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.
The conference was co-sponsored by Chanticleer, Longwood Gardens, The Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group, Pennsylvania 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.
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.