A spy among the plant geeks



As promised, I was able to stop by part of the Ofa
Perennial Plant Conference
, a get-together for plant growers and retailers,
held here in Buffalo Sunday through today.

 For some reason, I find myself intensely curious about what
plant growers and sellers talk about when they get together at events like
this. My first question: why Buffalo? According to conference staffer Brian
McLaughlin, they originally wanted Connecticut, but Buffalo was also central
for a large number of companies that produce perennials—for example, the Sunday
tours included visits to Dickman Farms, who produce for Ball, the herbaceous
test plots at Cornell, and Baker’s acres, who grow 1000 varieties of perennials
and 125 herbs.

 During the Unplugged freeform discussion, I found myself
deciphering phrases such as “TC plants have no juvenility,” and “vernalization
requires soil temperatures of 42-45°.” One thing I got out of it is that tissue
culture causes issues for growers that does not happen with traditional
propagated plants. Much of the discussion centered on how continuous light
cycles help plants bulk up. It was significant that the plants used as examples
were echinaceas; one imagines that growers are jumping through all these hoops
to make sure we get those fluffy pink and bright orange and yellow varieties that
are wowing everybody at nurseries these days.

A discussion of green roofs was both exciting and
frightening; one of the leaders was Kees Govers of LiveRoof Ontario. (They
donated some of the small panels we used for a Show House project here in
Buffalo.) As you may know, any construction in Toronto over 20k square feet
requires some green roofing. But despite the huge potential of this technology,
it pretty much takes a village to make a green roof successful. If any link in
the chain—architect, contractors, plant providers, installers—is weak and if
maintenance isn’t planned for, green roofs fail (usually, with litigation). On the other hand, if Walmart
is considering green roofs, there’s every chance that the 182,400 acres of
potential green roofs in North America could become reality.

Next post: perennials for landscaping (some surprising, most

Previous articleWeigh in on draft of “Lawn Care We Like”
Next articleHard truths about perennials for landscaping (Ofa Conference, continued)
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. You’re so right about green roofs! The rather famous one at Sidwell Friends School (where the Obama girls go), done by the famous firm Anthropogon, is totally dead. (I heard the cause was wrong plants to grow without irrigation.)
    That’s why Ed Snodgrass and Linda McIntyre are writing their green-roof book covering all those components you list that are required for success.

  2. There is a new downtown Chapel Hill high-rise condo being built that (due to height and affordability concerns) caused great controversy. That said, it is going to have green roofs and be LEEDS certified. At least our town is making these requirements of new construction.


  3. It’s a small world. I just visited the nursery that supplied (and is maintaining) the green roof on the Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco. And here you are, on the other coast (central?) and green roofs are also a hot topic. Very interesting.

  4. Wow, that was interesting. Yes, tissue culture often changes plants. With daylilies, it is a huge problem. They don’t take well to TC, although for years, hybridizers have been trying. Those Echinaceas are a wait see thing where I live. Lots of folks were frustrated by the yellow ones which quickly died.~~Dee

  5. It sounds like an interesting conference even if you’re not fluent in the language!

    I have to wonder if that specialized culture is why those echinaceas wow us at the nurseries but then go into decline in home gardens. I’ve been terribly disappointed by them.

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