Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium

Probably because I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by prairie, in my twenties I sought out what was different and turned to European garden design for my inspiration.  Now in my early 50’s I have returned to my childhood landscape and an approach to creating a more sustainable landscape design.

At the Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium last week end, I heard a number of wonderful and qualified speakers over the two days. Here are some of the highlights:

Robert Grese is a Professor of Landscape Architecture in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. He also serves as the Director of the University’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

Grese is author of the book: The Native Landscape Reader Published by University of Massachusetts Press in association with LALH.  His book, is a collection of nature-based landscape design and conservation by landscape architects, designers, horticulturalists, botanists, and conservationists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Grese has done a great deal of work amassing this collection of writing which originally appeared in short-lived publications and are difficult to find today.

Some of the essays include Jens Jensen, O. C. Simonds, and other early landscape architects who advocated for the use of native plants and conservation. During Grese’s talk he read from some of the essays which cover sustainability, horticulture and gardening, and landscape design and preservation. It is so helpful that Grese has organized a time–line of important American writers and contributors to the Native Plant Movement.

Robert Grese, The Native Landscape Reader

Robert Grese, The Native Landscape Reader

Darrel Morrison was the highlight speaker for me because of his important projects which include, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, TX), Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY, the Old Stone Mill at New York Botanical Garden, and most recently, he designed the new Native Flora Garden expansion at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Morrison is not only a designer, but his deep knowledge of plant communities and how to artfully arrange them was both inspiring and beautiful. I think a lot of times people don’t know that they are looking at a native planting because of the subtle qualities of native plants.  That is not the case with Morrison’s designs. You know you are looking at a master at work.

Morrison’s first talk outlined his many important projects over a forty year period including the recent work at the Brooklyn Native Flora Garden and the Old Stone Mill at New York Botanical Garden.  He has shown that native plants can be beautiful when chosen not only for ecological reasons, but when grown in plant communities that replicate the natural landscape.  I look forward to seeing his projects firsthand and plan to visit both the Bronx Botanical garden, Brooklyn Botanical Garden and Storm King this summer. Here is short video about Morrison:

Dan Segal, owner of The Plantsmen Nursery which specializes in native plants, local plant production, and native and natural landscaping has worked with native plants for over 20 years, in California, the Mid-Atlantic, and New York. Segal gave a presentation of native perennials, shrubs and trees, pointing out which plants are native to the US and which for our local area of central NY.  I am very excited to discover Segal’s Nursery and plan to spend some time this spring exploring the collection he is growing. Check out Segal’s web site.

Other interesting speaker included Heather Connelly: Farmscaping with Native Plants to Attract Pollinators

Connelly went into fascinating detail about our native bees and explored the non native honey bee used in agriculture for pollinating such crops as almond trees in California. She talked in depth about colony collapse disorder. Connelly has planted ‘native buffer strips’ alongside strawberry crop fields in several New York locations. Her data clearly shows the benefits of using native plants and their associated beneficial insects that provide biological control and pollination for these agricultural crops. She was an exceptional speaker and incited an enthusiasm for planting native buffer strips alongside not just farm plantings, but our own vegetable gardens.

The ideas that were raised in the symposium rang out loud and clear. Currently my own garden consists of about fifty percent native plants, but I plan to up those numbers in the coming years to at least 75%. It’s clear to me from the research provided that we must provide more native plants for our pollinators to insure their survival. Planting overly hybridized plants that are  grown for aesthetic purpose only does not make sense for our environment today.

For locals here in central New York check out the book:  The Guide To The Plant Communities of the Central Fingers Lake Region by Charles L. Mohler, Peter L. Marks, & Sana Gardescu. I purchased my own copy for $ 20.00 but you can also download a PDF file online here:

We are very lucky to have such a detail source of our local native plant communities. Most of the plants discussed in the Finger Lakes area are also found here in Central NY, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts. For those of you that live in other states I encourage you to find a similar book from your local Cooperative Extensions.

Guide to Plant Communities to the Plant Communities of the Central Finger Lake  Region

Guide to Plant Communities to the Plant Communities of the Central Finger Lake Region

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6 Responses to Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium

  1. Mel Bellar says:

    Isn’t Darrell a trip? I took a couple of 2 day intensive classes with him at NYBG, one on meadows and one on woodland gardens. Both were great but he only could only scratch the surface on plant communities and his wealth of plant knowledge. He showed another side of himself as he demonstrated designing to music! He had a big flip chart and asked the class for a design problem and a style of music and then proceeded to dance the broad sketch of a design on the big pad with pastels. Hmmmmm. Then we had to try it and imagine my consternation, perched at my laptop with AutoCAD and a mouse. I haven’t seen Storm King or the garden at NYBG since he did them. I have to fix that.

    • Don Statham says:

      Funny how many people I know who have studied with Darrel and I only found out once I had met him! The guy gets around. We should organize a trip to some of his gardens.

  2. Annette says:

    That must have been a very inspiring symposium indeed, Don. Didn’t know the book but it sounds interesting. Wonder whether it has something to do with getting older and wiser that we prefer more sustainable schemes to those that are all about control. Without a thorough knowledge of plants you can never be a good landscape or garden designer – that’s a simple fact and it always amazes me that so many don’t have a clue or interest even.

    • Don Statham says:

      Hi Annette, I am just now dipping my toes into the Native Movement but I can see its been around in the US for about 150 years. I can’t wait to read the many essays by the early landscape architects. Many of the ideas about plant communities overlap with The New Perennial Movement. Seems like there is a consciousness about our environment that needs to be addressed.

  3. I have that book and really like it. I especially like that it includes Successional Vegetation on Former Farmland as a Vegetation Types, which is pretty much our entire acreage.

  4. Deborah Banks says:

    Thanks for sharing a few of your notes on the speakers at the Ithaca conference. Good tips on the book and the Plantsmen Nursery. Thanks!

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