Fall gardening inspiration in print and in person

Options include a good book, gardening experts' upcoming classes, landscape lecture

Contributing columnistOctober 18, 2013 

Autumn is the perfect time for a little garden reflection and renewal. Lectures and a good book might provide a bit of insight as you finish this summer's harvest and begin planning for next year.

A good read

Released Oct. 1, Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things (Viking, $28.95) is a thought- provoking novel overflowing with botanical and natural history that many gardeners will find fascinating. Gilbert, whose 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love, became a best-seller, weaves themes of evolutionary biology and natural selection so smoothly with the life of character Alma Whittaker that they merge seamlessly into a world where readers will lose track of time.

This mesmerizing story is set from the mid-18th century into the late-19th century against a backdrop of horticultural meccas like London's Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam, and excursions around the globe to places like Tahiti and the mountains of Peru.

Near Philadelphia, the fictional Whittaker estate, White Acre, founded on a family fortune gleaned from sales of botanically derived medical treatments, reflects an intensely passionate interest in horticulture. Here, Alma devotes much of her life to studying mosses, relatively unclassified at the time, yet upon taking a close look, intriguing.

Gilbert intersects the paths of actual explorers, plant collectors and theorists such as Joseph Banks, Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin, with Alma's, filling in details and issues of the time with precise, enlightened dialogue and vocabulary. How did quinine come to be used? What does it take to grow the vanilla orchid? We gardeners can learn a lot here.

Gilbert also builds a powerful emotional statement about the meaning of life-force into not only the study of evolution and survival of species, but of Alma's own realization of a deeper meaning in her experience of what life is all about. Like-minded tree huggers and plant geeks might need a bit of quiet reflection to soak in that essential truth, or signature, of all things.

'50 Shades of Green'

Join The Arboretum's curator of native plants, Todd Rounsaville, as he spotlights some of the diverse strategies plants have developed to reproduce themselves. If you know what to look for, you can find them everywhere. Rounsaville points out, "For every conceivable life- supporting niche on the planet, there are plants. Flowering is the pinnacle of their existence, and they all do it in fascinatingly strange ways depending on the e nvironment." And yes, there will be photos.

Just a couple examples: our native Jack-in-the-pulpit, which can be male or female, changing sex back and forth depending on the age and size of the individuals; and native mountain laurel, which has stamens that are spring-loaded like a bear trap to smack pollen onto insects. Some flowers imitate bees, while others produce heat.

Delve deeper into the wonders of the plant world with this fun and fascinating topic, which will be presented at 6 p.m. Nov. 12 at The Arboretum's visitor center, 500 Alumni Drive. Admission is $5 for the general public; $4 for members of Friends of The Arboretum. Pre- registration is required by calling (859) 257-6955 or emailing dmbast0@uky.edu

Perennials workshop

Here's a chance to observe and interact with Richard Weber and John Michler, two of Central Kentucky's great garden designers, as they collaborate to demystify the process of perennial garden design in a start-to-finish planting of an actual garden bed. Site analysis, bed preparation, plant features, design considerations and planting specifics will be covered.

Michler, a well-known Lexington designer and co-owner of Michler's Florist, Greenhouses and Garden Design, and Weber, resident landscape architect at Springhouse Gardens, are sure to offer great ideas and advice during this presentation. Go dressed for outdoor weather, rain or shine.

The program is 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 26 at Springhouse Gardens, 185 West Catnip Hill Road, Nicholasville. Admission is $15. For information, and the required reservation and prepayment, call Julie at (859) 224-0033, email greatplants@springhousegardens.com or go to the events page at Springhousegardens.com.

Beautiful landscapes

This year's special Gardeners' Lecture Series speaker, presented by the Fayette County Master Gardeners and Friends of The Arboretum, will be Katy Moss Warner, American Horticulture Society president emeritus and former director of Disney's horticulture and environmental initiatives.

An advocate for the many benefits beautiful landscaping provides to communities, ranging from improved business and economic sustainability to general public satisfaction, Warner is an engaging speaker willing to share ideas backed up with statistics and stories. She lists a few key ideas to use: "Beautiful planted flower pots, particularly flowers in hanging baskets, announce that a city takes care of its plants — and its people," Warner says. "Well- maintained beautiful landscaped areas deter litter, graffiti and crime, making neighborhoods safer and cleaner," and "Beautiful landscapes motivate tourists to return, businesses to want to locate there, and residents to be proud of their city."

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton agrees that this idea is one from which our community could benefit; the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council has given a small grant from its neighborhood development funds in support. "We're going to figure out how to become even more beautiful than we are now" Gorton says.

In addition to the lecture, Warner will facilitate a separate discussion among interested public and civic leaders about America in Bloom, a nonprofit organization that offers a structured program for organizations wanting to participate in a contest where landscape enhancements are evaluated and awarded commendations while picking up some expert advice. For a closer look, America in Bloom judge Evelyn Alemanni has created an information-packed booklet, Discover Plants, which discusses the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of quality landscaping. It is available at Americainbloom.org.

The lecture will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Kentucky HealthCare Pavilion in Albert B. Chandler Hospital, 1000 South Limestone, with free parking in the hospital parking structure across the street. Admission is $10, $5 students. For lecture information, call (859) 257-6955. To inquire about the America in Bloom discussion on Thursday, email janet.raider@gmail.com.

Susan Smith-Durisek is a master gardener and writer from Lexington. Email: durisek@aol.com. Blog: Gardening.bloginky.com.

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