In 1978 when I got started designing gardens with a degree in horticulture from Cal Poly Pomona, there were only two real grasses in the American Nursery trade, Pampas grass and blue fescue. In 1984, I got a commission to make a garden in for a very modern house in Pasadena, CA which my partner at the time and I decided should be an interpretation of what Los Angeles used to be, which was Oak Savannah. Our research led us to what was at the time was the first and only nursery in America dedicated to growing ornamental grasses. My journey into the world of grasses would begin in Kurt Bluemels Maryland nursery.
In 1984, we shipped a refrigerated truck of grasses from Kurt’s nursery to create the first major grass garden on the west coast of the US. The new ‘American Garden’ had reached the west coast. I soon went to work and study with Kurt, who was European trained and whose nursery inventory was the first of its kind in north America. Interestingly, many of these grasses were north American natives that had come to European nurserymen in the 30’s and had become famous in Europe, before coming back to America. In 1987, with Kurt’s help, I founded Greenlee Nursery, the first dedicated ornamental and native grass nursery on the west coast of North America. As the interest in perennial plants and native ecology swept across America, I was suddenly thrust onto the lecture circuit and got to travel and explore extensively across the huge expanse of the diverse grass ecologies of the US.
In 1992 I authored the Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, Rodale, 1992. And in researching the book , realized there were still so many more grasses that belonged in the nursery industry. Throughout the 90’s and into 2000’s our nursery and design and consulting business had the privilege of working on some of the most important gardens in America including Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Norton Simon, The Getty Museum, and other high profile public and private gardens. Because of our knowledge of grasses and grass ecology, we were privileged to work with some of the most important landscape architects in America including , Andrea Cochran, Peter Walker, Laurie Olin, Paul Comstock, Bernard Trainor, LA Designers, etc.
As Greenlee Nursery plant introductions became industry favorites in the nursery and design community, and major production nurseries like Proven Winners and Bluemel began growing our plants, we increasingly turned out attention to design and consultation. The more we traveled around north America and Canada, the more we realized that a ‘meadow revolution’ was underway. With increased focus on natives and the merging of ecology and horticulture, our emphasis shifted to design, consultation and plant introductions. This culminated in my garden writer gold medal winning book The American Meadow Garden, TimberPress, 2009. Since then my focus was been creating and designing grass ecologies throughout North America with of course, an emphasis on the Mediterranean US and the American southwest.
A visit to England and Holland three years ago has confirmed my strong belief that the best grass gardens are yet to come. For me to see two of my plant introductions to be featured at Kew and Wisley and the premier grass nursery in England, Knoll Gardens, I felt as though I had been knighted! I truly feel the best grass gardens are yet to come.
In my lecture, I hope to share my journey through the history of grasses in American horticulture and design and to share my own design philosophies and experience.