The Garden Faire, which will be Saturday at Loose Park, offers a great opportunity to talk with individual garden clubs under the umbrella of Gardeners Connect, Brian Chadwick-Robinson says.
Operations manager for Gardeners Connect, Chadwick-Robinson says the group, which has been around since 1958, was originally named the Garden Center Association of Greater Kansas City.
He talked to us recently about gardening, the coming event and his passion for plants.
Why the name change from Garden Center Association to Gardeners Connect?
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A lot of people thought we were a professional group of garden centers, which is not the case. We talked about our mission and came up with a friendlier name that would appeal to both the home gardeners and the landscape professionals.
Has the organization grown?
It maxed out at around 1,200 members in the ’90s, and now we have around 600 members. There was a period of time when people weren’t gardening as much. But now we see it growing again. When the economy went down, vegetable gardening became all the rage.
And as far as programming goes, this organization has grown a lot. We have tomato- and veggie-growing classes that are really popular. We have a whole new audience.
Was gardening always in your blood?
My grandparents and my parents gardened, but there was a time when I was a kid that I hated gardening, because I thought it was work. My dad now says, “I can’t believe you garden.” I say, “Now I garden for fun.”
What’s the most fun aspect of gardening for you?
I tend to grow things that are a little unusual. Echinacea is pretty common, but there are unusual cultivars. I also have a pond, so I grow aquatic plants. I have no grass — it’s all given out to pathways and plants.
My husband is the shade gardener. We have this game where we tend to buy each other plants. It’s nice, because we help each other out, but our gardens are very separate. I don’t do anything in his garden without his approval and vice versa.
Do you also grow veggies?
I try to grow exotic varieties. When I teach tomato classes, I tell people to try new kinds, because eventually they will find their favorites. My favorite might be the Black From Tula. That’s a town in Ukraine where there are very similar growing conditions to Kansas City, so a lot of heirlooms from that part of the world do well here.
I’ve also learned to grow tomatoes in pots, especially cherry tomatoes. The secret is to add 30 to 50 percent topsoil and potting mix.
Are there other veggies or herbs you suggest people try?
Look for high-value crops; things you can’t find easily. I like leeks; I grow Asian pears; lemongrass, which is so much better than what you can find at the market; and alpine strawberries, which have an intense pop of flavor and produce all season long.
Two years ago, I tried water chestnuts just because I wanted to see what the plant looked like. That’s not easy, but I still grow them because they have great rush-like foliage.
Figs and apricots are expensive in the store, and growing your own is fascinating.
What should people be doing in the fall?
It’s the best time to enjoy the garden. A lot of people say the garden isn’t interesting in the fall, but you can change that.
There are plants people don’t buy in spring because they want instant interest. But buy them next spring, and plant things like salvias and spiderwort, and they’ll show off in fall.
And, of course, it’s time to plant daffodils and tulips. I grow species tulips, which tend to perennialize better than the big ones.
Why should people attend the Garden Faire?
Gardeners Connect has 22 affiliate groups, and most will be there. We’re the umbrella organization, and this space (the Garden Center building at Loose Park) provides meeting space. This is a chance to get information from nearly all the groups, whether you want information on peonies or succulents. We’ll have butterflies and kids’ activities, so we want families to come out.
What do you hope the public comes away with after visiting the event?
If you want to know more about peonies, iris or any number of your favorite plants, join the local society. It’s a great way to learn more. Gardeners are some of the friendliest people out there, and they’ll never make you feel stupid for asking questions.
And it’s a great resource to get plants. I’ve learned so much from the native plant society, for instance.
What’s your favorite garden spot?
The Kauffman (Memorial) Garden. It’s open to the public, it’s free and everyone should visit. I always imagine it to be what my garden should look like. Of course, it never does, but it’s fun to imagine.