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Great Gardening: Proud moments from Plantasia

How interesting it was last weekend to meet hundreds of you at Plantasia, the garden and landscape show of PlantWNY.

I began to make notes, collecting questions and looking for trends. Then I asked other landscapers, experts, and “plant people” what questions they were hearing.

At risk of sounding overly proud of the Western New York horticultural community, I will say that if folks couldn’t get good answers at Plantasia, maybe there isn’t a good answer.

From the speakers to the not-for-profit educational booths to the professional (CNLP) community, the show offered a wealth of resources for learning about gardening.

Here is my cumulative impression of what the gardeners and homeowners of WNY are thinking about.

The concerns comprise three categories: (1) questions driven by the specific plants and hardscape elements in the displays, (2) timing questions: when can we prune, plant, buy, divide our plants, and (3) problems and worries about struggling trees, shrubs or garden plants.

Attention-getting plants

Overall I thought (and heard remarked) that the plants this year looked better than in the past – and this is one of the challenges for early spring shows.

Most flowering shrubs and small trees came from an Ohio nursery that specializes in “forcing” plants (causing them to bloom out of normal timing). Most perennials and annuals were grown in Zittel’s and W.D. Henry’s greenhouses in Eden. Some firms such as Menne and A Growing Business, as well as Niagara County Community College students, grew or forced their own plants.

Large trees grown at Akron Tree Farm or Domes Tree Farm were donated and trucked in by Dore Landscaping or Chevalier Outdoor Living. And many more businesses contributed.

Some plants that received the most attention surprised even the landscapers who placed them in their displays.

Jeannette Hanlon of Dore Landscape Associates answered questions all day about a darling (but tiny) gold Sambucus – actually an elderberry shrub cultivar. The annual or houseplant begonia “Escargot” got equal attention at that booth and at Tripi’s Landscaping display.

While the Tripi’s creative design depicted the Industrial Age (the show theme being “Gardens through the Ages”), the sweet little begonias, hydrangeas and rhododendrons kept stealing attention.

Paul Reamsnyder of Spectrum Landscape Services quickly learned that his questions of the week were: “What is that cute little evergreen?” (a special dwarf spruce) and “How do I make my hydrangea blue like that?” (Referring to an attractive deep blue Hydrangea macrophylla; he explained repeatedly about the sulfur products needed to acidify soil to keep some types of hydrangea flowers blue.)

Roger Restorff’s mini garden held two much-noticed plants: a Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica) with darling dangling white flowers and fine textured leaves, and a Viburnum carlesii (Korean spicebush viburnum), with large pinkish white flowers.

At Mischler’s booth (theme: gardens for the ages of human beings), succulents were most discussed: “How often do you water them?” (Rarely.) “Can they go outside?” (Some.)

At Lockwood’s booth Hellebores won the day, requiring a zillion explanations that they are shade-preferring, deer-resistant, long-lasting and they really do bloom at this time of year – earning the name Lenten rose. But they’ve been inside, so harden them off gradually; plant later in May.

A creative wall using fallen logs by A Growing Business, landscape company. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Hardscape and decor

Landscape professionals sell hardscape as well as plants, and we saw a variety of stone, concrete and even log walls and paths, several pergolas, and one gorgeous treehouse. Restorff’s most noticed structure was a pondless water garden, with a wonderful waterfall sound, that people liked because it’s so self-contained – no spill, no runoff.

Todd Fetzer’s Timberline LLC teamed up with the English Gardeners (theme: back through the ages to Stonehenge and Roman arches) and produced an impressive keystone arch – a circle of dry tapered millstone, dependent upon gravity and principals of physics – really amazing engineering then and now.

They spent many hours explaining that and answering questions about the Stonehenge facsimile: “Is that real stone?” (Yes) and “What does that weigh?” (Ten tons).

Landscape lighting (Luminated Landscapes) added much excitement with colored light projection, and the kids won’t forget walking on those moving pickles or over a fish-filled ocean. Fire was also a theme, although safety regulations didn’t allow the creative fire pits or lanterns to be lighted.

Among gardener’s props and treasures, many competed for notice: huge metal flowers, painted birdhouses, shovels, pruners and – best of all – Russell’s steel dinosaurs. Never mind that the business is Russell’s Tree and Shrub Farm; now they are “that dinosaur place!”

When, why and how?

On one particular day I was asked, and answered, five times about pruning roses.

So I went to the WNY Rose Society booth to compare our answers. Richard Giese, consulting rosarian, offered thorough and clear info (short version): Prune most tea roses quite short in April (when forsythias bloom), cut out the small twigs, anything pointing inward, and leave mostly pencil-sized or larger stems. (We both advised to go to a class or read a book.)

Here are some other questions of the week, most to be discussed as spring progresses:

• When can we start planting? Is winter over?

• Why doesn’t my hydrangea bloom? And when should I cut it back?

• What about that blight that’s getting my … tomatoes/ pine tree /maple trees /impatiens?

• When should I prune my … smoke tree/clematis/ grapes/“bushes” around the house?

• What can we do about the bumble bees – they’re now endangered!

• Will we lose our cherry blossoms like D.C.?

Still looking for general trends in people’s interests, finally I approached the Master Gardener information booth. Those dedicated volunteers answer questions on the spot and research and follow up with replies later. And they even log the questions by topic, making my quest easier.

Except … there was no one big area of concern.

Our public’s interests are broad and varied, and our gardeners are much smarter than average (unbiased view here). In part that’s because of our wealth of horticultural resources, experts, organizations and professionals – well represented at Plantasia.

Good job, everyone!

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.

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