I love gardens and gardening, and I have a particular fondness for gardeners. I have had ample opportunity this week to revel in the company of gardeners. Here each day at the Philadelphia Flower Show, nearly 10,000 people stroll by, usually two across, for 12 hours. And these are almost all gardeners, their eyes lit up with curiosity and passion. Braving the cold snap that descended on the mid-Atlantic this week, the visitors to the Philly Flower Show—stalwarts all—happily wander through the serpentine miles of lush exhibits, carefully arranged displays and hustle-bustle trade show booths. The gardeners, to judge from their seraphic expressions, are in heaven.Heronswood cultivars placed very well in the show’s competition, garnering four first place blue ribbons by mid-week, with two more contests to come this final weekend. ‘Kingston Cardinal’ nailed the Hellebore blue ribbon, while ‘Green Heron’ got the second place red, and ‘Snow Bunting’ the third place yellow. A Lenten Rose sweep! We received three more blue ribbons for Clematis x cartmanii ‘Joe’, Blechnum chilense and Primula auricula ‘Alpine Show’, and bagged second and third place ribbons for Geranium hayatanum, Mitella japonica ‘Variegata’, and Myrsine africana ‘Scarlett Marglin’.
The many gardeners I met are nearly all thrilled that the Delaware Valley is now home to Heronswood. The storm of controversy about the move is clearly of less import to gardeners than, as one might imagine, the arrival of a dazzling array of exotic plants on offer. Visitors to our Hellebore booth are eager to visit with the new gardeners at Fordhook Farm, happily conversing with Grace Romero and our research staff, and learning about the new nursery activities directly from them. For plant connoisseurs, and more mainstream gardeners, the arrival of Heronswood to this region is clearly something to celebrate.
Our Philly booth is about 20 feet wide, but the one in Boston on March 17-25 will be almost 35 feet wide—loaded with precious Hellebores at specially discounted prices for attendees. For example, one of each of our three new clones—‘Kingston Cardinal’, ‘Green Heron’ and ‘Snow Bunting’ normally sells for $57.00 plus $7.00 shipping and handling or $64.00. At the show, the same 3 pack is only $45.00, cash and carry—a $22.00 savings. We will be there until Sunday evening, March 12th
During the off season, I’ve observed, gardeners become uniquely fidgety. I saw this at times while gardener-watching at the show. You will see gardeners make plucking finger motions, as if deadheading invisible blooms, and occasionally swatting or scratching at phantom no-see-ums. The phenomenon of “trowel hand” is well-known, the impulse that visits gardeners at moments of stillness, such as sitting in church, when they starting digging at imaginary earth. I have also heard, but cannot verify, cases of gardeners crawling across their bedroom floor, “pulling weeds”.
My fieldwork at the Philly show—studying gardeners with the folks over at Garden Eaze—disproves the caricature of the keen gardener as a rock-ribbed, matronly Anglophile or a bespectacled professor in a tweed jacket with elbow patches. Those marvelous characters are still with us, I’m delighted to report, but they’re merely a fraction of the huge range of species and subspecies of gardeners. Plant-lovers come in an extraordinary range of types—all ages, both sexes (with women holding a small majority), of every type of ethnic background. They include rural hobbyists with a near-mystical perspective of rare plants, upscale suburbanite sophisticates who use exotic gardens as a social stage, to erudite and scholarly young amateur botanists who patiently and assiduously assemble their collections, like collectors of rare coins or stamps. Yet there are even more categories than these predictable ones. A relatively recent—and welcome—addition is the ecotourist, who finds profound meaning and pleasure in the rare plant from Patagonia, Japan or China.
I hope you will join us next week in Boston at the New England Flower Show, where Heronswood will have a huge booth. You can anticipate seeing an extraordinary range of exotic plants—as well as a fascinating array of gardeners. In the Great American Garden, there’s room for every species of gardener.