by Henry Lane Hull
This past Saturday the Northern Neck Master Gardeners in partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension hosted the 26th annual Gardening in the Northern Neck Seminar. The day consisted of lectures by three nationally known garden gurus, informational exhibits from various vendors and plant sales with emphasis on species native to this region.
The first speaker was the noted arborist, Joe Murray, who comes from Bath County in the western reaches of the Commonwealth. He is a former biology teacher, who has spent the last 30 years promoting sustainable agricultural practices. His special emphasis has centered on natural composting to produce the best mulch and organic material for plant growth and nutrition.
The second speaker was Joe Lamp’l, perhaps better known as “Joe Gardener”, whose PBS program, “Growing a Greener World” appears on stations across America, as well as internationally. As with Joe Murray, Joe Lamp’l is a purist when speaking of the use of natural materials. He refers to the leaves falling in autumn as “God’s gift” to gardeners and advocates grinding them to make the best mulch to enhance plant life. He particularly cautions against using pre-packaged mulch as it often contains contaminants, such as arsenic and copper, from the inclusion of pressure-treated lumber in the composition.
Joe was born and raised in Miami, Fla., and graduated from Florida State University. He entered the business world and then almost by accident he changed careers to pursue his childhood fascination with growing plants. He began with a gardening show on the DIY network, which initially was to last one year, but went on for three seasons. Now a regular on PBS, Joe especially enjoys the interaction with his viewers and fastidiously answers their inquiries. The wealth of his advice is available to the public in his book, The Green Garden Guide, as well as through his broadcasts.
With respect to his own gardening habits, each fall he advertises that he will come and collect bagged leaves and grasses from homeowners who otherwise would be putting their compost out for trash collection and ultimate disposition in a landfill. His enthusiasm for plants, saving their seeds and starting a new garden every year is contagious. He and his younger daughter have begun a seed business, thereby insuring their clientele that the seeds they purchase are truly organic.
The day’s third speaker was Jenny Rose Carey, the director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Meadowbook Farm. She was accompanied by her gardener, Hanna von Schlegell, who maintains Jenny’s home garden of four and a half acres at her Victorian home, “Northview”, outside Philadelphia. For these two ladies, gardening is clearly a passion. Jenny Rose was born in London, and grew up in Kent, the “garden of England.” There she developed the symbiotic relationship with plants that has characterized her entire life.
Jenny Rose is particularly interested in gardening in the shade and has authored a book on the subject, Glorious Shade, Dazzling Plants, Design Ideas and Proven Technniques for your Shady Garden, which describes the various techniques one may employ to have a successful garden in partial or daylong shady areas. In 22 years she has transformed an overgrown yard covered with ivy and other unwanted vegetation into an exquisite park, which can be visited by the public by appointment.
One of “Northview’s” most interesting features is a stumpery, putting Jenny Rose in harmony with Prince Charles, who has a stumpery at “Highgrove House”, his home in Gloucestershire. The idea is to pile stumps together to produce a mound out of which controlled vegetation can occur and which can provide a habitat for woodland creatures.
Each March the Gardening in the Northern Neck Seminar serves as the herald of the onset of spring. On Saturday, nearly 400 avid gardeners got their interests revved up to go home and welcome the beginning of the growing season. The lasting message of the day was the time old dictum that Mother Nature Knows Best. In that regard the day was not a good one for chemical fertilizer companies.