Posts Tagged ‘Frank Ronan’

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Hardy Plant Society Study Weekend

The Saturday night party was far from the end of the study weekend.  No, indeed.  We began Sunday morning with early rising to get back to the plant sale when it opened at 8 AM.

early rising heading out the ground level hotel door to the plant sales room (usually a parking garage)

early rising heading out the ground level hotel door to the plant sales room (usually a parking garage)

In my hand, I clutched a pain au chocolat, my favourite pastry (no one has it here at the beach!).

one of the perks of civilization, from Tully's coffee in the hotel lobby

one of the perks of civilization, from Tully’s coffee in the hotel lobby

Fueled on pastry and coffee and considerably sleep deprived, I re-entered the plant sales room and gravitated to the Gossler Farms table, where I bought…oh yes, I DID…the $140 Davidia involucrata ‘Lady Sunshine’.  (You all thought I had more willpower, didn’t you?)  Roger Gossler knew I would be back; he said he had only brought two to the sale, and that it is rare, and was discovered by a small grower in Oregon, and that it will be wind tolerant.  Someone had bought the other one, but the second Lady Sunshine waited for me.

plant room

plant room

Of course, I would have liked one each of everything.

Of course, I would have liked one each of everything.

Do I know where I am going to put the tree?  Not really, nor do I know where I will put all my other acquisitions.    Billy Goodnick would be appalled but probably not shocked.

I picked up all my plants (two flats of them) from the holding area and schlepped them to our van, so that we would be ready immediately after the morning’s lectures to begin touring. By the time we returned from the day’s tours, the plant sale vendors would all be gone and the big room would be a parking garage again.

By the way, Wilburton Pottery was one of the vendors; I love their tiles and have some at home that I acquired years ago at the NW Flower and Garden Show.  I did not look over their wares at the study weekend as I was completely plant focused, but check out their website to see some beautiful things.

a Northwest Perennial Alliance volunteer on guard at the plant holding area...Talk about "Pet's Corner!"

a Northwest Perennial Alliance volunteer on guard at the plant holding area…Talk about “Pet’s Corner!”

In the lecture room, we made one last walk around of the display of cut flowers and foliage.

Allan's photo

Allan’s photo

Allan's photo showing how all plants were labelled.

Allan’s photo showing how all plants were labeled.







CPNs (Certified Plant Nuts)

CPNs (Certified Plant Nuts)


Note how fresh the plants look on the fourth day after they were picked.  Clearly, volunteers have been fussing with them and refreshing the water and fluffing them up.

more CPNs

more CPNs




Northwest Perennial Alliance Hardy Plant weekend lectures, Sunday morning

Northwest Perennial Alliance Hardy Plant weekend lectures, Sunday morning

First lecture:

Ciscoe and Mary

the lecture title

the lecture title

Mary began the lecture and spoke on her own for twenty entertaining minutes.  She said this photo proves that in younger days, she had a thing for hippie men:


This garden division is about like me and Allan... if you count the lawn as part of his 20%.

This garden division is about like me and Allan… if you count the lawn as part of his 20%.

Mary said Ciscoe’s cooking runs to Top Ramen and Brussel Sprouts Surprise.  (I’m lucky Allan does the cooking or we would live on packaged salad and couscous.)

I enjoyed every moment of their lecture but was laughing so hard that the only notes I took were:

“windows in garage”  [Ciscoe has them, and has tender plants by them in winter; I want some more windows in our garage now]

“Choisya: cut down low in spring”

“Epimedium  ‘Spine Tingler’!” [must be a great one!]

“6000 square foot lot” [their size]

Seeing Ciscoe brought back happy memories of the day he visited our garden and transformed a mundane day into a thrilling one.



Second Lecture (after a break for coffee and life-sustaining pastries):

Sue and Kelly

Their lecture title:  24/7/365 and Still Smiling

My interest in this lecture goes way back to when Kelly, with his previous partner, had a tiny storefront in Ballard (a north Seattle neighbourhood near where I lived) called Reflective Gardens.  Must have been about 1988 when I walked by and just about fell over at the sight of a passionflower blooming all up a brick wall.  I was smitten with their tiny landscaped parking strip garden and went home and dug up my parking strip sod and tried to recreate their design; I had even sketched out their placement of rocks.

Eventually Reflective Gardens moved from Ballard to one of the islands near Seattle.

Years later Kelly met Sue on a plant collecting trip, and, well, love is a burning thing, and makes a fiery ring…they fell into that ring of fire and after what they referred to as a “mess”, they ended up together at Far Reaches Farm.  Their nursery (from which I will be mail ordering Roscoeas!) features plants that they have collected (responsibly) from around the world.

My notes:

Cercium…a thistle like thing…must have, doesn’t spread

Castle Howard (where Brideshead Revisited was filmed) is the Yorkshire arboretum?!?

Meianthemum henryi!!

Roscoea…tough as nails…I must start collecting them!!

Meianthemum white and pink, must have!! So big! 6′ high

gold form of Polygantum

Polyganatum…phillinianum?? 9′ with flowers, little hooks to hang onto other plants it climb on…must have!

and so on…some in scrawls I can barely read.  Fortunately, they provided a slide list.

This is the sort of lecture we crave at a Hardy Plant weekend, all about plants.


Third lecture:

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 1.30.40 PM

lecture title: The Invisible Garden

my notes:

Two great English gardeners went for a walk in Dungeness…Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto…and they came upon a garden that blended into the landscape of sea and shale…

I knew before he said so that they must have found Derek Jarman’s garden, which is also the name of one of my favourite gardening books of all time.  I used to lend it to every new client that wanted a beach side garden (back in the days when I took on new clients).


Derek had heard of Beth Chatto and had never heard of Great Dixter (Christopher Lloyd’s garden)!

I thought, Beth wrote the great book The Gravel Garden, and that may be why he had heard of her.

Later, having gone there, Jarman said he loved Dixter because it was “shaggy”.

His idea of a nightmare was Hidcote, which he called Hideouscote.  Hidcote is often described as a series of  “outdoor rooms”.  Frank Ronan said,  You go outside to get away from the rooms not to be in another room with no roof.

He said Christo’s exotic garden encroached and enveloped you (his words accompanied by glorious slides).

He said the only place where nature is a good gardener is in the high Alps.


He said England is poor in native flora and that one could learn all of it in two days of concentrated study.  That is, he thinks, why the cult of gardening took off in the UK.

He said that Ireland has no moles, no rabbits, and a high water table.

The front of his house has a boring garden in order to say “Move along folks, there’s nothing to see here.”

He says clipped evergreens are “the ultimate statement of control; ‘This did not happen by itself'” and he does not have a fondness for huge yew topiaries.  He finds topiary static, admires it but doesn’t want that kind of static stability in his own garden.

He mentioned a novel about a man who lived in a bleak place and kept sneaking out to plant things elsewhere.  (I wonder if that is one of his own novels; I intend to read them.)

He says “If the house is ugly, hide it.”

“Be relaxed, don’t try to blow your own trumpet.  Don’t say look at me, say look at the plant.

He notes there is a lot of mulching going on in the Pacific Northwest gardens that he toured.  “If you mulch, you can’t get the self-sowers.  I’d rather be weeding things out than putting them in any day.”

“Nature can decorate things better than you can,” he said of a tree festooned with lichen.

Martagon lilies like to grow in the shady end of a garden.

Labels on plants:  “Don’t!  I’d rather not know what it is.  Labels are scars on the garden.”

Re “The Invisible Garden”:  “If you can’t see that it is a garden, it’s a paradise.”

Of course, because I am easily influenced I mentally drop the idea, inspired by the Hummingbird Hill garden mostly, of making my garden more formal with…rooms!

And now…back to garden touring!

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 1.30.17 PM

We’ve done Whidbey Island and Eastside Splendor, and today we will do the North Seattle Jewels.


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Hardy Plant Study Weekend

study weekend

study weekend

No garden tour photos in this entry; I think some readers might be interested in the garden tour lectures; more garden touring will commence in the next entry.

Friday, 20 June 2014

After a day of garden touring and nursery shopping on Whidbey Island, we made it back to the hotel by six with barely time to register for the study weekend and get our badges and materials, make a quick stop in our rooms, and get down to the lecture hall for the first lecture.  We did not even have time to look at the plant sale, but I had exercised my plant lust quite well at the two nurseries on Whidbey.  I can’t even remember what we ate while touring gardens; we must have had some sort of snacks on the go, and our Friday night dinner would have to wait till after two lectures.

In the lecture hall, participants examine an L shaped display of choice cut flowers and foliage gathered by true plant nuts.

In the lecture hall, participants examine an L shaped display of choice cut flowers and foliage gathered by true plant nuts.

Allan's photo of some of the vases.

Allan’s photo of some of the vases.

The first speaker was Nancy Pearl and I had been looking forward to hearing her speak as I love her Book Lust and More Book Lust tomes of book recommendations.



I will share the notes I scrawled in my Little Fat Notebook as she spoke of “Perils and Pleasures of a Life of Reading”.  Nancy Pearl did not talk about gardening books at all; turns out she is not a gardener.  I was surprised by this and yet still very glad to be in the same room, breathing the same air and listening to the words of this northwest literary icon.

I certainly identified with her saying “When you are someone who only has one thing to talk about, it’s hard to go to a cocktail party.  I have nothing to say about anything other than books and reading so I avoid social situations and now I never get invited anywhere because people know I will say no.”  (It does seem to me that reading a wide array of books, as she does, would provide more material with which to engage with assorted party guests than having the main subject of one’s conversation be gardening.)

She spoke fondly of staying in the Mallory Hotel in Portland while on a book promotion junket.  I stayed there once with my good friend Mary and could easily visualize the slightly shabby and utterly endearing hotel, a grand dowager sort of hotel, now gone.

The other comment that I was inspired to write down:  When you’re a reader, you never know if your memories are yours or something you’ve read.”

It was a lecture that I found most satisfying although an odd one to start a gardening event!

Next we had gardener Frank Ronan:


He was an amusing speaker, and while the sharing of my notes might not be as scintillating as garden tour photos, I think some blog readers will be interested.

Here’s what I jotted down from his lecture “Treat it Mean and Keep it Keen“:

“If it’s raining, I stay in.  I like reading books.”

“I love my plants, and I want to go on living with them.”

“You can admire other plants, but you only love your own.  If you go to someone else’s garden [and you have given them a plant] the first thing you to do go to see how YOUR plant is doing.”

Upon showing a garden with long lengths of grass edging, he said “Oh, it’s all right if you just do an hour or two every evening after work!” and went on to recommend a hard edge that you can run your mower along.

“My garden isn’t tidy but then I don’t charge anyone to look at it.”

He and his husband have a couple of dogs called “lurchers’; he says they are the best breed.

He advises that one should have as much pond as possible as ponds mean no work (meaning weeding and so on).

Another gem of advice:  When moving large stone about the garden, do so only when you are on your own, as if you have help you are sure to throw out your back (because of the awkward way two people move a heavy object.)

“Learn to love the plants that will do well for you.”  [Hmm, I seem to keep pursuing the ones that have already died on me once or twice.]

He spoke of “rattle”, a kind of grass parasite plant that knocks back grass in the meadows in the UK, which is why they can grow more delicate flowery meadows than here with our coarser and more vigorous grass.  In his lawn, he grows crocuses, a favourite being ‘Ruby Giant’…”neither ruby nor giant”.

He say to plant tulips EIGHTEEN INCHES DOWN to get them to come back well year after year.

His favourite tulips for a return show:

General de Wet:  fragrant; he said often the orange tulips are fragrant.

White Triumphator

Menton, a pink one

Negrita, “a real stayer” (dark dark purple)

Flamenco, a fringed tulip (which won him over from not liking fringed tulips; I love them!)

He recommended a fern, the photo of which must have impressed me as I wrote it down:  Dryopertis velitchiana, the golden scale fern.

He calls having a corner of one’s favourite plants “Pet’s corner.  That’s where you put the things you love in a way you shouldn’t.”

He says that a 4 inch pot does not stand a chance when planted in the border, so he has a stock bed, a square bed where he grows on little plants.

I intend to read his novels:

  • The Men Who loved Evelyn Cotton (1989)
  • Picnic in Eden (1991)
  • The Better Angel (1993)
  • Dixie Chicken (1994)
  • Lovely (1995)
  • Handsome Men Are Slightly Sunburnt (1996)
  • Home (2002)


After Ronan’s absorbing lecture and slide show (for what is a garden lecture without a gorgeous slide show), Sheila and Allan and I repaired to the Bellevue Hilton restaurant for a 9:15 PM dinner.  The hotel restaurant’s tasty food and kind and attentive service made for a pleasant evening for three tired travelers.

We were impressed by the size of Sheila's "small bites" order of scallops.

We were impressed by the size of Sheila’s “small bites” order of scallops.

I had an app called Poki Poki, an ahi tuna salad that was delicious.

I had an app called Poki Poki, an ahi tuna salad that was delicious.

For me, pasta was comfort food after a long day.  A very long day for me and Allan as we rarely get up before nine thirty.  The study weekend is all 7 AM rising.

For me, pasta was comfort food after a long day. A very long day for me and Allan as we rarely get up before nine thirty. The study weekend is all 7 AM rising.

Of course, because I am used to being up till two or three, the nights of mild sleep deprivation continued as I can’t fall asleep well at a civilized hour!

From our room, Sheila and I had a tantalizing view of the parking lot and…the plant sale room!

gleaming in the darkness; I planned to go shopping early before the first morning lecture.

gleaming in the darkness; I planned to go shopping early before the first morning lecture.

I later learned that this was Allan’s view:


from the seventh floor

I also learned, when I went up to take a shower in his room (because our shower was not working right and was not repaired the first night), that I have a previously undiscovered phobia:  panic upon riding to a high floor in a glass elevator.  Fortunately, Sheila and I were on the second floor!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Up at 7, and down to the plant room when it opened at eight!  Pretty amazing for night owl me.  The plant sale room is only open for limited hours before and after lectures, and we would be departing immediately after the morning lectures to begin garden touring again.

plant sale

the plant room

the plant sale room





Gossler Farms; Roger Gossler in white striped shirt

Gossler Farms; Roger Gossler in white striped shirt

My heart so desired Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'...

My heart so desired Davidia involucrata ‘Lady Sunshine’…


but…..  I carried her around the table in my arms and then put her back.  There were only two…

More cool plants.

More cool plants.

Allan's photo of a happy study weekender.

Allan’s photo of a happy study weekender.

I started a tray of purchased plants (ones that were less than $140) over in the holding area.  Allan bought some ferns.  Sheila bought some garden art.

Then Allan and Sheila and I took our seats in the lecture room for the first lecture of the morning.

First lecture:  Couples Therapy for the Fun and Fabulous by Annie Hayes.


She was charming and delightful and funny and I took copious notes.

“We’re completely insane in that we don’t do this for profit.”

“For many years, I went into a nursery with $10 in my picket wondering what I could possibly buy.”  [I remember a few years, early on when buying my Seattle house, when $10 in seeds was about my whole gardening budget for an entire year!]

“I represent the girly contigent of the horticultural world.”

She described how one gets interesting variations on plants when growing from seed, and described box store plants as looking short and squatty “like party favours”.  In her nursery, people are “shocked to see snapdragons 3 to 4 feet tall.  Tall bachelor buttons, she says, have disappeared out of regular nurseries.

She showed a slide of how thickly she uses Sluggo around her plants:  it was white on the ground like vermiculite!

She said a lot of the old strains of sweet pea colours are getting lost, so she acquires seeds from New Zealand.

“Next to your bed, [a vase of] sweet peas give you the sweetest dreams and help you forget everything you saw on the news.”

I liked that she was a little hesitant about plant parts:  “Sepals?  I think they’re called?”

I wrote down two pages of plant names, and she also provided a slide list (71 glorious slides!).    You can find your own inspiration from http://www.anniesannuals.com.


Second lecture (after a break for coffee and pastries; we ran on pastries for the first half of every day):


Do You Suffer From a Fear of Plant Commitment?” was the title he chose for his lecture.

When did you fall in love [with plants]? he asked.

“Only go to nurseries of days that end in Y.”

“The five most dangerous words to landscape designers:  Where do I put this?”

“Ask a plant ‘Who do you want to play with when you get home?'”

“My hope is that you will say about your garden, ‘I meant to do this.'”

Billy has a Facebook page called Crimes Against Horticulture, and a book called Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space Into the Garden of Your Dreams, which Allan bought and we both will read.  As a plant nut, I didn’t agree with all of his rather stern (but very funny) advice about design; I still enjoyed the lecture and slides immensely.


Third lecture:  “Hollywood Marriages: Celebrities and the Gardens and Homes that Possess Them.”

I did a bad thing.  I walked out of the lecture, as quietly and discreetly as possible; there weren’t enough plants and gardens and far too many photos of celebrities.


Sheila soon followed me.  Allan was more polite and stayed.

Sheila and I mingled in the book sales room where I learned that Nancy Pearl has written a new Book Lust (“To Go”) which I will read soon.

Sheila and I played hooky, along with some other non-celebrity loving attendees, in the book room.

Sheila and I played hooky, along with some other non-celebrity-loving attendees, in the book room.

Next…back to garden touring, this time of five Bellevue and Medina gardens.


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