Category Archives: Public Horticulture

Co-Creation at UC Davis Arboretum

We arrived at University of California in Davis on a hot and windy day, typical of the summers east of the San Francisco Bay area. UC Davis Arboretum is located in the heart of Davis, which is just west of the city of Sacramento.

A hot, dry day doesn't stop sunflowers!

A hot, dry day doesn’t stop sunflowers!

We were picked up at our hotel by Andrew Fulks, one of the assistant directors, who took us to the garden offices to meet Executive Director Kathleen Socolofsky. Kathleen has steered the Arboretum on a journey from being a private garden to a public institution. She wanted to exceed expectations during this time so her changes took place gradually to insure effective implementation. Kathleen expressed her vision for the garden and the process of co-creation, which encompasses numerous unrelated university staff in the process of garden development. Briefly, this process involves surveys and interviews directed at different sections of the University to determine their views on what the gardens should be, and the niche they should fill on campus.

Co-creation at its most beautiful!

This tile wall showcases co-creation at its best

The Arboretum itself is located in a narrow band of property along the south edge of the campus, and consists of 19 collections and gardens. During a limited time for exploration, this writer managed to see a good part of the Mediterranean Garden, as well as the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and Gazebo.

Poppies bloom in the Shields White Garden

Poppies bloom in the Shields White Flower Garden

The canal is a prominent feature of the garden.

The canal is a prominent feature of the garden

The Mediterranean Garden borders a large canal, which is a prominent feature of this part of the Arboretum, and contains plants from several Mediterranean regions.

Another interesting project mentioned during our visit is the GATEways project, which serves as a resource for sustainable horticulture. This project involves collaboration among a garden team headed by Kathleen, the assistant Vice Chancellor, and the Campus Planner; all of whom support the larger vision of UC Davis as a visitor-centered destination. Gardens adjacent to specific departments contain elements of that department within the garden, itself.

The outdoor nursery area.

The outdoor nursery area

The Director of GATEways Horticulture and Teaching Gardens, Emily Griswold, then took us to the newly-planted California Native Plant Gateway Garden, which features plants originating from the lower Putah Creek watershed. This site also features a “Shovel Gateway’’ sculpture which was created using 400 old shovels, which make for a remarkable entry way to the University campus. Interpretive signage will educate visitors about the regional flora and fauna of the Putah Creek Watershed and how to create sustainable landscapes with native plants.

The shovel sculpture.

The shovel sculpture

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to UC Davis, especially the great sense of connectivity between the staff. The Arboretum has a very exciting future ahead and we look forward to visiting again soon.

Blog by Gary Shanks and photography by Sara Helm Wallace

North American Experience Trip – Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and Muir Woods

The first year Longwood Graduate Fellows commenced our garden adventures at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, California. Mary Anne Payne, Executive Director and Jim Bailey, Head Gardener of the garden, greeted us at the entrance of the garden on a cool morning.

Mendocino Coastal Botanical Gardens entrance sign

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens entrance sign

Ernest and Betty Sohoefer, who had deep passions in gardening and a special interest in Rhododendron species, started Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (MCBG) in the 1960s. MCBG has a garden area of 47 acres, framed by the grand coastal ocean and currently has over 1,200 cultivars and species of Rhododendrons. The diversity of plant varieties in the garden attracts and supports the highest concentration of birds to its premises. MCBG held a strong community support, attracting about 350 volunteers, on top of its 11 full time and 11 part time staff. Due to the natural high water table present in the land, MCBG joined partnership with the Water Coastal Conservancy to preserve and better utilize the existing available water.

Mendocino Coastal Botanic Gardens heath and heather collection

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens heath and heather collection

MCBG attracts about 17,000 visitors annually, and generates its revenues through general admission, gift shop, retail nursery, café and fund-raising events such as ‘Art in the Gardens’. MCBG manages its own vegetable garden and orchard within its premises and 80% of its produces are given to the local food bank while the remaining 20% are given to its in-house ‘Rhody’s Garden Café’. The management utilized the vegetable garden and orchard to educate the public through educational tours and interpretative signage.

Mendocino Coastal Botanical Gardens coastline panorama

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens coastline panorama

Art and bench sculptures are displayed throughout the gardens. Mary Payne explained that each art and bench sculptures were for sale and that the profits will be spilt between the artist and MCBG. Jim led us towards their composting backyard and told us an interesting story about how they used the spare hops and grains by the brewery restaurant in their compost. He explained that the hops are able to heat up to about 140oF, sanitizing and killing all bacteria and insects within the compost.

Muir Woods entrance After lunch, we made our way down south towards Muir Woods National Monument, where it houses the world’s largest giant coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). Local businessman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent established Muir Woods in 1905 to protect the one of the last standing redwoods. We took a hike through the Muir Woods trails and one felt like we were in the ‘Twilight’ movie. The golden rays of the sun beamed and streamed through the majestic redwood forest like a flowing waterfall, reflecting and surrounding its warmth around us. Along the trail, we spotted a few of the legendary ‘banana slug’ – a greenish and slimy slug that survived in the undergrowth of the forest. Myth has it that one may make a wish after kissing the slug and a few brave female ‘warriors’ decided to make myth come true by bestowing their precious lips upon the innocent slugs.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

Banana slug wishes

Banana slug wishes

The trips to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and Muir Woods have opened our eyes to further appreciate nature and extend our networking in California. We look forward with great anticipation and excitement towards the rest of the trip!

Blog by Felicia Chua and photos by Kevin Williams

Quick Trip to Ithaca

Blog by Joshua Darfler, photography by Sara Helm Wallace and Lindsey Kerr

Several months ago I was talking to my mom on the phone and mentioned the documentary “A Man Named Pearl“.

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Pearl Fryar- a great man.

For those who are not familiar with it, you should go watch it right now! It is a fantastic documentary produced in 2005 about Pearl Fryar – founder, creator, and artist behind the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden. This independent film explores the history and motivation of Pearl, the dire (but optimistic) economic conditions of Bishopville, SC – where the garden is located – and the truly moving message behind the garden. It is an award-winning film that can be enjoyed by all, even those who are not obsessed with Public Horticulture as we are here.

I tried to explain all of this to my mom, and eventually got her to hesitantly agree to watch it. After a few more prods, I got a text saying she had rented the DVD and her and my dad would watch it that night. I got another text and a phone call later that evening from both of them saying how the good the movie was, how motivational Pearl was, and how they now really wanted to show it at the local library as part of their movie series.

Lindsey Kerr and Pearl

Pearl and Lindsey at the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden

There then ensued many more emails, texts, and phone calls, and a program started to come together surrounding the showing of this movie at the Lansing Community Library in Lansing, NY (my hometown). The highlight of the program though, was to be a special speaker – the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden’s Communications Director, Lindsey Kerr. Yes that Lindsey Kerr, the Lindsey Kerr who is currently a second year fellow in the Longwood Graduate Program. Not only is she busy writing a thesis to help preserve historic cultivars of plants, serving on the University of Delaware’s Graduate Student Senate, Leader of the Speakers Team for the 2014 LGP Symposium, and volunteering at various gardens around the area, but she has also been continuing her job at the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden.

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Lindsey Kerr speaks about the Pearl Fryar garden in Bishopville, SC

So on Friday, February 21, Lindsey and her cheering squad (five other members of the LGP, including myself) all piled into a car and took a fun trip up to Lansing, NY (a few miles north of Ithaca, NY)! We arrived Friday evening and were able to meet up with some Fellows from the Cornell University Professional Garden Leadership Program, as well as other former Longwood interns who are now up at Cornell University continuing their studies, for dinner in downtown Ithaca.

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We were so happy to see Dr. Don Rakow, former Director of Cornell Plantations after Lindsey’s talk. Dr. Rakow is now a full-time Associate Professor at Cornell and oversees the Cornell’s Public Garden Leadership program.

The next morning we went to the Lansing Town Hall (the audience was too big to fit in the library) to help set up for the event. The afternoon started at 11:00 with a showing of the documentary, and was then followed by Lindsey’s presentation and a Q&A session. Lindsey did an incredible job providing more insight into what it is like to work with Pearl Fryar as well as in Bishopville, SC. Since it’s been almost eight years since the filming of the documentary, Lindsey also talked about how the garden has changed over the years, and what is being done to help ensure the continued existence of Pearl’s topiary art in the future.

A sizable turnout at the Lansing Town Hall

A sizable turnout at the Lansing Town Hall

Once the audience left, the chairs were stacked, and all the A/V equipment put away, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore Ithaca. We headed down to the commons, a pedestrian mall located in the heart of Ithaca, where we enjoyed both the outdoors, with its almost spring-like weather, and the numerous indoor shops the commons has to offer. The day ended with a fantastic dinner at Moosewood Restaurant, a famous vegetarian restaurant.

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Ithacopoly on a wall in Ithaca’s Commons

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The Salix were in full bud by Cayuga Lake, one of New York’s famous Finger Lakes

The next morning we packed up our gear, got back in the van and headed back down to Newark, DE. It was a great weekend, and wonderful weather…which seems to have quickly disappeared this week….

 

Day 1 of NAX at The Arnold Arboretum

 

(Photography by: Chunying Ling)

Our introduction to the Arnold with Michael Dosmann

Our introduction to the Arnold with Michael Dosmann

We had perfect weather for our first day of NAX at the Arnold Arboretum.  We were greeted upon arrival by Former Fellow and Supervisor of Horticulture, Andrew Gapinski.  A few minutes later we met Michael Dosmann, Curator of Living Collections. Before long, Kyle Port, of Plant Records and Joyce Chery, the Curatorial Fellow joined us. Holding six NAPCC collections (Acer, Carya, Fagus, Stewartia, Tsuga and Syringa) and boasting 15,000 individual accessions, it was clear from the moment we arrived that the Arnold Arboretum is an abundant, dynamic resource..

Tree of Heaven on the path designed for seeing the trees of the world

Tree of Heaven on the path designed for seeing the floras of the world

As the enchanting fragrance of the Katsura tree filled our senses, we listened to the story of America’s first arboretum, established in 1872, at the generous bequest of James Arnold.  A deal was struck between the City of Boston and Harvard University to preserve the Arboretum’s land in perpetuity. Many familiar names are a part of the Arnold’s sensational history, including Liberty Hyde Bailey, J.P. Morgan, Beatrix Farrand and Frederick Law Olmstead. The very path we were walking along was originally designed to allow visitors to “appreciate the floras of the world without even getting out of their carriages…”

Largest Franklinia in the world

Largest Franklinia in the world

 

Although the original mission of the Arnold’s 281 acres was, “…to plant every tree, shrub, vine and herbaceous plant that could grow in Boston…,” the staff has had to make strategic decisions about the collections. To do so, they created a plant Inventory Operations Manual in addition to a Landscape Management plan. (Both are available in their entirety on their website (http://arboretum.harvard.edu/plants/collections-management/.) They have completely digitalized their archive including maps, photographs and correspondence.

 

American Beech predating the Arboretum

American Beech predating the Arboretum

Nestled in the hills are forsythia and roses mixed with incredible tree giants that pre-date the Arboretum. The first Acer griseum ever planted in American soil lives at the Arnold. More recently, the Vine and Shrub garden was redesigned with diagonal beds and galvanized steel arbors. This garden is impressively maintained and manicured by two very bright horticulturists.

 

We spent our lunch with some of the knowledgeable and passionate ladies of the education staff, Daphne Minner, Nancy Sableski and Julie Warsowe. In varying capacities, these ladies design and implement educational programs that serve everyone from the casual visitor to the students in the Boston public schools.

 

The Arnold's secret Bonsai collection

The Arnold’s secret Bonsai collection

Our visit with the Librarian, Lisa Pearson, revealed even more treasures, including a rare book of hand painted botanical drawings.

 

In the afternoon, we met Oren McBee, Manager of the Dana Greenhouses and Nursery. Here plants are methodically propagated and grown from seed. Once mature, they are planted out in the Arboretum.  Oren also gave us a sneak peak at the Arnold’s historic bonsai collection.

 

Our last stop was the new research building at Weld Hill. Bathed in natural light and recycled wood, the building is stunning. Our tour was expedited by Faye Rosin, Director of Research Facilitation.  This peek into the possibilities of plant science research was a fine way to punctuate our whirlwind day at the Arnold Arboretum.  Stay tuned for Day 2 of NAX.

The Arnold's emblem The Dawn Redwood

The Arnold’s emblem The Dawn Redwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013 Professional Outreach Project Begins

Each summer the Longwood Graduate Program partners with an outside organization to accomplish a task that is both beneficial to the partner organization and educational for the fellows. In April the (then) first-year fellows sat down for the first meeting of the 2013 Professional Outreach Project (POP). Since that meeting we sent out our Request for Proposals, attended the 2013 APGA national conference, selected our partner organization for POP, tearfully said good-bye to the graduating class, and cheerfully said hello to the incoming LGP class of 2014. With all that excitement behind us now, we have gotten to work on this year’s POP.

Tyler Arboretum's Logo

We are excited to be working with Tyler Arboretum this year in Media, PA; a historic arboretum and landscape, Tyler is home to the historic collection known as the Painter plants. The Painter plants were planted in the mid-1800s by the Painter brothers, who lived on what was then their family farm. They were two Quaker brothers, who were true amateur naturalists – interested in minerals, animals, plants, and all things scientific.

During their lives they planted over 1,000 trees, shrubs and perennials around their house and barn (which are both still standing today), in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the natural order of life. After their deaths, the estate continued to be passed down through the family, until it was finally transitioned into a public arboretum in 1944.Unfortunately, many of these plants have not survived the decades, but those that have are magnificent specimens, many of which are now state champion trees.

Tree at Tyler

This summer the Longwood graduate fellows are undertaking the task of preserving and reinterpreting these historic plants. We started our process by combing through boxes of archival material from the Painter brothers, now stored at Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, and reaching out to other historic institutions to learn as much as we could about the brothers, their plants, and about the era in which they co-existed.

As we move forward we will be looking at modern-day best practices for maintaining the health of historic trees, ways to propagate these plants in order to preserve their unique genetics, and how to best showcase these plants to visitors of all ages at Tyler Arboretum. It is a very exciting project we are undertaking, and we are excited to move forward with it. Check back later in the summer for more updates!

Students at Tyler

Visiting Tyler in the Rain

Post-Symposium Celebration

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

It has already been two months since we had our annual symposium, though it feels much longer. Since then the second years have been working hard on finishing their theses, the first years have dived head first into theirs, plans for the annual APGA conference have been made, the graduation dinner has been organized, and overall we have all been very busy…however not too busy to take time to visit some public gardens and celebrate all of the hard work we put into this years Symposium.

On May 8, early in the morning, Laurie, Lindsey, Ling, Josh and Quill (the rest of the second years were busy – see above) all set off to visit gardens in northern New Jersey. We were fortunate enough to not hit too much traffic and arrived on time to our first destination, Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills. We were met here by Louis Bauer and Brendan Huggins, the two horticulturists on staff at this newly opened public garden. Greenwood Gardens opened to the public for the first time this year, and is a historic house and garden rooted in the Arts and Crafts and Classical approach to garden design. The site is located on a lush hillside, adjacent to a large nature preserve and recreation complex owned by the state. It is easy to forget that you are less than hour away from Manhattan as you stare off into the distance of green rolling hills. The whole garden is a series of gorgeous grottos, terraces, balustrades, allées and water features; there is even a small farm with goats, chickens, and geese – a remembrance of the past owners. Louis and Brendan showed us around the gardens and explained the history of the land, as well as some of the challenges in restoring a garden back to a specific time period. We finished our tour of Greenwood inside the house where we were able to go through some historic photo albums of the family and the gardens.

GoatAfter Greenwood, we headed into the small, nearby town of Summit, NJ, and found a great lunch restaurant simply called Food. As we walked in we commented on how lucky we were that it had not rained on us, and in fact how it was even getting a little sunny out. No sooner than we had sat down though, the sky opened and it began to pour. We were in no rush so we took the opportunity to eat a leisurely lunch and we even took some time to talk about next year’s symposium.

DSCN8424As the downpour subsided we headed out for our second garden, Reeves-Reed Arboretum, located about five minutes away from Greenwood Gardens. At Reeves-Reed Arboretum we were greeted by 2010 LGP alumna Shari Edelson, who is now the director of horticulture at the garden. Reeves-Reed Arboretum is a historic house and estate that has been graced DSCN8426with the design work of several prominent landscape architects throughout its history, including Calvert Vaux and Ellen Biddle Shipman. The garden has many wonderful treasures including its narcissus bowl, several champion trees, a rose garden, and traditional herb garden. Though the area has been victim to natural disasters in the past two years, the garden looked magnificent and they are still moving a head with their plans to expand their children’s programming, including the new children’s vegetable garden being installed for this summer. And to make our visit even better the rains held off for us yet again, though Shari did provide some wonderful Reeves-Reed umbrellas just in case.

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It was a long day, but a wonderful way to celebrate the success of Symposium 2013 and look forward towards Symposium 2014!

Mt. Cuba Center

August 17, 2012 – Mt. Cuba Center, Hockessin, DE
(written by Lindsey K. Kerr, photographs by Chunying Ling)

Bright and early, the First Year Fellows and Dr. Lyons left Townsend Hall for Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. Mt. Cuba Center was founded by Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland at the site of her home. In 1935, Mr. and Mrs. Copeland built a stately house they named “Mt. Cuba” and soon afterwards began developing the original agricultural landscape into a series of garden spaces.

The Copelands took a particular interest in plants native to the Piedmont, which was typical of their home site. From the time they moved in until Mrs. Copeland’s death in 2001, the gardens grew in both number of individual plants and diversity of appropriate species. Today, the Copeland’s house and gardens are maintained by Mt. Cuba Center staff and the organization itself has become a non-profit dedicated to native plants of the the Appalachian Piedmont Region.

Upon our arrival, we were warmly greeted in the parking lot by Longwood Graduate Program alumna Julia Lo-Ehrhardt. She escorted us to the Main House and introduced us to the senior staff. We spent the rest of the morning with Interim Executive Director Steve Martinenza and his senior team learning about Mt. Cuba’s strategic plan and management practices. The different managers introduced us to the history of Mt. Cuba, the founding family, and how Mt. Cuba continues to evolve and grow to fulfill the vision of its founder. We learned about Mt. Cuba’s research and educational programs as well as its commitment to improving the visitor experience and making stronger connections with the public. Mt. Cuba staff discussed their respect for Mrs. Copeland’s ideas and aesthetics and their challenge to embrace the future. They want to enhance native plant accessibility for the average homeowner and encourage their greater use in garden design.

Later in the afternoon we headed outside for a tour of the grounds. First stop was the new Trial Gardens, which were two years in the making and initially planted in spring 2012. Gardener George Coombs explained the goals of the trial garden as we admired the set-up and the plants. The trial gardens aren’t just focused on the latest introductions—they are also trialing tried-and-true cultivars to find out which ones are really the best for gardeners in the region.

Horticulturalist Marcy Weigelt then gave us a quick walking tour of the West Slope Path, the ponds, and the meadow garden, soon pausing in the meadow garden to admire the large number of pollinators and several exotic praying mantises. We finished up our field trip with a visit to the greenhouses where staff grow approximately 10,000 plants every year. In the future, they plan to start collecting more seeds locally for propagation as part of Mt. Cuba’s commitment to native plants of the Piedmont region.

Visiting Mt. Cuba Center was a wonderful experience and a great way for First Year Fellows to finish up their summer field trip series of DuPont legacy gardens!

A Walk in the Park – Minneapolis Style.

August 13, 2011 – Minneapolis, Minnesota
(written by James Hearsum, photography by Ashby Leavell)

Few cities enjoy the benefit of a visionary parks department: One that takes a leadership role in economic development, is a broker of community creation and that does this whilst integrating citywide networks of facilities, recreation and environmental services.  Fewer still have the resources and political clout to deliver.  That Minneapolis is one of this select group is evident to anyone enjoying the city on a fine summer day, as we did.

The view from the Guthrie Museum to the former railroad Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River

Guided by John Erwin, a Parks Commissioner, the Longwood Graduate Fellows sought the answer to this question – How is it achieved?

 

As John conducted a whirlwind tour, we visited The Peace Gardens, Rose Garden and The Annuals and Perennial Border.  All were immaculately maintained by staff and volunteers, and clearly loved by Minneapolitans.  A real pride and care by the public is evident throughout the system.  On a Saturday afternoon, the parks were well used, with all types of recreation happening around Lake Calhoun.

Flower vendors at the vibrant famers market at Mill City

It was always evident that the parks comprised a complete system, a network of places and links, tied to specific communities.  A visit to a section of the Grand Rounds, a 53 mile loop of lakes in the heart of the city, showed that they were used both as a destination; for beaches, canoeing, eating, picnicking – and as a route; for jogging, walking, commuting.

John Erwin describes a map of the Grand Rounds in Minneapolis, the only National Scenic Byway located in a major city in the US.

The concept of networks also dominated a presentation by Mary deLaittre, Project Manager for the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative.  Using the advantage of semi-autonomy from the city to great advantage, this project has developed and designed a strategic physical master plan for a 5.5 mile section of the Mississippi River bank, completing the parks path and bike network in challenging industrial and multiuse spaces.  More than this, it seeks to connect existing parks and recreation assets to a wider system and create new interfaces between communities, using the Mississippi as its central corridor.  In addition to all this, it has an economic mission to spur development, as in the district now developed around the beautiful Guthrie Theater (led by a $30 million investment in the area by Parks and Recreation).  It also seeks to create integrated environmental systems, manage storm water, recreate habitats – all whilst maintaining industrial use and jobs.

Looking out on the ruins at the Mill City Museum, once the world’s largest flour mill

So what is the secret? – Yes, Minneapolis Parks have more autonomy, more money, and more public support than many parks.  But this alone doesn’t explain it.  Rather, two things stood out.  Firstly, visionary leadership at all levels in the organization.  Secondly, a truly comprehensive approach to parks – the integration and consideration of all elements as important to the system.  In practice, this means that no one factor dominates, but all are considered – economic, environmental, community, recreation and industry.  It recognizes that people have complex needs, and seeks to address them comprehensively.

Posing with John Erwin, our generous guide for the day and Chair of Minneapolis Parks Department and Professor of Hort. Science at the University of Minnesota

Wow! Our thanks to Minneapolis for a wonderful day in your parks, and please, if you are lucky enough to live here, don’t take them for granted – they are truly extraordinary.

I will never look at a garden map the same way again.

On October 23, 2010, Zoe Panchen, Aubree Pack, James Hearsum, and I participated in the first all-day workshop on geographic information systems (GIS) for public gardens offered by the Center for Public Horticulture. The sold-out workshop introduced local public garden and horticulture institution professionals to Esri ArcGIS software and the Alliance for Public Gardens GIS (APGG) Public Garden Data Model.

Brian Morgan explains the mysteries of GIS to a full house at 116 Pearson Hall.

The model’s developer, Brian Morgan, led the participants through all the basics of GIS for public gardens, assisted by Angela Lee of Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri) and Mia Ingolia, curator of the UC Davis Arboretum (go Aggies!). While still in development, the model is already usable by any who wish to download it from the APGG site and try it with their own garden. After a brief introduction to the uses of GIS in various contexts, we spent the rest of the day trying out the model in ArcGIS for ourselves. Brian took us step by step through downloading the model, creating and editing a map based on aerial photography, digitizing plant data, and linking field-collected mobile device data with the map.

Angela Lee and Mia Ingolia look on while Aubree and James concentrate mightily.

While the workshop was meant only to be a basic introduction to GIS, by the end of the day, most of us were able to (more or less) successfully map and edit a sample section of the UC Davis Arboretum using the Public Garden Data Model. That said, I will be the first to admit that I accidentally deleted a critical file once, got lost more than once, and during the last portions of the mapping had to give up on the finer points of editing entirely. But! I learned enough to want to learn more, and I will certainly be looking for more opportunities to keep developing my GIS know-how from now on.

~Felicia Yu (photos by Dr. Lyons)

18th-Century Fun at the Colonial Williamsburg Garden Symposium!

Three of us – Laura Aschenbeck, Shari Edelson, and Keelin Purcell – just returned from the Timeless Lessons from Historic Gardens conference, a two-day symposium presented by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in partnership with the American Horticultural Society. The conference was held in Colonial Williamsburg, VA, and included informative lectures, walking tours of Williamsburg’s beautiful 18th-Century gardens, and even a culinary demonstration! The weather was perfect, and the gardens were in peak spring bloom with colorful heirloom tulips, redbud trees, Carolina jessamine, and fragrant lilacs.

Our host for the weekend was Laura Viancour, Manager of Colonial Williamsburg’s garden programs. She oriented us to the gardens, introduced us to a number of conference speakers and attendees, and served as a great guide and source of information all around!

The three of us attended the conference as recipients of a generous student scholarship made possible by supporters of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, as well as by donations from other conference attendees. We thank all of these donors for making it possible for us to attend – the experience was fun and educational, and provided a great opportunity for us to learn about historic gardens in Williamsburg and around the country.

Since Shari and Keelin had never been to Colonial Williamsburg, and Laura hadn’t been since she was a kid, we were all excited to get a chance to look around the garden areas. On the first day, we all went on the Horticulture in the Historic Area tour, which was a self-guided opportunity to meet with different garden experts throughout the grounds. We spoke with arborists, gardeners, and landscapers about how they plan and maintain the historical plantings. The garden beds were bursting with spring tulips, narcissus, and other bulbs, and newborn lambs were grazing in pastures throughout the town.

Senior gardener Charles Spruell talks to Symposium attendees about the management of one of the gardens.

Later Sunday afternoon, Laura attended a session entitled, “From Field to Fork.” Executive Chef Rhys H. Lewis, of the Williamsburg Lodge, demonstrated the use of local, seasonal produce in recipes used at the Lodge. From a mixed greens salad with wild honey vinaigrette and poached pears to seared scallops with roasted corn relish, the audience gained a new appreciation for the use of ingredients from field to fork. Laura rounded out her delicious afternoon by exploring Colonial Williamsburg vegetable gardens and chatting with the interpreters about 18th century cultivation techniques.

These beautiful yet functional glass pieces were often used as season extenders for cool season vegetables.

On Monday, all three of us attended a great lecture by Scott Kunst, landscape historian and proprietor of Old House Gardens, the only mail-order company in the U.S. specializing in heirloom bulbs. Scott talked about the importance of preserving these historic plants, and introduced the audience to a few of his favorites, including the ruffly parrot tulips that became popular during the tulip craze of the 18th century. Scott works closely with Colonial Williamsburg’s horticultural staff to identify period-appropriate bulbs for the gardens. Landscape supervisor Susan Dieppre told us that when assembling her fall bulb order, she wouldn’t be without the Old House Gardens catalog!

Beautiful heirloom tulips bloom in one of Colonial Wiliamsburg's period gardens.

All in all, the three of us had a fantastic time in Colonial Williamsburg. We’d love to go back for another visit – perhaps next spring, when the Garden Symposium rolls around again!