More Than Native Plants – On to Urban Wildness and Social Justice

With Benjamin Vogt’s book, A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future, as a conscientious landscape professional you will find a lot of familiar information. References to biophilia, the ways gardens connect us to our health and wellness and the realization that without native plants we face a mass extinction event are in our common background and our shared body of knowledge.

In this book, Benjamin Vogt takes us to “why” we need to heed the signs and signals we are given through nature – awareness that we can use in our businesses and in our interactions with clients and potential customers to help the situation with education and action. The first chapters in this book share the reasons we need to remember and utilize in choosing native plants. Insects feeding on leaves may have a greater resilience to the nativar plant breeding programs, while ignoring the studies about pollinators’ appetites for nectar and pollen composition. You will be intrigued when you consider things Vogt writes about the pollinators’ extrasensory cues like ultraviolet light markers on petals, for example.

Vogt lives and works in Lincoln, NE. His descriptions of the various plants on the wide, open prairies or the small, focused reconstructed prairies, will take you to a place a lot different from our New Hampshire landscapes. His writing style reflects his background in creative writing with its simplicity, accuracy and alluring details. If you would like an introduction to his work before you get hold of this book, check out his Instagram @monarchgardensbenjaminvogt or his website,, to see extensive samples of his private client garden designs, landscape photos. Learn more from the Instagram posts and web info about his work and landscaping philosophy. From his website, “Plants don’t want to be marooned several feet apart; plants want to cavort and mingle and be their own mulch while naturally improving soil with layered root systems.” That’s one important tenant of Vogt’s design work. It’s evident as you look at his portfolio of projects and may remind you at times of Piet Oudolf with the layer upon layer and depth and mingled, indeterminate textures.

More than a book review, I am hoping this article not only recommends the book to you, but leads you to Benjamin Vogt’s Instagram and website, and helps you think, during the winter, about your own designs and landscapes you maintain. Where can you wean off of barrowful after barrowful of fresh mulch and work in plants that will eliminate the need or create some of their own mulch? Where can you soften some edges of monoculture lawn area and work in more types of grasses or even replace some of the green expanses with more green leafy textures which may also sport blossoms at different times through the seasons? Where can you leave some plants in place, and help your customers relish in the winter interest they will discover with small birds balancing on the tips of echinacea cones with some frost on the remaining leaves draped off the flower stems?

Besides explanations and questions Vogt raises about pollinators and healthy ecosystems, we read a lot of varied references to different scientific thoughts of the author. He compares the sap in plants to our own blood, with magnesium in chlorophyll serving as our blood’s iron – one gathering light for photosynthesis and one gathering oxygen supporting our life cycle. The final chapter of this book is intensely involved with comparisons such as this, and with information on insect life cycles, too. It’s on the one hand a quick read, on the other, leads you to want to look up more – keep your smartphone handy for some quick googling as you read it!

Notes include not only Vogt’s references to material he used in research or background for this book or related work, but to recommendations for other books and authors to look in to if a particular aspect of this resonates with you. The notes are divided in segments correlating to the chapters in this book. Chapter 4, for instance, “Urban Wilderness and Social Justice” contains the recommendation of a good introduction to the history of landscape architecture by Elizabeth Barlow, Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History, which sounds like a great winter read. Even Vogt’s index at the conclusion of the book is helpful. You can readily look through it to find what you may be particularly interested in, such as butterfly bush or foundation beds. Any way you want to handle this book, it’s a reference, an informative cover-to-cover read, or a set of facts balanced with philosophies by other researchers and designers such as Douglas Tallamy, you may want to dive in to again with Vogt’s insights gathered in this book.

With descriptions of prairies, descriptions of how underground fungi is fast at work and with an extensive array of notes and suggested further reading, this is what I call a “Winter Companion Book.” Read it at one go or put it down and read it when you are in different moods – sometimes its relaxing and sometimes you’ll feel overwhelmed by the enormity of situations that may be out of control in the natural world already.

by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP

Membership Has its Rewards

by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP

Your NHLA membership brings many different benefits, and you each have chosen to support NHLA for the reasons you felt were most important. Some readers or members may also be NHLA Certified Landscape Professionals, and that designation brings with it a certain workload to maintain the certified status as well as its own rewards.

One of the rewards we hear about most often is the unmeasurable “camaraderie” present during the Joint Winter Meeting, the March Conference, and the various Twilight Meetings throughout the summer. To actually meet people with whom you may only exchange e-mails, phone calls, or follow Instagram accounts, and to share professional development opportunities during in-person events, means a stronger network for everyone! We are keenly aware of the upheaval from the pandemic and the adjustments made in every aspect of business, field work, and recreation.

We are learning different things about the coronavirus nearly daily, making predicting the future of our events more difficult. The Education Committee, working with the NHLA Board, has determined we’ll pursue virtual presentations, via Zoom, with the responses we reviewed from the surveys returned to us. Heartfelt THANKS to the members who volunteered to offer a presentation – we’ll be working to solicit input and create the schedule for those in the coming weeks. They will be announced through Constant Contact e-mail as well as in this Newsletter, based on the Newsletter deadlines in the coming months.

The Joint Winter Meeting will take a new format. Those details are led largely by UNH Cooperative Extension, with our interest and support. This is important for you to know now, so you can plan accordingly. It’s important for the landscapers to know the full one-credit option for attending the Joint Winter Meeting will not be an opportunity we can offer in January 2021. A shortened format is in the works and will be announced as details are available. We don’t know what credentialing will look like for the 2021 cycle, so it will be incumbent upon the NHCLPs to seek re-certification options knowing this full credit in January for that one day-long event is not slated. The Certification Committee will be the go-to for working with you on your folio of credits, as usual, with the Education Committee able to help you find re-certification opportunities.

Professional development is essential for our face to the public, adhering to the most up-to-date best management practices and implementing the current research for our work with customers and accounts. At press time for this issue of the Newsletter, we are unsure of the March conference and what it may look like. This is not all meant to be gloom and doom, by any means! The most exciting news to come from the Board and Education Committee lies ahead, with work beginning to research what a late summer event could look like, encompassing working partners and growing relationships with businesses and organizations directly related to the landscapers throughout NH! Imagine being able to convene, in a brand-new venue, with both indoor and outdoor opportunities, and a time set aside at the conclusion of the day or days, (yes, this could be spread over two days!) for the socializing, no matter what shape “socializing” may take in nine months.

Please take time to seek information from vetted, reliable sources on your own, and if you have questions, your Certification Coordinator and I are ready to help you verify options. In previous issues of the Newsletter, you can find extensive listings of organizations to check out on your own. Here is a quick overview of sources for webinars you may want to review and see what could be of interest to your or your company and crews:

Check your vendors and brands they represent. Many of them are turning to Zoom, Facebook Live, or in-house filming of topics they would otherwise introduce at trade shows or to you, as you may have had in-person, customer-specific events in the past. These presentations are intended to introduce you to new products, new safety features, and new applications available through their brands.

Check government sources. Multi-session courses, and on-off webinar presentations are offered through both New Hampshire and Federal government sources. From the NH Department of Environmental Services, Coastal Adaptations Workgroup, and other stormwater runoff study groups, you can learn a lot about how to mitigate drought conditions and what is involved in protecting the watersheds and keeping our water clean and safe. The USDA website is chock full of tabs where you can find info to follow for pollinators, meadow protection, soil health, and soil mitigation techniques. Take some time to familiarize yourself with what these types of sources offer. OSHA is a resource for health, safety and wellness online workshops, which will offer landscapers accurate information as we enter the cold weather and conditions winter brings. Check out hypothermia signs and preventions, for instance, and consider ensuring your crew members are all aware as they are facing long, long days and nights snow plowing.

UNH Cooperative Extension has gone digital with informative presentations. Consider joining their newsletter subscriptions to learn about their Facebook live presentations on topics such as pruning techniques, no-till drills for planting bulbs, growing small fruits, research on fig trees, and various production techniques for plants your customers will be asking about. While there’s no substitute for in-person demonstrations for some of the topics we’re used to, the Extension staff have gone to great lengths to offer timely, and lively, demos and informative webinars.

Public Gardens, Arboretum sites, and Commercial Growers offer online tours and informative presentations about “plants of the year” and current design trends. Do a cursory search of sites in these categories and see what they are offering for “Adult Education,” “Community Outreach,” “Online Courses,” as a quick example of where to look. Organizations related to our work as landscapers include professional development opportunities, also.

Here’s hoping you are ready for the pivot to online learning and what the exposure to information from many, many sources can mean to your professional development and growth opportunities. Stay ahead of your customers’ changing lifestyle habits and see what they are learning online, too. We’re excited to be planning nearly a year ahead, while cautiously optimistic for the plans we’re brainstorming near-term.

Memories of Frank Wolfe

by Peter van Berkum

New Hampshire lost one of its true horticulturists on Monday, November 16, 2020. Frank Wolfe died in his sleep surrounded by his family. Frank started and ran Lake Street Garden Center in Salem until his son Tim took it over about 10 years ago. I was lucky enough to work for Frank as his grower for five years before Leslie and I started our nursery.

Frank was a mentor to me. He taught me that growing was as much art as science. He helped me understand how vast the plant world was. He helped me see how fascinating and exciting growing plants could be, and he encouraged us to pursue our dreams to start a nursery. In fact, after the initial job interview in 1984 when he offered me a job, he said that from what I’d said and by my resume he assumed we wanted to start a business of our own. He told me that if I went to work for him, he’d help us out, and did he ever! Not only by teaching me all he could about plants, but with ideas for plant markets, giving me contacts, helping us check out potential nursery sites, and just general encouragement. And later when we were setting up the nursery in Deerfield, he was over with his brush helping paint our new house.

I had already grown a few perennials at previous growing jobs, and I already had an interest in wildflowers. But Frank was way into perennials. He grew thousands of varieties, and I was put in charge of them. I had a lot to learn, and he had a lot to teach, a great combination. It was a five-year immersion in perennials, and I loved it. But perhaps the most interesting part of the job was forcing for flower shows. In those days the Boston Flower show was a big deal, and there was also a show at the Manchester Armory. Lake Street Garden Center was one of the primary places that did forcing for these shows. We forced for many landscapers and garden clubs, which means getting thousands of different plants to bloom on exactly the right day, judging day. We would have hundreds of different species, from big trees to dwarf daffodils. We had five greenhouses, all set at different temperatures. My job was to have the plants in the correct greenhouse for the right length of time, moving them from house to house to speed them up or slow them down. All this under Frank’s watchful eye; he just had a sense for it. Every week or so the organization that we were forcing the plants for would stop by to see the progress. Frank and I would lead them around to see their plants, scattered around depending on their temperature schedules. Frank was always squeezing the flower buds knowingly. Finally one time after a customer left I asked him what he was doing. He answered that you can tell a little by how soft the bud was, but with that twinkle in his eyes, he said he mostly did it because it impresses everyone, makes them think you really know what you are doing. Typical Frank!

My first year at Lake Street on a really busy spring day, I was working with Frank’s son Tim, who was 14 at the time. There were people everywhere. Lake Street has always been a true horticultural destination. Suddenly I heard this really loud, enthusiastic and bad singing rising above the din of all the plant shoppers. I asked Tim what on earth that was, and he looked at me sheepishly and said ”that’s my stupid father.” When things got really busy, Frank liked to sing loud songs about his two dogs, Anthony and Fido. Most of the clients were used to it and paid it no mind.

My other favorite memory was how he got rid of late customers. I think the nursery was open until 7 then. And as with any nursery in the spring, we were working long hours. He’d never kick people out at 7, he’d let them hang around a bit, but after half an hour or so, he’d go out and tell them that we were closed and it was dinner time. A few minutes later he’d go out and tell them again. If they still didn’t leave, he’d go into the shop where the irrigation controls were and turn on the overhead sprinklers. And he’d spy out the window laughing as the folks rushed to their cars.

Frank retired about ten years ago. Tim is doing a fantastic job with Lake Street now, modernizing it, but keeping its distinctive flavor and horticultural excellence. Frank spent a lot of his time after retirement at his camp in Northwood, not too far from our nursery. We got to see him once in awhile, going out for dinner or just hanging out on his porch by the lake. He always had his dogs around him. And he always had plants. His camp, with its tiny yard, became his own horticultural oasis, and when he ran out of space he lined his dock with containers. You can’t take the nurseryman out of someone like that.

I am grateful for the education that Frank gave us. And I am grateful for the friendship that we shared for 37 years. Frank, I hope there is a garden big enough for you wherever you are, and that there are some folks that want to learn about plants like Leslie and I did. We were lucky people to have known you.