I am a plant nerd. My fascination started at summer camps and state parks, touring woodland wildflower trails with experts on edible natives and shady stream ephemerals. In college I was motivated to study landscape architecture after being inspired by Mary Wharton, my professor and author of A Guide to the Wildflowers & Ferns of Kentucky and Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky, books I still refer to today. During my landscape architecture internship, Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses was the essential reference in the landscape industry, and I read it cover to cover. It was such a privilege to hear so many great plant experts speak, and even better to visit their home gardens.
My background is in landscape architecture with a strong emphasis on horticulture. I did a lot of industrial campus plans and municipal work before being hired to review landscape design plans for a state department of transportation, and I worked, early in my career, on large-scale planting and irrigation plans. I did lots of residential work, too. I got to know the green industry and gained practical experience in how to keep plants alive and maintain them. You get to know plant species after specifying several hundred of them on a single site!
I reviewed thousands of landscape plans, and also provided technical advice for anything related to landscapes, wrote contract specifications for planting and grassing, wrote maintenance specifications and work plans, and created statewide policies for roadside landscape projects and permits. I also helped create a statewide landscape grant program and vegetation management permit policy which provided ongoing funding for the program.
It has been great fun doing all this, but what good is it for a single person? I want to share the practical and experiential advice I learned with you. It takes a long time to become a professional landscape design and plant expert, because so much of what is realized comes from hearing the stories and experiences of in-the-field landscape industry professionals. I never read that the Red Maple species are much stronger in storms than its cultivars. I learned that while riding in a truck to a construction site with a seasoned landscape contractor. An owner of an industrial landscape maintenance company explained to me how sensitive Sweet Gums are to root disturbance. A garden club lady taught me not to prune back perennials with hollow stems in the fall to avoid rain rotting out the root system before spring growth could begin. Being a master gardener volunteer for many years gave me a wealth of information from agriculture extension, too.
What do I want to tell you about shrubs and ornamental plants?
• You have thousands of choices. Choose wisely and you will avoid lots of pruning later.
• Flowers provide color, but you can achieve longer-lasting interest and a more sophisticated landscape composition by using foliage color and textural contrast.
• You can use the tips and guidance on this web site to use plants to their fullest potential and create some amazing landscapes. It may seem simple to pick up a truck-load of container plants, walk around on a site with shovel in hand, and plant them.
The devil is in the details, though!
I want to share as much as I can with you about what I’ve learned over the years, but you can find detailed information in my Advanced Guide to Shrubs eBook, coming soon. I would love to hear your comments and about your roadside enhancement stories and experiences, too.
You might also enjoy the Advanced Guide to Landscape Grants eBook, full of practical tips for applying for funding and making your beautification project a success.