Over the past few years, nursery sales and flower-show attendance have dropped off, causing people to fret about horticulture's future.
Over the past few years, nursery sales and flower-show attendance have dropped off, causing people to fret about horticulture’s future. Plant Amnesty even sponsored a panel discussion: “Is Gardening Dead?” After talking with a few up-and-coming gardeners, I’d say our beloved pursuit isn’t ready for the compost pile just yet.
While the newest generation of plant savants may not be following in our footsteps, that doesn’t mean they haven’t popped the iPods out of their ears long enough to comprehend the natural world. Cyberspace is second nature, and the world small and navigable to this new generation of gardeners. They’re brewing up an eco-fusion of plants and technology that’ll set your head spinning.
Take Bridget Lamp, a 32-year-old propagator for the Seattle Parks Department who adores her job. “The gardeners tell us what plants they need, and we produce them,” says Lamp, who specializes in Northwest natives. “I love figuring out germination tricks and which plants come best from cuttings.” When Lamp was getting her master’s degree in horticulture at the University of California, Davis, she dreamed of a job at a botanical garden. Now she’s getting a big kick filling our parks with the plants she raises at a greenhouse on Beacon Hill.
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When Lamp goes home after eight hours of gardening . . . she gardens. “Growing food is my hobby,” says Lamp, who mixes Mediterranean plants with espaliered fruit trees, herbs and vegetables in her little Columbia City garden. “My veggies are my annuals. I pick ones with aesthetic value.” She shares her expertise, catalog finds and newest edible discoveries on her popular blog “From Garden To Kitchen” (fromgardentokitchen.blogspot.com).
“I get such satisfaction from what I do,” she says.
Any ambition to use that master’s degree to manage a botanical garden? “No,” says Lamp. “I just really need to be outside.”
While Lamp appreciates our climate because she’s from Southern California, Arlen Hill grew up right here, hiking the woods of the West Coast up into Canada. He left home to get a degree at Western Washington University in fine art photography, all the better to shoot plants, then returned home to start his own nursery at age 21.
Four years later, Keeping It Green Nursery in Stanwood supplies Sky, Swansons and Molbak’s with rare and unusual plants. While hardy orchids are his first love, Hill also specializes in woodland natives, ferns, species lilies, arisimas and podophyllums. You’ll find Hill at area plant sales encouraging gardeners by pointing out that rare doesn’t mean hard to grow. (Keeping It Green Nursery, 360-652-1779, www.keepingitgreennursery.com).
Then there’s the human whirlwind named Dave Demers, a French Canadian raised on a dairy farm near Quebec City. At age 28, he’s already traveled to nearly every continent worth botanizing. For four years he collected plants and found internships in destinations as remote as Mongolia, India, Patagonia, China, Bolivia, Peru and South Africa. “Everything I do is plant-minded,” understates Demers, who lectures, writes for publications in English and French, consults, designs gardens and even does a little maintenance. “I’m amazed at what little variety there is available in nurseries, so I grow the plants myself,” which he wholesales and uses in clients’ gardens. I caught up with him in L.A., where he was falling in love with agaves.
Demers’ new business, Cyan (it means “blue-green”) Horticulture in Vancouver, B.C., has a dynamic bilingual Web page with gorgeous photos and an emphasis on green ethics. Demers specializes in edgy design services, like naturalistic “New Wave” borders and Italianate spas, with a focus on bold-but-simple designs for balcony and rooftop gardens. This charming guy is everywhere, and he’s just getting started.
Instead of worrying and wondering about how gardening is changing, we’d best just slide right into the slipstream behind these keen and confident youngsters. It’ll be quite a ride.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is email@example.com.