Another year passed and it was time to meet with our peers for the VNLA Winter meeting and trade show. For the second year in a row, the event was held at the spacious UVM Davis Center.
GreenWorks Vermont does a great job every year at organizing the event, but this year it was the keynote speaker who grabbed our attention. Thomas Rainer, author of the book Planting in a Post-Wild World was selected as this year’s speaker. Before starting his own design studio with his wife, Thomas worked for one of our favorite landscape architecture firms, Oehme van Sweden.
It’s challenging to address an informed audience of peers but Mr. Ranier kept us fully engaged and taking notes. His ability to distill complex information in a short amount of time was a feat to be experienced.
Using factual data, industry hacks and an overarching theme of creating plant communities, Thomas was preaching to the ZBA choir. Here are some of our favorite quotes:
“It’s easy to want to be a green city, but much tougher to pull off.”
“There is more pressure on plant design now than in any other time in history.”
“We’re creating habitats for aggressive competitors.”
After another glorious taco bar lunch, it was off to decide what to do for the latter part of the conference. I chose to take advantage of the concurrent lecture sessions, choosing the business round table and the native plant discussion by one of our favorite growers.
The business roundtable consisted of a collective group of designers and contractors discussing key issues facing their businesses. Times are good for most green industry businesses but common challenges seem ever-present: Navigating social and print media marketing, attaining and retaining the best employees and handling the seasonal challenges in the New England horticulture industry.
As I slipped out of part two of the business roundtable , I entered into a discussion with Peter Van Berkum. Arguably the premier perennial growers for New England, Peter and his wife Leslie have been operating Van Berkum Nursery since 1987.
Peter focused his attention on what defines a native plant. Ultimately, he left the definition up to the audience while offering pointers as to how to best define native. Van Berkum’s guide to native consideration revolves around regional dominance and defines a native plant as anything that grows in New England. Pretty simple until he started discussing the nuances of plant breeding and seed patents.
In addition to the native topic, Peter discussed the early struggles as a grower and how the business has evolved to accommodate user preference. Lastly, Peter shared some of his favorite under utilized native plants. We won’t share the entire list, but here are a few:
-Asclepias tuberosa / Butterfly Weed
-Carex pennsylvanica / Pennsylvania Sedge
-Potentilla tridentata / Bird’s Foot Trefoil
-Arelia racemosa / Spikenard
-Pachysandra procumbens / Allegheny spurge
Congratulations to all of this year’s award-winning landscape designs. We look forward to seeing you next year!