The Horticulturati is a biweekly-ish gardening talkshow cohosted by Austin-based landscape designers Leah Churner and Colleen Dieter. Join us for gossip, gripes, and fun plant facts!
Plant Communities & Vertical Layers
Wintry mix and Stage 5 Restrictions have us turning once again to the bookshelf. In this episode, we’re diving into Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s instant classic Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (Timber Press, 2015). Rainer and West write that the “vast wild spaces” that once covered North America have been tamed into abstraction; due to industrialization, species displacement, and climate change, the “native” ideal is unobtainable. Yet we can design a new type of wilderness in our cities and our yards by designing plant communities. Regarding plants as “related populations, not isolated individuals,” the authors argue for densely layering the ground with “living mulch” and letting plants interact. They provide a systematic method for making such landscapes legible, functional, and biodiverse. We discuss Rainer and West’s concept of plant communities and how it overlaps with other design approaches, like permaculture, design for wildlife, and xeriscape.
First up, Leah shares a wick-watering macramé hanger invention (patent pending) and Colleen has an update on her Roy Diblik-inspired, super-low-maintenance front yard revamp.
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Designing for Maintenance and "The Soul of a Farmer"
Happy New Year! We’re back from vacation with a discussion of a book that is very much in the Horticulturati wheelhouse, The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden. Author Roy Diblik, a Wisconsin-based designer and plantsman, argues that anyone can build a “design-magazine-worthy garden at home” by thoughtfully combining perennials to form functional plant communities that need little more than an annual mow – almost no irrigation, mulch, or hand-pruning required. This low-maintenance method could be a revelation for residential and commercial landscapes alike, but can it work in Texas, with our balmy winters and scorching summers? Is there a way to implement the mowing-for-maintenance concept using electric, rather than gas, machines? Colleen is inspired to experiment as she redesigns her front yard.
Next, we review a documentary short, The Soul of a Farmer, by filmmaker Roger Sherman. Chef-turned-grower Patty Gentry of Early Girl Farm rents three acres in Long Island from Isabella Rosselini (!!!), who calls Patty “the Picasso of Vegetables.” Sidestepping many of the tropes of farm-to-table docs (Gentry admits she’d probably be living out of her truck if it weren’t for her spouse’s financial support) this film paints an honest portrait of the struggles and small victories of one artisanal vegetable grower as she transitions from wholesale growing for restaurants to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. Food porn ahead!
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Photo credit Patrice Casanova/The Soul of a Farmer
Growing a Vision with Amy Hovis and Willy Glenn of Barton Springs Nursery
If you have a passion for plants, you probably love plant shopping. Our local garden centers are more than just a place to source nursery stock; they’re a designer’s trove of botanical information and inspiration. After untold hours spent perusing the grounds of Barton Springs Nursery, we finally sat down for a chat with two of the new owners, designer Amy Hovis and horticulturist Willy Glenn.
Founded in 1986 by Bernardine and Conrad Bering, Barton Springs Nursery is an Austin institution. Into a drab '80s landscape of photinias, nandinas, and boxwoods, the Berings introduced wild plants from seed and cuttings -- salvias, mallows, bunchgrasses, and palms -- and helped to pioneer the city's vibrant gardening scene with an emphasis on sustainability, native plants, and local expertise. After 35 years, the Berings retired in January 2021 and sold the store to Hovis, the owner of Eden Garden Design; Glenn, the former manager of the nursery; and Greg Thomas. Since then, they've added an event space, revamped the grounds, and adopted two new mascots: a kitten named Fern, and a tortoise named Fig.
Hovis and Glenn say their goal is to make the "new" BSN the best nursery in Texas (at the very least). We talked about new propagation experiments coming down the pike, the catastrophic winter storm in February, and how the pandemic has ushered in an unexpected gardening renaissance.
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Mentioned in this episode:
Know Maintenance by Roy Diblik (2014); Leersia oryzoides; Melica mutica
Garden Design (Part 2)
A year ago, we recorded a long and rambly episode on garden design. Now we're making it an October tradition! Revisiting the subject, we realize our approaches to design have changed, but we're still hell-bent on questioning basic tenets. How important is color? Are foundation shrubs necessary? Should we flip the script on "seasonal interest?" Does "timesharing with plants" really work? Join us at the picnic table as we parse out some jargon (form, texture, verticality), swap tips, and get hangry for cookies.
Mentioned in this episode: Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf (2017) and Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West (2015).
Multiplying & Dividing Plants
When you have too many plants, it's time to make more! That's gardener logic for you. Fall is a great time to divide perennials and save seeds - but how? We dig into these methods of backyard propagation and again give you permission to be ruthless and/or lazy in the garden. Go ham on that root ball! Let the veggies bolt! Plants can handle it. Up first: Leah has a design question and Colleen scours the streaming platforms for Monty Don.
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Mentioned in this episode:
Monty Don; "How to Divide 45 Favorite Perennials" and "Three Simple Ways to Divide Plants" from Garden Gate Magazine; The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough.
Cleveland & The Cuyahoga River Fires
Fresh off a hometown visit to Cleveland, Colleen brings us the story of the Cuyahoga: a river once so polluted with industrial sludge, it burned. At least thirteen times. While the largest and most damaging conflagration occurred in 1952, it was the 1969 river fire that made national headlines, thanks to Mayor Carl Stokes. As one of the first Black mayors of a major American city, the charismatic and media-savvy Stokes connected the dots between economic inequality and environmental degradation, and advocated on the national stage for legislation that would clean up the “urban environment,” starting with the Cuyahoga and Lake Erie. Today, the pristine Cuyahoga is a symbol of pride for Clevelanders, yet this civic success story belies the reality of ongoing inequality there. Colleen shares her personal history of growing up in “a city with no superlatives,” her own chance connection to Stokes, and how she’s begun parsing the difference between “environmentalism” and “environmental justice.”
Also, Leah shares an update on the so-called Mystery Seeds from China.
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Mentioned in this episode:
“The Truth Behind the Amazon Mystery Seeds” by Chris Heath (The Atlantic, 7/15/21); Burning River Pale Ale; The Good Time III boat; The Mayor and The People: Carl B Stokes (album by Oliver Nelson); “Carl B. Stokes and the 1969 River Fire” (National Parks Service); “The Cities: The Price of Optimism” (Time, 8/1/69), “The Myth of the Cuyahoga River Fire” (Distillations Podcast, Science History Institute); “Bringing Back Trees to ‘Forest City’s Redlined Areas to Help Residents and the Climate” (NPR, 6/23/21).
My Gardening BFFs
I always learn so much from, laugh with, and relate to Colleen and Leah. Best Texas gardening podcast!
Lots of Great Info!
I love listening to these two and they have a lot of pertinent hort (and pop culture) advice for Texans and gardeners in general!
Colleen helped with our yard layout and love hearing her knowledge on plants!