C.L. Fornari will deliver a lecture on “The 21st Century Flower Garden” with the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons. C.L. FORNARI
Cape Cod gardening writer and podcast and radio host C.L. Fornari, a self-described “plant geek,” is coming to Bridgehampton this Sunday afternoon, November 13, to deliver a lecture on “The 21st Century Flower Garden,” presented by the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons and open to the public.
Fornari, the author of eight books on gardening in addition to hosting the “GardenLine” call-in show on WXTK in Cape Cod and co-hosting the “Plantrama” podcast, said during an interview Monday that her talk will be about how flower gardening has changed.
“Certainly it’s changed in the last 40 years, but it really changed in the last 20 years,” she said.
Fornari will touch on the many purposes of a modern flower garden, from pollinator pathways, water conservation and privacy screening to cuttings for celebrations and random acts of kindness. She said people are increasingly interested in local: local food, local wine — and local flowers for a wedding or party. They want to grow their own cutting flowers, she explained, and she shared that she will talk about ways to use flowers to improve the moods of gardeners and others.
“You could really make a difference in somebody’s day with a simple bouquet of flowers that you picked that morning,” she said.
Regarding privacy screening, she presents a number of flowering options to use rather than privet.
“If your property is big enough, you certainly can have privet hedges that do so well in seaside areas like Long Island and Nantucket and all,” she said. “Not everyone wants privet, however. … Not everybody has room for privet. Properties are smaller now that there are more people and more people are living in condominiums or in smaller houses — and they want privacy and they want that privacy to do double or triple duty.”
While a privet hedge does give privacy, it doesn’t do much else and needs to be sheared regularly, she noted. “There are other things that you can use for privacy that give you flowers for pollinators, that give you a fragrance, that give you color,” she said.
And these options can provide privacy in a more compact space than a privet hedge, she added.
Trellises with annual flowering vines are one option, and there are a growing number of Hydrangea paniculata varieties to choose from.
“There’s a new Hydrangea introduced every 10 minutes, and some of them are tall and narrow,” Fornari said. “And so they give you that flowering from July into October. Many of them are a combination of fertile and infertile flowers, and having fertile flowers on those plants means that attracts the bees.”
She also recommends using container plants for privacy, such as taller annuals and tropicals.
“There’s a tall, dark, almost black grass called ‘vertigo’ that you can grow in a container,” she said, “and for the summer you have privacy on the edge of a patio or a deck for example.”
In the 21st century flower garden, climate and persistent drought are also concerns. Fornari offers advice on using water wisely, including grouping plants with high water needs rather than spreading them around the landscape, which requires irrigation in more places and leads to more water waste.
She said it used to be that gardeners could just think about which plants like the sun and which like the shade. “Now we need to be thinking about which plants need water and how much water, and we need to group plants together that are very drought tolerant so that we can have a beautiful garden and a garden that supports pollinators and that has flowers that we want to see but requires less irrigation or no irrigation at all,” she said.
Fornari does not subscribe to the idea that there is only one way to do something in the garden. She said she believes in the importance of flexibility in the garden and in life. And in terms of helping gardeners reach a point where they are conserving water or supporting insects, she believes it’s better to get them there in steps rather than telling them the one way that they have to do things and shaming them for wanting some turf in front of their house.
She said she is all about being mindful of working with nature and that it is something everyone needs to embrace, whether they want a lawn or not. “We should look first to how nature grows plants. … No matter what style of gardening that we are doing, looking to how nature does it is valuable information.”
Fornari has also seen flower garden design change and become more sophisticated over the decades.
“When I learned to garden, flower gardens were planted in stair-step fashion,” she recalled. “You put the low things in the front, then you put the medium things in the middle, and then you put the tall things behind.”
But garden design has been going in the direction of how nature grows plants, and nature does not grow plants in small, medium and large, she said. “Nature grows plants in a community, and yes, there are small, medium, large growing together, but they’re all growing together, right? The low plants are underneath the tall plants and the medium plants. And sometimes everything is short early in the season and then the tall plants rule the day toward the end of the season.”
And style is also changing because gardeners realize the importance of native plants, which they are planting more of alongside the exotic things that they also want to grow, she said.
Fornari is originally from Wisconsin but has lived on Cape Cod since 1993. She resides in the Town of Sandwich at her home that she calls Poison Ivy Acres, a 2.5-acre property that slopes down to a 138-acre kettle pond. An acre of her land is actively gardened, while the acre and a half closest to the pond is only managed to remove invasive species.
She said one reason she named it Poison Ivy Acres is because there is a lot of poison ivy, planted everywhere by birds who spread the seeds. She removes some of the poison ivy, but not all of it. She noted that it is a native plant, and other than the fact it causes rashes, it has everything going for it: great fall color, grows in sun or shade, grows vertically and as a groundcover and provides berries to birds.
“I also call the property Poison Ivy Acres for a bigger reason, and that is that a garden isn’t just the pretty flowers that you want to grow,” she said. “I mean, a garden is those pretty flowers that you want to grow — and it’s the insects and it’s the rabbits and it’s the deer and it’s the weeds, right? And if you want to be at peace, I think, in your garden, you find a way to embrace all of that. You find a way to embrace the gorgeous flowers and the unwanted energy, right? And if you can take that philosophy in the garden and in life, you’re going to be a happier person because there’s no such thing as a garden without weeds and there’s no such thing as a life without difficulty.”
Fornari’s most recent book is called “Sand & Soil: Creating Beautiful Gardens on Cape Cod and the Islands,” and before that she published “The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining.” The “Plantrama” podcast is currently on hiatus as she works on her next book, which she said treats common interests in the garden with a great deal of humor and will include her own illustrations, getting back to her roots as an artist before she became a garden communicator.
C.L. Fornari’s lecture will take place at Bridgehampton Community House, 2368 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton, on Sunday, November 13, at 2 p.m. Wearing a mask is optional but encouraged. Anyone may attend. Admission is $10 for nonmembers and free for members of the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One fine body…