Western Pennsylvania gardeners get their grow on at annual symposium

| Sunday, April 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Garden & Landscape Symposium of Western Pennsylvania is an annual rite of spring for many plant enthusiasts — even before they slip their green thumbs into their garden gloves for the first time after a long winter.

The event features a day filled with presentations by horticultural experts and a garden marketplace for stocking up on new plant varieties, garden accessories and botanical artwork. A new addition this year is the annual daffodil show hosted by the Daffodil & Hosta Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Keynote speaker Michael Dirr, a retired professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, is well known for his numerous plant introductions and has written more than 300 articles and scientific papers and several books, including an encyclopedia of hardy trees and shrubs. He says the reference book took nearly two years to complete and was a labor of love.

One of the plants that Dirr popularized is the' Endless Summer' hydrangea, a hardy plant that can bloom on the current and previous seasons' growth, providing colorful flowers all summer. He came across the plant in a test field in a nursery in Minnesota.

“ ‘Endless Summer' was a serendipitous happening,” he says. “I was proud of the excitement it generated among gardeners. It also stimulated a breeding frenzy with companies trying to produce reblooming Hydrangea macrophylla. The garden world is better because of the introduction of ‘Endless Summer.' ”

Dirr is a partner in a plant-breeding business and says he is constantly traveling and reading to research where the ornamental-plant market is heading. He also is committed to spreading the word about the importance of planting “noble trees,” which he defines as deciduous broadleaf trees that change color with the seasons and stand more than 50 feet tall.

In one of his two talks at the symposium, “In Praise of Noble Trees,” he will elaborate on the rationale for planting noble trees and the best of new tree introductions according to function, ornamental traits and pest-resistance.

“I hope to inspire and educate the attendees to plant noble trees. The payoff for such activity is multigenerational,” Dirr says.

Also speaking will be Sinclair Adam, Penn State Extension floriculture educator in Lebanon County, who will discuss new perennials for 2014 and the importance of incorporating native plants in gardens.

“Native plants are the fundamental building block in Pennsylvania plant communities,” he says. “It is environmentally sound thinking to incorporate those species and their selections — sometimes called nativars — in Pennsylvania gardens and landscapes. These plants will support many species of insects, including our very important pollinator insects.”

Adam says new plant selections and hybrids are an exciting aspect of horticulture. Some of them turn out to be assets to gardens; others don't stand the test of time. Some of the new plants that will be presented at the symposium include Tiarella ‘Sherry Kitto,' Penstemon ‘Red Riding Hood,' Coreopsis ‘Electric Avenue,' Echinacea ‘Guava Ice' and Brunnera ‘Silver Heart.'

Jeff Gillman, horticulture instructor at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., will give a presentation about the benefits and drawbacks of organic gardening.

“Organic gardening can be healthy for us and good for the environment, but not all organic gardening practices are created equal,” he says. “The greatest benefit is an improvement in soil through use of mulches and compost. The biggest challenge is figuring out which organic practices are really worthwhile. Just because it's organic, it doesn't mean it's good for us or the environment.”

Maryann Frazier, senior extension associate in the Department of Entomology at Penn State, will address declining pollinator populations and how gardeners and landscapers can improve habitats and reduce risks in her presentation, “Will There Still Be Honey for Your Tea?”

Some 15 regional vendors representing nurseries, garden centers and farms will have a variety of plants and related items for sale, including 20 varieties of scented geraniums, dwarf conifers, Japanese maples, drought-tolerant plants, deer-resistant perennials and shrubs, cyclamen and Colocasia tubers, onion and leek plants, garden tools and books. Penn State Master Gardeners will be available to answer gardening-related questions.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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