Phillies! L to R: Fellows: Mackenzie Fochs, Fran Jackson; International Interns: Ashley Edwards, Leon Charalambous, Pippa Lucas; Intern Caity Chandler (photo credit: Caity Chandler)

Longwood Gardens student representation at the St. Louis Cardinals baseball gam– they were playing the Phillies! L to R: Fellows: Mackenzie Fochs, Fran Jackson; International Interns: Ashley Edwards, Leon Charalambous, Pippa Lucas; Intern Caity Chandler (photo credit: Caity Chandler)

Native Plant Conservation and Design in the Lone Star State

by Keith Nevison

Deep in the heart of Texas I ventured for the American Public Gardens Association’s inaugural native plant symposium, which was held at the stunning Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) in Austin, Texas. The Center was founded by former First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson and her long-time friend Helen Hayes, the “First Lady of the American Theatre.” The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a must-see public garden featuring amazing stone buildings and walkways, spectacular native Texan floral displays, and innovative design features such an observation tower with a green roof and artwork featured throughout the garden.

The Luci and Ian Family Garden. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s newest garden addition opened last year.

The Luci and Ian Family Garden. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s newest garden addition opened last year.

On the first day of the conference, registrants were treated to a magnificent tour of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve which features waterfalls, blooming Texas redbud and other drought-resistant trees, abundant songbirds, and fabulous fossil hunting across the underlying strata.

APGA Native Plant Symposium attendees receiving a comprehensive overview of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve from local plant legend David Mahler of Environmental Survey Consulting

Local plant legend David Mahler of Environmental Survey Consulting provided a comprehensive overview of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

The Texas Hill Country!

The Texas Hill Country

Participants also explored a private residential landscape exclusively featuring central Texas native species from the Edwards Plateau and Texas Hill Country. These areas are biodiversity hotspots with numerous endemic plant and animal species. The garden was exquisite with impressive design features such as a grotto, a creek wetland, and restored native wildflower meadows.

The theme of the 2015 symposium was Cultivating the Future of Native Plants: Conservation and Design. This was an apt theme as the conference roster was comprised of equal parts horticulturists and ecological restoration practitioners. Very interesting conversations were had on subjects such as native plants in design, the role of botanic gardens in plant conservation, creating the native plant market, and landscape design as ecological art. LBJWC has been a leader for years in these areas with their Native Plant Information Network and Sustainable SITES® Initiative partnership with the American Society of Landscape Architects and the United States Botanic Garden. In addition, they maintain partnerships with the Center for Plant Conservation and the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of Success Program which aims to collect wildland seeds for research, development, germplasm conservation, and ecosystem restoration. Clearly an active place with lots going on!

Homeowner’s Inspiration Gardens near the entrance to LDJWC.

Homeowner’s Inspiration Gardens near the entrance to LBJWC

Spring was in effect down in Austin and many species were blooming, including the iconic state flower, the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis).

Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)- state flower and endemic to the Lone Star state.

Texas bluebonnet: state flower and endemic to the Lone Star state

The garden features many oak meadows with both live oaks and deciduous oaks as well as a rich understory of shrubs, forbs, and grasses.

Inviting meadows abound at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Inviting meadows abound at the LBJWC

Well-known landscape designer Darrel Morrison concluded the Symposium by speaking about his designs and inspiration, from the layout for LBJWC to his most recent design for Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Native Flora Garden. Perhaps the most enlightening thing I learned from him is that one should always camp out on the land prior to working on a project in order to get a feel for the land and to observe its features over the course of the day. Through this experience, one can determine the ideal placement for soft and hard garden elements.

The stonework and hardscape features of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center are striking and plentiful. The gardens features many xeric species such as Opuntia, Nolina, Muhlenbergia, Cercis, Agave, etc. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Central Texas!

Stonework and hardscape features are striking and plentiful at LBJWC