Posts tagged horticulture

A wide variety of plants at the Los Angeles Arboretum, presented for judging at the 2018 Fern and Exotic Plant Show. Photos by Kathy Rudnyk.

It was during the dead of winter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1829 when the first large scale garden and flower show was first held. Hosted by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Flower Show featured displays and competitions in flower artistry, garden design, and horticulture. Years later, an indoor marketplace opened featuring the latest plants – from mail order nurseries and local garden centers, to photography and tabletop décor contests. As the show grew, numerous weeklong festivities sponsored by big companies kicked-off the spring garden season months ahead of the event. The surrounding local economy benefitted, now attracting over 250,000 people, and generating over $8,000,000 dollars annually in tax revenue (provided the intrusion of foul winter weather).

As this American show in Philadelphia gained prominence, other flower and garden events blossomed around the country, inspiring the growth of other garden shows and events. These shows include:

  • The Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, the youngest on the block opening in 1989
  • The Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle, Washington
  • The notable and much lauded Chelsea Flower Show in London, England.

The post-parade public viewing of Rose Parade floats offers an excellent opportunity to inspect the fine craftsmanship of seeds and flower pieces arranged into realistic photo-like imagery up close.

Each year thousands of people stricken with spring fever come together inside halls, botanical gardens, and an outdoor marketplace to view living plants – or in the case of our local Rose Parade, line along streets on New Year’s Day for hours to admire floral covered floats. These are activities can be difficult for non-participants to understand unless you’ve been to one of these events yourself.

It takes years to plan the largest of flower and garden shows. The largest of the consumer shows and parades are logistically complex to plan, many which are held during the dead of winter or at the dawn of spring. As someone who has coordinated plants for these events, I can share insight about the challenges related to shipping dormant plants intended for display for only a few days, or maybe even only a couple of hours.

Being a lover of evergreen foliage, I always wondered how a consumer could find beauty in a tree or shrub without any foliage. It inspired me to figure out how to bottle up the excitement I saw over a plant that looked like red sticks inside an exhibit hall at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show and bring it back to Southern California. Even without foliage Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’ (Red-Osier Dogwood) could present a welcome relief in Los Angeles where eternal green foliage is seemingly on everyone’s planting list. I have been fortunate enough to find just the right places and spaces to celebrate these winter dormant colorful architectural shrubs in Los Angeles.

In March, it may still be snowing outside in Philadelphia, but year after year gardening enthusiasts bring their plants to the city for judging. Their dedicated efforts face a panel of critical judges who inspect each specimen, leaf by leaf and stem by stem, searching the perfect plant according to theme or class of plants. Countless tropical plants and orchids are on display all along tables for judging, and competition is really fierce, with significant prizes at stake. I once attended a Camellia show at Descanso Gardens where tables lined with sparkly Waterford crystal were offered as trophies!

Award winning entries at the Los Angeles Arboretum’s popular Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale.

During the Great Recession, many of these larger flower and garden shows struggled. The costs were too high for many nurseries to continue exhibiting at these events. For the average American struggling with rising living costs and less disposable income to spend on gardening and traveling, attendance dropped dramatically, only seeing an uptick from 2014 on. Today, these shows still struggle to appeal to gardeners beyond the aging Baby Boomer generation.

My favorite garden shows are local events featuring a specific type of plant, like succulents, cacti, orchids, ferns or bonsai. Even though I have been in the horticulture industry for over 25 years, I always discover amazing plants at these dedicated shows, revealing fresh observations that creatively inspire me or help me mentor a younger designer with a passion for plants. Recently, I went to the Fern and Exotic Plant Show where I saw tables of terrarium and hanging plants, presenting me with new ways to look at ferns, specifically their foliage and the spores underneath each leaf!

Learning about orchids is a fun opportunity at The Huntington’s annual International Orchid Show and Sale!

Attending plant and flower shows gives enthusiasts and professionals alike the opportunity to get close up and personal with specimens, like this table full of various Epiphyllum hybrids.

The value of plant and flower shows for landscape professionals is they allow us all the opportunity to get really up close and personal with specimens, allowing attendees to glean knowledge for future landscape design projects and opening the doors to countless creative possibilities (Tip: I do recommend attending these shows with friends with the patience to permit enough time to study each leaf or flower obsessively).

I harbor hopes younger generations will become interested in flower and plant shows, including the more focused local events, planting the seeds to grow new horticulture communities online that might flourish into new careers and help continue the celebration of plants throughout the year, across the country, and throughout the world!





Photo by Katharine Rudnyk

After over 20 years working at a couple of garden centers, a wholesale nursery, and volunteering at a botanical garden, I’ve always wanted to use my skills in horticulture around Downtown Los Angeles.

“What if I build a pollinator pathway through Broadway?
“What about a bioswale down 5th Street?”
“Vine art on the Convention Center!”

Now I get to dream with the dreamers at AHBE Landscape Architects, professionals who bring these same type of big ideas to life! Urban horticulture is definitely a new term and career opportunity for people interested in caring for plants. As people hunger for more plant life within urban environments, specialists will be necessary to insure their sustainability and survivability.

The history of urban horticulture has evolved from the care and maintenance of community gardens within a city setting to a more dynamic urban link between the science, design, and the maintenance of plants. Limited availability of irrigation water, tall expansive shade making buildings, and expensive real estate plots are forever present in the city center of Los Angeles. With that said, becoming a team member of a design studio has made my discussions about on-going urban horticultural challenges quite lively.

MLK Medical Center Campus master plan. Image: AHBE Landscape Architecture

MLK Medical Center Campus master plan. Image: AHBE Landscape Architecture

You would never imagine the challenges a design studio debates over before planting a single tree, shrub, or flower, all with the goal of creating a slice of paradise along a city sidewalk. We consider a dizzying amount of details: whether a tree will drip sap onto people underneath, determining how tree roots will grow and affect features on the surface over the years, how to incorporate natural biological pest control – like ladybugs – to protect the planting area from aphids, strategizing how to direct pedestrians and pets onto paths and away from trees and plants, figuring which plants are best for keeping the pollen count low, and choosing water efficient groundcover that smells fragrant and keeps the tree’s roots shaded without the need to be pruned every Wednesday. In sum, it’s not as easy as you thought, right?

Now your experience will become even more enjoyable because urban horticulture and landscape architecture have teamed up.

Besides survivability, urban horticulture in Los Angeles has another challenge: permanency. According to Otis Report on the Creative Economy 2015, every 1 in 6 jobs in Los Angeles are employed by the creative economy. Large industries within the creative economy include entertainment, fashion, and publishing. Creativity definitely brings change, and does so quickly.

Landscape architecture in Los Angeles County has definitely been affected by new creative waves of design to save water, build lucrative and fashionable outdoor living work/play opportunities, combat against devastating pest problems, and improve city food production inside a median strip. An urban horticulturist needs to react to those quick transformations quickly while also being respectful of the beauty that nature has to offer after years of establishment.

I am looking forward to growing a wonderful partnership with landscape architecture, all in the hopes to help everyone experience beauty, sustainability, and the rewards of urban life through the partnership between horticulture and landscape architecture.


Photos: Kathy Rudnyk

Photos: Kathy Rudnyk

When I run into friends, they always ask about Penelope, my plant. Lately, they have been asking why I haven’t said much about her. The last thing you want to ask someone who is passionate about plants is if their favorite plant has moved on to become compost.

In December, Penelope, a Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum) went dormant. Recently, a bud has emerged from her 20+ lbs corm, destined to become a very stinky flower or a very tall leaf.

My husband and I bought Penelope at the Los Angeles Arboretum at a live auction back in 2009.  After beating out the last bidder, I took home a small #1 container with her inside. Before leaving, I got some terrific care advice from Living Collections curator, Jim Henrich:  “Keep her soil dry during dormancy, but make sure her soil isn’t too soggy, or she will rot. Houseplant food is her favorite.”

Named after the actress Penelope Cruz, we told all of our horticulture friends about our plant on Facebook and Instagram, making mention of her at every given opportunity: at parties, the grocery store line, or work. She became one of the family, and she was easy to care for…until we realized that she would eventually reach 10′ tall and became too heavy to move. We eventually decided to move Penelope outdoors.


Winter came, and our flowering friend went dormant again as expected. She would always turn yellow – looking awful – like we were bad plant parents. We bought a 36″ fiberglass pot at the swap meet, as she had grown to such large proportions, her roots eventually broke through the container. We recently changed the soil within her pot, and her roots have now permanently anchored underneath a Morus alba (Fruitless Mulberry).

Over the years, I thought, there was no way she could survive temperatures under 50 degrees. According to everything I’ve read online, Penelope should be dead. When I went to the Huntington Gardens and Library in San Marino, California and inquired about this peculiarity, the collection curator noted that when they attempted to grow a Corpse Flower outside, their specimen expired. 

“You have something special.


Penelope is special. She is a rare and endangered flowering plant native to Western Sumatra. The Corpse Flower gets its name from the large, smelly inflorescence that it produces, a scent evolved to attract flies that pollinate the plant within a 48 hour bloom cycle. If the timing is just right, the bloom should happen within 10 years. It grows within a rainforest that is slowly disappearing, because development is threatening its limestone bluffs. Yet, here she is, living a much different life across the globe in Southern California.