"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

–Leonardo da Vinci

Part of Leonardo da Vinci's garden, Chateau Du Clos Luce in Val Du Loire, France

Part of Leonardo da Vinci's garden, Chateau Du Clos Luce in Val Du Loire, France

Remember when you used to put your ear on the railroad track to hear the murmur of an oncoming train? I used to do that when I was about 10 years old. We waited until our ears started to vibrate, and then a little longer until the train was in sight.  Although not very bright, I sure could tell what was coming!

Now many years later I am still keeping my head down, trying to discern the future. Fortunately, today I have a little help from my friends. One such friend is Anne Raver, an excellent garden writer for the New York Times. She also writes about what she sees coming down the tracks, and her thoughts about the interaction of people and gardens are similar to mine. She wrote her view of changes over 10 years ago. The sentiments rang true then and no less so now.

 “When baby boomers fell in love with gardening back in the late 1980s, the perennial border almost elbowed the swimming pool aside. Billowing masses of color and old roses were the rage. People dropped Latin names at cocktail parties and compared notes on their Wellies and hand-forged English garden tools from Smith & Hawken.

But after years of robust growth nurseries are reporting a decline in sales, purveyors of seed packets and garden supplies are quietly saying the same thing: although boomers are still gardening, they are slowing down. Their backs are giving out. They’re tired of expensive perennials that keel over in a drought.

Instead of bragging how well the foxgloves look among the roses, they are speaking of the serene effect of green on green. Their manic gardening has given way to calmer (although for some more profound) pleasures, like planting a grove of serviceberry trees and watching them change through the seasons.”

            I see these things happening all over the country. “Simplify” is the great battle cry of boomers and as it turns out - for almost everyone. I am not sure when the word “work” become associated with gardening, as in “I am going to work in the garden, get the ibuprofen ready”? Garden writers and others even managed to convince consumers that perennials were less maintenance than annuals, but people know better. Gardeners will always enjoy color (they may hire someone else to install it), but the idea of deadheading, dividing and supporting have definitely fallen out of favor. Low maintenance is not just the battle cry of the sunny-day decorator; it is the trumpet call of nearly all of us today.

Anne also had this to say. “As baby boomers bow out, a younger generation appears to be either uninterested or too busy with children and careers to pick up the trowel. ‘A lot of kids are brought up with things being done for them” . Matt Horn, the owner of Matterhorn Nursery in Spring Valley, New York, whose customer count was down 5 percent last year noted that boomers were focused on the environment in their youth, but today, “these kids aren't into the outdoors. They're into the Internet and doing business.”  We must simplify if today’s consumers, young and old, are going to garden.

I have been one of the foremost proponents of new crops, new cultivars, and new plants in general. I firmly believe that each new plant is an opportunity to choose something even better for the landscaper and gardener. However, just because 30 heucheras have been bred does not mean we have to put 30 heucheras (or petunias or New Guinea impatiens) in front of the consumer.

Another perception of the simplification trend is the movement to native plants. It is simply not true that all non-natives are bad and all natives are good, but they surely enhance pollinators and sustainability in our gardens. 

I am a gardener, always will be, but I have downsized significantly and enjoy my gardening activities even more.  I do not apologize for having less, because in reality I have more.

 

Visit Ann Raver's New York Times news articles here: 

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/anne_raver/index.html

 

 

 

 

This was a real event, with real people – this is how I saw it.

 

            I was simply one of a number of speakers at an excellent landscape symposium on Long Island, and was asked to sit with them and field questions from the audience.  I always cringe at such “opportunities” so I try to mind my own business and stay out of trouble.

            Most of the questions were straightforward enough, and the session was almost complete when a fellow asked, “What do you think about the increasing use of common names in our industry?”  

One the speakers, a Rhododendron guru, stated that he used botanical names exclusively in his retail and wholesale nursery, and the other experts essentially said the same.  “Common names were confusing, they didn’t match up in different parts of the country, and as gardeners and landscapers became more competent, they shouldn’t have too much problem speaking or asking for plants botanically.”  They actually said this.

As the moderator was about to move on, I couldn’t help myself. I said (nicely), “Wait a minute, you guys are crazy!”  “We have fewer customers than ever; the baby boomers can’t be expected to keep funding this industry, but most importantly, we have to make gardening and landscaping simpler.” 

I continued to rant - “As professionals, we should know, use and promote the common names to simplify and make the buying experience more user-friendly.  To think that my daughter, Heather, is ever going to learn Chaenomeles instead of Quince,  Baptisia rather than Indigo, and to think she will ever get her tongue around Calibrachoa is ludicrous; she hasn’t the time or the interest.  We should know those names, but we should be using common names. Absolutely.  Not as a substitute, but as a way of making Heather feel more comfortable.”

            The place buzzed a little, and then the same fellow, obviously somewhat upset with my inappropriate answer, bellowed “So you want to dumb us down even more?”.

            I had tried to be unemotional, but the gauntlet was thrown.  “Come on now, this is not dumbing down horticulture, it is lifting it up.  It makes us more accessible to people like Heather and her generation, making her experience in the retail store that much more comfortable.”.  “Baby boomers are looking to simplify, a couple of shrubs is now more in keeping with their lifestyle than a dozen perennials.  They will be buying less and we need to attract the Heathers of the world.  We won’t do it by being “holier-than-thou”. 

         I believe we have many parallels with the computer industry.  Everybody wants a computer that performs well, but if the people at Computer Doodle expected the people who walked into the store to know the difference between ROM and RAM, what a cache was and how to change the resolution on their screen, well, they’d never make a sale. Instead they talk about speed, reliability and memory, words everyone is familiar with. The computer professionals know their buzz words, but the computer industry long ago realized that if they were to attract new customers, they had to make the buying experience more friendly. So should we.

            So when you go to the garden center and want to know about plants, common names are just fine, thank you. Let’s talk about our beautiful baskets of trailing petunias and how beautiful are the fan flowers.  Who cares about Calibrachoa or Scaevola? 


I am in love again.  My lovely wife Susan simply has to get used to it.  Whenever I walk outside, I fall head over heals, once again, with my hellebores.  People who have followed my love affairs are probably a little tired of this mistress, I have been singing her praises for some time.

However, she just keeps getting lovelier.  Her grandmother, the Lenten rise was quite wonderful, but her offspring, the hybrids that hold their flowers up, show off the size of their blooms and glow with different colors are stopping traffic.

Don’t believe my words, maybe you’ll believe my photos.  These were taken after a number of nights of 13-17F temperatures, ice and a little snow.  Such weather did not even smudge their makeup.

Most of these can be viewed on the Armitage App (Just go to the App Store and search "Armitage), along with gardening hints and other good information.  

Posted
AuthorAllan Armitage

I am sure anybody who reads or even watches the news heard that a new book by Harper Lee was found in an attic or drawer.  Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 and has not published anything since.  Her new book, Go Set a Watchman is already on the best selling list and has not even been published yet.  I think this is great stuff but then I read another book from my most favorite author was also recently unearthed and will soon be made available.

 

During a cleaning spree, the widow of Theodore Geisel discovered a manuscript that had been hidden away in an old moving box.  Complete with text and drawings, it appeared to be written between1958 and 1962.   It is titled “What Pet Should I Get?” So why am I so excited? 

 

dr seuss.jpg

Theodore Geisel wrote under the name of Dr. Seuss.  I loved reading his books to my kids as they were growing up; in fact, I probably enjoyed them more than they did.  He wrote over sixty books - “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” was one of my favorites. The last book he wrote before he died “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” should be on every parent/child reading list. 


 I also love to think of Ted Geisel because it is said that “Mulberry Street”, his first book, was rejected 27 times before being published.  As an author, I know the feeling of rejection, and the joy of seeing your work in print.  Perhaps we all have a secret something squirreled away somewhere that will make people happy.  Perhaps we can all take our rejections and think of that cat in the hat and realize things can get better around the next corner.


Posted
AuthorAllan Armitage
CategoriesLong Lost Books