Favorite Things

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.”

(Lyrics from The Sound of Music)


The winter blues often set in when I flip my calendar page to January, but that hasn’t been the case this year in the Philadelphia area with balmy days in the 60’s. As a result, I’m not feeling sad at all. I’m still remembering my favorite things though, which of course aren’t really things at all. They are people. And places. And PLANTS!

While I have a list of MY favorite plants, I thought it would be fun to ask my friends in the nursery trade about their favorite plants for different categories. Here are the results:

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

My parents introduced me to hostas early on in my gardening life as they were members of the American Hosta Society. Hostas come in thousands of sizes and colors and can easily be divided so I understand why they are a favorite of Andy’s. The only problem is that that deer love them. If I don’t spray mine with deer repellant, Bambi and friends eat them to the ground as if they have been invited to Carol’s buffet. Illicum floridanum (Florida Anise Tree) does well in my dry shade garden and it’s a nice evergreen presence in the winter with good deer resistance.

I share Keith’s love of Amsonia – especially Amsonia hubrichtii which makes quite an impact in the fall garden and was the Perennial Plant of the year in 2011. Amsonia ‘Storm Cloud’ features dark stems and blue flowers (considered somewhat rare in the garden world) and all Amsonia are deer resistant – an added bonus! There are endless varieties of our native redbud (Cercis). I love ‘Alley Cat’ and hope to get my hands on ‘Flamethrower’ this year.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

In addition to availability in many colors, Echinacea are butterfly and bee magnets. Callicarpa ‘Early Amethyst’ attracts bluebirds and robins who gorge on the berries. Some fern varieties like Christmas and Autumn ferns are evergreen, providing winter interest and structure in addition to their lacy foliage. Clearly Alyssa’s selections are prized plants of mine as well since most of them have a home in my garden.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Phlox Jeana is a relatively new cultivar that resists powdery mildew better than other cultivars. Osmanthus is evergreen, deer resistant, and dry shade tolerant with intoxicatingly fragrant flowers in November. I have several different cultivars of Osmanthus including Goshiki, Gulftide, Sasaba, and Kaori Hime. Hmmmm, perhaps I should add it to my list of favorites. And speaking of MY favorites, here they are…

Shade Perennial: Epimedium

Sun Perennial: Allium

Deer Resistant Plant: Helleborus orientalis

Shrub: Edgeworthia chrysantha

Tree: Variegated Stellar Pink Dogwood

Underutilized Plant: Acanthopanax sieboldianus ‘Variegatus’

Understandably, all those surveyed indicated it’s pretty difficult to pick just one plant for a given situation since there are so many to choose from. The varied responses also indicate that gardening is individual and that personal preferences and site conditions play a significant role. As you probably noticed, some plants are favorites in multiple categories like Epimedium and Allium. Other plants are favorites because there is a sentimental attachment to them.

My recommendation is to consult with professionals to gain knowledge and then plant what you like. Winter is a great time to strategize on garden changes and select some picks for the spring. I hope I have inspired you to try something new or plant more of something you adore. Either way, let me know your favorites!

PPC amphitheater

A Perennial Favorite

Each year I look forward to the Perennial Plant Conference in October, an amazing full day event including lectures given by horticulturalists from around the world. This year’s conference welcomed speakers from Japan, the Netherlands, the US, and Britain.

Started over 35 years ago, the conference continued its educational focus by gathering experts in the field to share knowledge and experiences. The sold out conference attracted 600 attendees and was held on the grounds of Swarthmore College which is advertised as “the most beautiful campus in America.” I can attest to the beauty of the campus. As with the other attendees, I was able to tour the campus before and after the conference. I even ate lunch in the gorgeous amphitheater where students celebrate graduation rain or shine.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

This is what the crowd looks like during a break. I can see the coffee urn but it seems to be a mile away!

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

Loved these chairs – what a great place to take a break from the auditorium.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

Shady spots welcomed visitors too.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

The amphitheater is my favorite spot on Swarthmore’s campus. Just stunning.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

When you tired of sitting you could tour the rose garden.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

The blooms were amazing.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

This water feature with floating blooms and the reflection of the surrounding trees was magical.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

The fall colors in the gardens inspired visitors.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ colonized along the pathways.


The conference was co-sponsored by ChanticleerLongwood GardensThe Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic GroupPennsylvania Horticultural Society, and The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College. That’s some serious backing, which is probably why the speakers are well regarded and the attendance so impressive.

This year’s program included presentations on naturalistic plantings such as Midori Shintani’s discussion about the Millennium Forest and her team’s strategy to merge the cultivated gardens into the natural expanse beyond. Midori explained how her team used random software to position plants in an organic way.

Jacqueline Van Der Kloet, an internationally acclaimed garden designer from Holland, shared her tips for a cohesive design including the need to consider a winter framework of trees and hedges, a planned sequence of flowering for maximum impact, use of repetition for a naturalistic effect, and a recommendation to tie plant colors to the buildings in the background. Of course Jacqueline also suggested lots of bulbs which was no surprise given her Dutch background.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference

When you are Dutch, bulbs are a must.

Ivin Etienne, Horticulture Display Coordinator for The Garden at Newfields in Indiana, explained that plants have to perform in a public display. There is no tolerance for a part of the garden that isn’t working when you have visitors every day. He highlighted a number of tried and true plants used at Newfields including Hellebores, Epimediums, Baptisia, Iris, Hosta, and Echinacea.

Panayoti Kelaidis is associated with the Denver Botanic Gardens. His presentation focused on rock garden plants that thrive in Colorado’s alpine environment and can also be used in other parts of the country if given the right conditions.

Lee Buttala, an author and television producer, stressed the need to let plants go to seed in order to allow new varieties to be born and to create more balanced ecosystems.

Finally, British garden designer, James Alexander-Sinclair, shared some of his work and explained his design principles such as using angles to make a space look bigger, hiding parts of the garden to reveal it slowly, and doing more planting close to the house. I particularly liked his comment that gardens are only as good as those who look after them. He said what the world needs is more gardeners. I am glad I am one of them at that I have the opportunity to tend gardens every day and attend wonderful educational events like the Perennial Plant Conference.

If you have a passion for perennials or just love plants, I encourage you to attend next year. Be sure to register early though as the 2020 program will likely sell out quickly.



Hitting the Rails

I love visiting the High Line when I go to New York City. I’ve meandered through this amazing park in the winter and in the summer and am confident it is beautiful in every season. Once home to the New York Central Railroad, the elevated railway turned garden was set to be demolished. Fortunately, a motivated and visionary Chelsea resident took the lead and set up a foundation to transform one and a half miles of the abandoned railway into a recreational space. As the New York Times said, the ‘frog of the railroad was to become a prince of a park.” The High Line has been open for ten years and currently includes fifteen different planting zones and over 100,000 plants inspired by the wild landscape that once grew on the abandoned site.

Imagine my excitement when I learned my home city, Philadelphia, was opening its own rail park inspired by the High Line. The first quarter mile of the three mile park opened in June of 2018 and is situated on the obsolete railways of two rail lines that serviced the popular Reading Terminal Market in Center City.

Philadelphia Rail Park

The first phase of the Philadelphia Rail Park invites visitors to stroll through an industrial part of the city

Philadelphia Rail Park

One of the unique features of the Rail Park is this metal wall highlighting Philadelphia based companies

Philadephia Rail Park

When you need a rest you can relax on a swing and take in the sights and sounds of the city below

Philadelphia Rail Park

While dogs are welcome, they are encouraged not to water the plants.

Philadelphia Parks and Rec commissioner, Kathryn Ott Lovell commented that the park “will connect neighborhoods during a time when our country needs to be connected and that’s the great power of parks.” I couldn’t agree more. Gardens and landscaped public spaces have the amazing ability to transform our attitudes, lift our spirits and bring us together as a community. If you are able to visit either of these parks I encourage you to do so. I visited Philly’s Rail Park last month and left inspired and wanting more as I experienced my adopted home town from a unique perspective.