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Karl Gercens is a section gardener responsible for many of the changing displays in the Longwood conservatories. His fondness for plants and appreciation for nature led to his B.S. in Ornamental Horticulture at Mississippi State University. Prior to joining Longwood Gardens, Gercens worked at Walt Disney World in Florida and Filoli Estate in California. An avid traveler, he has visited hundreds of gardens to gain inspiration and new ideas for planting creative gardens with seasonal interest.
Gercens will be teaching Tropical Infusion on Saturday, May 22, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Q. When did you develop a love of tropical plants?
A. My passion for these types of plants has been going on for quite a few years. I built my first greenhouse in sixth grade, growing up on a cotton plantation in Mississippi. Back then I planted Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet), ginger, birds of paradise, and lots of palms. These are some of the same plants we’re going to work with in the Tropical Infusion workshop.
Q. How have your travels informed your gardening?
A. Tropical gardens are some of the most difficult to create because they have to have a specific climate. In the United States, the only truly tropical climate is in Hawaii—Florida is subtropical.
I’ve been fortunate to have visited lots of tropical gardens and seen the plants growing in their natural habitat. Seeing something like a twenty-foot-tall angel’s trumpet with hundreds of blooms, things like that have been my inspiration. Tropical plants give people so much joy.
Q. You worked at Walt Disney World and at Filoli, a country house set in 16 acres of formal gardens surrounded by a 654-acre estate near San Francisco. What characteristics do those sites share with Longwood Gardens?
A. At Walt Disney World you are dealing with lots of different people—guests and teammates—from around the world. The facilities are the highest quality that you can possibly achieve. Filoli was all about historic preservation.
Although all three places are different, Longwood is very similar to both sites in those respects.
Q. People are very concerned about invasive plants. Are the plants you use in your Tropical Infusion workshop dangerous to the local ecosystem?
A. Not at all. Let’s start with a definition: “tropical plants” are those which grow in the region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. [In the western hemisphere, the Tropic of Cancer runs roughly across the center of Mexico through the Caribbean.] Plants that are native to the tropics cannot tolerate temperatures below 50 or 55 degrees. Our winter will do them in, so they are no threat to us.
Q. Does this mean that the “hot” plants people will use in Tropical Fusion will die at the end of the summer?
A. No, we’re going to cover overwintering so the plants do not succumb to the cold. Tropical plants can be brought inside as houseplants. They do well in a sunroom or greenhouse or in a room with grow lights. Other tropical plants can be put into a state of suspended animation. People look at you like you’re talking about science fiction when you say “suspended animation,” but it just means that the plants slow down.
Q. What are some of your favorite tropicals?
A. I love the bold foliages. Bananas, Brugmansia, and Colocasia (elephant ears) all have huge, bold foliages with a tropical feel. Tropical colors are loud and electric: fuchsia, magenta, tangerine orange, sunset yellow, moonlight white.
Q. Why do you think people are drawn to tropical plants?
A. These plants create the feeling of being far away. Maybe you went to the tropics on your honeymoon; when you see the same flowers and smell the same fragrance, it evokes strong memories and reminds you of that place. Tropical plants are really powerful like that.
For information about short courses and workshops, including Tropical Infusion, visit http://www.longwoodgardens.org/ShortCoursesandWorkshops.html. To see pictures of gardens from Karl Gercens’ travels, visit www.KarlGercens.com and click on the “Travelogue” button.
Annuals & Tender Perennials
with Marilyn Daly
DATE: Wednesdays, May 19-June 23 (six sessions)
1:00-3:00 PM OR 7:00-9:00 PM
FEE: $162 Garden pass member; $180 non-member
Not commonly seen in most gardens today the plants in this course demonstrate the beauty, advantages and techniques of growing new and unusual annuals and tender perennials. The class will challenge professional growers and gardeners to improve the diversity, quality, and availability of plants offered for sale by wholesale and local nurseries and garden centers and to encourage you, the gardener, to expand your horticultural palette of plants grown in your containers and gardens.
The Fragrance of Summer
with Nancy Gingrich Shenk
Date: Saturday, May 22
9:00 AM to 12 Noon
$90 Garden pass member $100 non-member
Evoke memories of summer nights and vacations with the fragrances of plant materials. We will fill low containers with sand and seashells, grasses, open fragrant roses, scented geranium foliage, lavender, honeysuckle vines, and other summer fragrant flowers. This design is created on sand to be eco friendly.
Lilies in Ikebana – “Lilytopia!”
with Midori Tanimune
Date: Wednesday, May 26
6:00 PM to 9:00 PM
$81 Garden pass member $90 non-member
The fabulous Lilytopia exhibit throughout the East Conservatory will serve as an inspiration for the lily designs created in this class. Join the instructor for an after-hours walk through the exhibit. Return to the classroom and choose from an assortment of lilies to be the focal points in an Ikebana style design to create a unique living exhibit of your own.
As anyone who has followed the spread of kudzu knows, invasive plants are a serious threat. “These types of plants take over natural areas and have a negative impact on the environment,” says Dr. Tomasz Anisko, curator of plants. “They may change the soil chemistry, out compete natives, and take over their habitat. This can erode support for native insect populations, including pollinators, as well as birds and other animals. It puts different players on the stage.”
These plant pests grow aggressively, are difficult to control, and can take over whole areas. Infestations are destructive to your pocketbook as well as to the environment—they are extremely expensive to control.
Longwood Gardens is tackling this problem from several angles as part of a comprehensive strategy. “We’re about to introduce Longwood’s first plant collection policy that will essentially lay down the rules for all plants in the garden,” Anisko says. “It includes how we choose plants, acquire them, plant them, and dispose of them.” The policy is an outgrowth of the 2002 St. Louis Declaration on Invasive Plant Species developed by a consortium of public gardens to address the situation.
One approach is eradication. At Longwood, efforts have been underway for several years to get rid of invasives like multiflora rose, Norway maple, Canada thistle, spotted knapweed, and garlic mustard. “We can’t claim one hundred percent success, so this is an ongoing effort. We’re always looking for better ways to do it.” Longwood uses an integrated approach to eradication, including a combination of control methods such as physical removal, mowing and cutting, prescribed burning, targeted herbicides, and biological controls.
Another tactic is to evaluate new plants for their invasive potential before adding them to the approved list. “Is it a plant we want at Longwood? Do we want to promote it or not?” says Anisko. Answering these questions takes patience: some shrub trials take more than ten years so Longwood’s staff can acquire sufficient data.
Success against invasive plants will require a broad-based, collaborative effort that unites leaders in horticulture, nursery personnel, scientists, conservation groups, botanical gardens, garden clubs, garden writers, educational institutions, landscape professionals, government, and the public.
So, what can you do? “The first logical step is to make sure we don’t add more invasive plants,” Anisko says. “In reality, many of them are still in nursery production. It’s not illegal to sell them, so the goal is to decrease demand.
“Home gardeners should go online to get the list of invasive plants from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and take it with them when they shop for plants,” he adds. “Become informed and make plant purchases accordingly.”
Anisko also recommends that people also look at what’s growing in the yard to see where they might be able to replace invasive plants with native species. Try to remove invasive plants before they become established, and don’t let them go to seed.
It’s well worth the effort. Invasives can cause expensive landscape maintenance issues and weeding problems for years to come. Many suburban properties—maybe yours—can be overrun with Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, Japanese knotweed, and Oriental bittersweet. Native plants, on the other hand, usually have natural controls that keep them in balance.
“The only way we can reduce the problem is to become better informed,” says Anisko. “Understanding the damage that invasive plants can cause is essential to stopping their spread.”
For information about invasive plants in our area, and what you can do about them, visit http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/wildplant/invasive.aspx.
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Meet the arborists and gardeners that care for our trees and flowers throughout Spring Blooms, and see demonstrations throughout our Conservatory and outdoor gardens.
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Get ready for an evening of oohs and ahhs, as Longwood presents spectacular Fireworks & Fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable.
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Registration is now open for our 2013 Continuing Education courses!
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