And the winner is…

I spent last week in the state of North Carolina. A place that I have felt a connection with ever since I first visited in 1997. I just love it. It feels right on every level, especially in the Triangle area where I was. It’s cool enough and warm enough that the available plant palette is vast to say the least. They even surround Jesus with tropicals (I wonder if there will be anything like this in Sacred Spain?)

And you never know where a magnolia is going to show up.

Why, a lot of folks even thought I was from the South. They seemed genuinely surprised I was from some place as far north as Indiana. Just something about the way I spoke I guess. That was just so precious. I was there for the national meeting of the Garden Writers Association (GWA). My first. I finally joined this past winter after some more urging from Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, the Hoosier Gardener. Plus Indianapolis will be hosting the national meeting in 2011 so I needed to get some idea of how they did it in Raleigh. Mark Zelonis, the Ruth Lilly Deputy Director of Historic and Environmental Preservation, attended as well so I wasn’t the only IMA staff there.

The conference consisted of a mixture of lectures and tours. I always like the tours best but enjoyed the lectures as well. Many were on the internet and social media (Surprise! Surprise!). I attended one or two of those.

But let’s face it. It’s no secret that I am a plant whore. I wanted to see gardens and plants. If I would have been invited to see some gardens during the lectures I would have been out that door faster than a nest of fire ants can attack a Yankee. (Did I mention I love Southern accents? Hell, I love all accents. Why should we all sound alike? Cause we ain’t.) Fortunately there were enough gardens on the regular schedule to keep me satiated – mostly.

Plant Delights is on every Plant Pig’s list of nurseries and gardens to visit. Tony Avent has created a truly unique place. The gardens are filled with plants that explore all the possibilities for gardens, especially in zone 7 North Carolina. But I’m always up for pushing the hardiness scale. One isn’t really surprised to find palms and variegated bananas at Plant Delights.

But I’m always taken back a bit when I see huge agaves in the ground knowing they survive the winter right there!

I showed remarkable restraint and only bought 5 plants.

The Sarah P. Duke Gardens (Duke University) are wonderful as well. There are wooded sites, lakes, terraced gardens, and wonderful plants everywhere. You can see everything from old Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides – like around the Sutphin Fountain) to native Loblolly pines to pink bananas (Musa velutina)

At NC State University there is the JC Raulston Arboretum named after the great plantsman and educator I wish I could have met. He believed in getting plants of merit out to as many people as possible so they would not languish in obscurity. He introduced an enormous number of plants to the horticulture world. And he wasn’t a purist considering natives. He wanted to find as many plants as possible to use in the North Carolina Piedmont and display them at the Arboretum so everyone had access to them.  Like any good garden, you can find design ideas for any part of the country there. And a good many plants hardy here. This Callicarpa americana ‘Welch’s Pink’ (American beauty berry) is one I would like to try.

It’s a garden I highly recommend and don’t miss the trial gardens. The hot peppers were just that. HOT!

One of the best parts of the conference was the closing night award ceremonies. Because SEASONS won the Silver Award for Best Overall Product in the newsletter category! Be on the lookout for an e-newsletter replacing it soon. Here’s a shot of the very happy IMA group with the award.

Now, just one more little thing. When I left for this trip it was summer. When I returned one week later it was fall. I’m not happy about that. When I find out who is responsible they are in big trouble. BIG trouble. You would think I could leave town for a week and you all could keep things from going to hell. I am most disappointed. It will be reflected in how I dole out my good graces. I need a lot more time to prepare for moving plants inside.