2019 Rochester Garden Show

 

About this time each year, we here in upstate are pretty damn sick of winter.  Gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts more than most. Just when we can’t take it anymore, along comes an annual event that draws us like moths to a flame, and leaves us practically drooling for warmer weather, with our minds stuffed full of crazy ideas. Where did we get such fanciful notions?

The annual Rochester Garden Show, where else? The inside of a local indoor arena is turned into stone pathways meandering through some of the most fantastic and artistic landscaping displays you will ever see. Like a fashion show, designers throw out what’s practical, and instead show us what is possible. Displays of stone work, melded with water gardens, timbers, living walls, and much much more. And just when you think you have had enough, an area stuffed full of vendors with everything from hydroponics and tools, to seeds and statuary. So let me take you on a tour and show you what I love about this.

I will not attempt to go into detail on every single display. That would take a long time. Instead I will take you through my favorites, of which there were quite a few. The arena is round. So you have an outer ring of displays, then several throughout the center. This year’s theme was Enchanted Gardens.

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First up, was the display for the Monroe County Parks Department. Not something  I was expecting. However, after entering through a tunnel of birch and willow branches, I came across some very cool hand-made chars, a table and benches. As it turns out, the Parks employees made these, and there representative told me they were looking for a way to market them in order to fund projects. I thought that was a magnificent idea. No wonder why we have great parks with people like that.

 

Even though this is a Garden Show, the next display was actually requested based on the small display they did last year. The National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York’s Victory Garden. Last year they had a small victory garden display, hearkening back to World War 2, when people were encouraged to plant vegetables in order to help support the war effort. This year they added an iconic white picket fence, stars and stripes flying high and a larger garden. They also had a vintage Willy’s Jeep, and I got to register for a chance to go for a flight in a restored C-47 airplane that was actually used for the D-Day parachute drop. It was a touching display and just looking at it made me feel like I was looking at an actual 1940’s victory garden.

Right after that,  ran across an odd but cool piece by a company called GFNLA Plantgfx Gardenscape Pros (not exactly a catchy name). A giant stone throne/chair made for a giant, with a giant ax sunk into the ground next to it. Like Paul Bunyan himself was sitting there.

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I need this in my backyard. It’s just cool.

Fossil Rock Landscaping was up next. Their display was breathtaking in the level of detail, and that really made the design what it was. The display was titled  Enchanted Wedding Barn. It looked like something you would see in Country Living or Martha Stewart Living magazines. This was the People’s Choice Winner and Best In Show and I could easily see why. An open timber roof with nice natural looking stone, the structure was low, but that helped blend it into the surroundings. Country-style accent lighting, a really incredible dining area, and just behind the sliding barn door, an outdoor pub? They had me long before that, but that clinched it. If you had this in your yard, you would have nonstop garden parties, because …..why not show it off? It is by far, one of the coolest outdoor living designs I have ever seen.

 

I saw some interesting creations from  Westside Pro Landscapes, who used moss, woven sticks and flowers to create ladybugs, a giant dragonfly and a magical looking mushroom.

 

Next was the Fairy Land display. Fairies were snuck into displays, and while this didn’t have any, it was like you were walking down a long unused path in some old forest, and just stumbled upon this scene i a clearing.

 

As I finished my loop of the outside, the last display was the local Bonsai Society. The first part of the display was just a collection of Bonsai creations against a stark white back drop. It wasn’t exactly eye catching. But as you rounds the wall, it got much more interesting. Here under a stone and wood arbor, two gentlemen were working on some very cool looking specimens, and around them among the garden beds were displayed some incredible specimens. Comparing the first part of the display with the second part, really shows you why presentation is everything.

 

There was still more to see, and I have skipped over more than a few of the displays. I could write for days, and still not cover all of it. But I my intent is to just hit the high points.  So I will close with what was my second favorite display. A company I have never heard of called simply JOSH Landscape Company. Their scene titled simply Transcend was breathtakingly cool. High stone walls on the outside allowed them to slope down towards the stone path that led through the display. Huge trunks made of woven sticks and vines lighted on the inside immediately draw your gaze, and it gave it a very fantasy forest type of feel. But as incredible as it was, you couldn’t let that distract you from all the little details. Small deer topiary were hidden here and there, beautiful plant selection, and what I liked best, were the open books blooming from the landscape like flowers. It made the display like some literary dream world. Inviting you to come in and read in the garden. It was fantastic. I walked through it several times and every time  found something new.

 

After all that, I must admit feeling a little drained. It was a lot to take in. I wandered over to the vendor area and just cruised through that. Stopping to buy some variegated Caladium bulbs, a hydrangea and some spicy pickles from one of the food vendors. You can;t have an event without food, that just won’t do. It was everything I thought it would be and a little more. The awesome displays, the scent of new mulch and blooming hyacinth, and color everywhere you look sent me home with a smile. Something you don’t get much of this time of year.

I hope I could convey through word and picture just how excellent of a show this was, ad I look forward to next years being even better. My wildest dream is that somehow this inspires someone to start something similar in their community. Until next time…..

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The Basics of Garden Design

Design can be intimidating. A lot of people try it, a lot of people fail. Many aspirants overlook the simplicity of it and try and get all fancy. In the end,  they often wind up with an unintentional, eclectic mess in the front yard. Mostly because they fail to heed the rules. Rules you say?  Yes, rules. There are rules to designing almost anything. Just because they change over time, doesn’t mean that design using growing things is the exception.

What’s that you say? You don’t like rules? You’re unconventional, a mold breaker, an innovator……you refuse to have your rampant creativity restrained by stuffy old conventions. To that I say “go for it”. Have at it. Please send me pictures. In the end, you will see what I mean. In this case rules are not absolutes. So stop thinking of them like a straight jacket. Think of them more as handrails, or a safety net. That by no means gets you off the hook for designing something so eye-shattering that the local town council deems it a public menace. Guidelines…just guidelines.

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You can follow the rules and still be creative and artistic. There are an infinite number of combinations of textures, colors, hardscape elements, specimen plants, and the like that you can incorporate. So think of these rules as the glue that holds all that together. Now you may finish reading this and decide that it’s not for you. You would rather leave it to a professional. That’s generally a safe move and can be much less aggravating. Then you are only responsible for whatever grand vision you tried to get them to translate into a drawing. But for those brave souls who want to try it themselves, or maybe you just want to have a finer appreciation  of how green spaces are intentionally put together, this may be for you.  You will also have a much greater appreciation when you tour horticultural attractions and you can sound super smart when you flippantly comment about how “the conflicting textures of the foundation plantings really anchor the structure to the landscape”.

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WELL, YES…

These rules can be broken down into two basic major parts. First, on a larger (think macro) scale are the design principles: balance, focalization, simplicity, rhythm and line,proportion and unity. You consider design principles when looking at the bigger picture, such as a large garden or an entire property. On the smaller (micro) , yet no less important scale are the elements of design: line, color, texture, form and scale. If these sound somewhat familiar to you, think back to any art classes you took in school. These attributes are not unique to landscaping and gardens. They are somewhat general artistic principles. You could just as easily apply them to a painting or a sculpture as you could to a cottage garden.

Now I could discuss each separate point in depth. and give you a complete informal education in one sitting. But that would require me to wear my fingers down to nubs typing. I have no wish to do that because I have a garden to plant soon. So, dear reader, this becomes a series. I will work through each of the design elements in more detail since each is worthy of it’s own post. Then I will move on to the design elements. Each of them deserves their 15 minutes of fame as well. I will keep it as interesting as possible and practical enough that anyone can follow along. I hope you will stay with me through this journey.

To be continued…….

First up: Balance

The Do’s and Don’ts When Seeking Design Help

Some backstory is in order here

I have spent a lot of years in retail nurseries, big box Home Improvement stores and as a business owner helping people design gardens and landscaping. All manner of people have come to me seeking various levels of help and guidance. Nervous new homeowners, people disgusted with what they currently have at their house, amateur gardening “masters” who want me to buy off on their ideas,  the list goes on.

There are tons of reasons why someone seeks out help with landscape and garden design. Many of us will go it alone when it comes to decorating the inside of the house. But that line stops at the front door. For many people. the great outdoors is a mystery best left to those cargo-short, floppy hat wearing individuals at your local nursery. Strutting around, pruners holstered on their hip like some strange modern version of a cowboy, or cowgirl (I never wore the floppy hat..).  Chances are, since you are reading this, that you have sought out design help, or are contemplating doing so. So what I intend to do is give you some advice that can make this visit seem less humbling, much more productive for all involved, and help you realize your vision.

Do Your Homework

I can’t stress this enough. I am not saying go out and become a Master Gardener before you embark on this process, but do some homework. New homeowners especially need to realize that time is on your side, and not rush the process. It’s not like a couch that you can just return. Once stuff is in the ground, you own it. But where to start?

Start by learning about your area. Walk around your neighborhood and other neighborhoods. Different neighborhoods were generally built up at different times, so the landscaping preferences of the designers will be obvious. In my neighborhood, almost everyone has Honey Locust trees, and some type of evergreen foundation planting. Not so across town where the houses are packed in tighter and thick privacy hedges are in style. Chances are good that somewhere in your area is a public garden, park, or arboreum. Here you can find typical specimen trees for your area, see plant combinations and start to get a feel for what you like and don’t like.

There are a ton of other good resources: such as the library; the garden section at a bookstore; the internet, or even just wandering around your local garden center. After all, questions are free. Check social media as well for local garden groups. Many will tell you where to go to see good stuff and some do periodic garden tours or walks. What you want to do is fill your head up with potential ideas. Take and save pictures of things you like, especially if you don’t know what they are. It will pay dividends later on.

Try and Be Unique

Your house is a reflection of your personality. The outside is no different. If you want to have what everyone else in the neighborhood has, there is nothing wrong with that. What has been done up and down your street has been proven to work, and is always a safe choice.  If that is what you want, there is no point in seeing a designer. Just go out, buy what your neighbors have, plant it like they did, and celebrate your victory. This is the first question you have to answer. Do I want something unique? I bet you want something unique.

Next, consider the outside of your house, just as you would the inside. By that I mean, don’t just see it as one giant area, but rather different sections that should be considered separately in terms of function. Just like rooms in a house have different purposes. The professor who taught our initial Landscape Design Class hammered that into us. I will use my house as an example. I have a big front yard. It’s the showpiece. Large expanse of grass, ornamental plants, not a lot happens there except lawn mowing and raking. My southern side yard is the vegetable garden area. Fenced in area with a compost area, raised beds and an area where stuff is stored. It has a character all it’s own.

The backyard is more functional and built for socializing, with the deck and lower patio area. A large grassy area for dogs and humans to run around. The beginnings of a rose garden along the garage. And a big saucer Magnolia with a 20 foot tall cedar hedge ensure a little privacy.  Each area has it’s own distinct character because each area has it’s own purpose. So consider what your needs are and use that as a starting point. This does not mean that your property has to have 3 or more distinctly different themes. You can still have one contiguous theme even though you have a play area, a Japanese garden and a traditional cottage garden around your front porch. Once you know what each area will be used for it helps a lot with plant selection, placement of hardscapes such as walkways, patios, decks and arbors and you will end up with areas that are built for use. You bought the land along with the house, might as well get some mileage out of it.

Now You Are Ready

Why did I ask you to go through all that? Simple. A designer is not a mind-reader. Don’t expect that because they have education and experience, that telepathy is included.  They will have a ton of questions. If they don’t, be wary. If you walk in the door with at least a working knowledge of what you like or don’t like  in terms of colors, textures, what the purpose of each area is, and maybe even a few plants that you saw and really liked, you will be far ahead and more likely to get something you really love with a lot less hassle.

Bring pictures of your house or the area in question. It helps a designer to know what parts of the house or property you like and those you want out of sight, out of mind.  You might have a huge bay window in the front you want to frame, or maybe that spigot around the front corner you wish to conceal.  You will also know by now if you prefer evergreens to deciduous shrubs.

Those initial likes and dislikes, goals and purposes you give to the designer are what they use to give you a preliminary drawing. The more you can articulate, the better off you will be. The designer is going to begin with the end in mind. It’s what we do. We are putting together a puzzle with all the pieces you are giving us. But it’s a puzzle with multiple possible outcomes. Some other relevant things to consider that you need to communicate are; how much work you are willing to put into this when it comes to maintenance; do you have kids, if so what ages; any outdoor pets? And last, for all you northern folk, anywhere you intend to shovel, blow or plow snow, and any walkways that you salt regularly, speak up! You don’t want to wait until the following spring to discover all the grass and expensive perennials along your front walk are dead from salt. Or in the teeth of winter you discover that all that snow along the garage could be easily blown aside, if only those huge shrubs weren’t planted there. Begin with the end in mind.

Be On The Same Page And Stick To The Plan

This part applies to all you couples. This whole learning process needs to happen together. You don’t want to find yourself having an argument in public in front of a complete stranger, because you want that country cottage looking she-shed, but your partner wants a water garden in the same spot. Discuss everything beforehand this way you are both aligned. The whole process of learning and planning needs to be a group activity. Otherwise you like it, he hates it and that’s a recipe for disaster.

A savvy and opportunistic designer, especially if commissions are involved, is still a salesperson. Their job is to sell you a lot of material. Stick to the plan when you go in. Don’t let them sell you stuff you aren’t crazy about.  You will have no way of knowing if the designer is really that in love with Dwarf Korean Lilac and wants to share that love with you, or the nursery manager accidentally over-ordered and they are trying to unload it. Stick to what you like, be aligned, and don’t go rogue on each other.  Don’t be afraid to say “NO” if you don’t like a recommendation.

So there are my tips to help you succeed. This is not the “be all and end all” list by any stretch of the imagination. But I have seen all of it happen. These tips can hopefully help you get exactly what you want and have a green space that you want to spend time in; one that people stop to look at when they walk by. I want you to go in there and make the designer sell you your own idea, tempered with their professional knowledge of design and plant materials. And I want everyone involved in the process to come away happy.

Not too much to wish for.

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