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Western Pennsylvania Garden & Landscape Symposium lets gardeners grow their skills

| Friday, April 19, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
An example of a shade garden by garden consultant Kerry Mendez
Kerry Mendez
An example of a shade garden by garden consultant Kerry Mendez
Mazus blooms between stepping stones in a Washington, D.C., garden designed by landscape architect Thomas Rainer.
Thomas Rainer
Mazus blooms between stepping stones in a Washington, D.C., garden designed by landscape architect Thomas Rainer.

Mother Nature teased Western Pennsylvania with some warm and sunny weather earlier this week that sent some garden enthusiasts digging for their trowels and pruning shears.

Even though it's still a little early to declare war on weeds, garden consultant Kerry Mendez says it's a good time to jump-start the growing season with a low-range (5-5-5 or 4-5-4 mix of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) granular fertilizer.

“You can give a real boost to your perennials and shrubs before the spring rains,” says Mendez, who will be one of the speakers April 20 at the Western Pennsylvania Garden & Landscape Symposium at Shady Side Senior School in Fox Chapel.

The daylong symposium, sponsored by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Penn State Extension and Shadyside Academy, is designed for gardeners of all skill levels. It features lectures by national horticultural experts and a Garden Marketplace to shop for a variety of plants and garden accessories.

Mendez, of Ballston Spa, N.Y., operates a gardening business offering low-maintenance gardening and landscaping classes, consultations, designs and garden lectures. She is the director of marketing for a local garden center and has written two books, “The Ultimate Flower Gardener's Top Ten Lists” (2010), and “Top Ten Lists for Beautiful Shade Gardens” (2011).

At the landscaping symposium, she will give two presentations, “Branch Out With Flowering Shrubs,” about how to add drama and color to gardens with low-maintenance flowering shrubs, and “The Perennial Plant Collector's Corner,” in which she will preview new and unusual varieties of perennials.

A few examples of outstanding varieties include two hardy geraniums, “Rozanne,” with violet-blue flowers that bloom from June until fall, and “Azure Rush,” a long-blooming hybrid resulting from the “Rozanne” variety with large, soft blue flowers.

Mendez says some of the new perennials she will discuss are among the easiest plants to grow for those new to gardening. “They're a deer-resistant, no-fuss choice that is perfect for beginners,” she says.

Another speaker at the symposium will be Thomas Rainer, a registered landscape architect, teacher and writer from Arlington, Va. Among the most high-profile landscapes he has designed were for the U.S. Capitol grounds, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and New York Botanical Garden.

Rainer advocates creating gardens that incorporate “artful interpretations of native plant communities.” His presentation will offer advice on designing landscapes that feature bold and modern patterns enhanced by native plants.

“Much of the talk revolves around the aesthetics of sustainability. Native and sustainable gardening too often ignores design and beauty. I propose new techniques for making green gardens more beautiful,” Rainer says.

“Designing with native plants can be a powerful way of connecting us with our memory of nature. This emotional connection is especially important in an age where wild nature continues to diminish. I show how to abstract and stylize native plant communities to fit human landscapes.”

Rainer is working on a master plan for a project with his planting and design firm, Rhodeside & Harwell, that will involve planting 620,000 native trees from Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello in Virginia to the Gettysburg Battlefield, one in honor of each soldier who died in the Civil War. The “Journey Through Hallowed Ground Living Legacy Project” is being done in conjunction with the Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Civil War with a 2015 target completion date.

Other program speakers will include:

• Whitney Cranshaw, a Colorado State University professor, who specializes in pests and problems affecting Rocky Mountain plants. His books include “Garden Insects of North America,” “Pests of the West” and an upcoming work, “Bugs Rule!”

• R. William Thomas, executive director of Chanticleer near Philadelphia, who leads the development of the young garden using an environmentally sensitive and multicentury approach. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in ornamental horticulture from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

• Joseph Tychonievich, nursery manager for Arrowhead Alpines in Fowlerville, Mich., and author of “Creating New Heirlooms: A Gardener's Guide to Breeding Plants.” He has a degree in horticulture from Ohio State University.

In addition to the presentations, the symposium will feature 10-Minute Tips sessions with local gardening experts. The Garden Marketplace at the Shady Side Ice Skating Rink is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring annuals, perennials, shrubs, seeds and more.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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