September 21, 2008

The Horticulturists' Garden

With the Garden Conservancy’s Open Garden Days in Raleigh, NC, Dennis (Denny) Werner and his wife Georgina opened their home garden to the public. Both Denny and Georgina are horticulturists. Denny is the director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, a professor of horticulture, as well as a plant breeder. His recent work includes the new compact, low-growing buddleias such as ‘Blue Chip’. This is the first in the release of the Lo and Behold™ series of dwarf Buddleia. Every year, the Raulston Arboretum conducts field trials of bedding plants that provide gardeners with information about performance and growing conditions.

My husband and I were greeted enthusiastically by Denny who was ready to answer any questions that we had about his beautiful home garden. The 160 foot long perennial border thrills any gardener, but there are also wonderful garden compositions around the home, the pool and the wooded areas. There are island beds constructed to provide wonderful meandering paths through the backyard gardens. Hardscape and garden art accent the gardens, drawing the eye to creatively designed vignettes. Denny selected the plants for his garden. His passion for gardening is evident in his delight and joy in sharing his plantings with us.

The stars in the woodland edges are different forms of hollies laden with berries in shades of red to orange. The foundation plantings are deep and abundant with small trees, evergreen shrubs, ferns and hostas. Foliage and texture are pleasantly combined to add dimension to the front garden entrance. In fact, these vignettes are so stunning that I prefer to call these "gardens" rather than "foundation plantings".

One perennial that immediately caught my eye was an unusual gaillardia (blanket flower) in one of the backyard garden vignettes. Denny told us about the rare and endangered, Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri, known commonly as Winkler’s Gaillardia, a Texas native. This beautiful, heavy flowering perennial has white petals and a deep purple cone. It grows about knee-high and is a xeric plant. Denny has companions of salvia, nepeta and other drought-tolerant perennials in this area.

On the other side of this grouping are tropical plants, including a gigantic colocasia, introduced from Thailand. (Look for Colocasia gigantea Thailand Giant Strain to the left in the photo of Denny.) Denny uses a ‘Black Magic’ colocasia to add drama and contrast with the giant colocasia. A banana tree provides additional height and elongated leaves to balance the large elephant ears. Red-blooming hibiscus and canna provide additional leaf interest as well as punch from the bloom color.

The swimming pool gardens overflow with billowing bedding plants anchored by specimen ornamental trees and shrubs. A specimen tree under planted with coleus provides a sense of depth and shade while the prolific blooming petunias, zinnias and other annuals soften the patio around the pool. A water feature tucked into a corner of tranquility provides a transition from home to swimming pool. A little wooden picket fence surrounds the swimming pool gardens providing spaces for beautiful borders on both sides.

Whenever I’m in a wonderful garden, it’s difficult to leave. It was a rewarding visit. I came away with some great gardening ideas and met another wonderful gardener and plant expert. I appreciate the work of horticulturists who are dedicated to the research and development of plants for our gardening enjoyment.

Photos and Story by Freda Cameron. All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies.
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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