Horticultural Alliance Shows Off Creative Flair

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What do gardeners and plantaholics do when they’re not outdoors on their knees with their fingers in the dirt? They talk to other gardeners and swap news on incredible plants they’ve discovered. Or what plants the deer are eating now that they haven’t eaten before.

One of the great gathering points for East End gardeners is the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons. This group of passionate plant lovers maintains a library, hosts lectures and workshops, offers local garden tours and takes trips to notable gardens and gardening events. The organization also awards scholarships for deserving students pursuing an education in horticulture. The all-volunteer board and committee chairs and members put all these programs together.

One of the group’s great labors of love, which is also a fundraiser to support the Horticultural Alliance’s activities, is the annual Garden Fair. This year’s fundraising event was held on Saturday, May 18, on the Bridgehampton Historical Society grounds.

The fair, which is open to all, offers a treasure trove of plants for purchase. Proceeds support the alliance’s educational mission to share a love of all things horticultural with the East End community.

This year’s preview party was held on Friday, May 17. This well attended gathering provided a highly anticipated chance for the gardening community to get together. It also introduced a new feature: a silent auction of container plantings created and donated by members of the East End horticultural community.

The container auction was born at a brainstorming dinner last fall, when incoming president Elaine Peterson suggested that each of the 13 board members of the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons make a container of their own choosing. There has always been a raffle table of items donated by local individuals and businesses at the preview party, but no one liked begging for donations. The auction provided an alternative.

“The criteria,” explained Ms. Peterson, “would be that [the container] should be small enough to fit into a normal-sized car and easily liftable by one or two people.”

And, she said, she wanted people to have fun with the project. It was not to be competitive.

“Knowing how much our board members love plants and gardening, I was confident that if we followed that simple direction then buyers would be happy and delighted, too,” she said.

Once they began the project, the board members realized they didn’t need to stop at 13 planters. As a result, they asked a few dedicated alliance members to participate too. Then a letter went out to the greater East End horticultural community inviting others to participate.

“We are always looking for more ways to get the professional, commercial, and other non-profit horticultural community members involved with the HAH,” said Ms. Peterson. “And this was an opportunity for them to show off who they are and what they can do.”

The horticultural world jumped at the invitation. In the end, the silent auction featured more than 50 creative containers. They came from members of the Horticultural Alliance, top local nurseries and garden centers, distinguished landscape architects and designers, area public gardens— including the Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack—and luminaries in the Hamptons horticultural universe—such as Mac Griswold, Jack Lenor Larsen of LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton and Rick Bogusch of the Peconic Land Trust’s Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton.

The containers on display were as diverse and imaginative as their creators. There were containers devoted to shade plants, to deer-resistant (at least for now) plants, and to colorful annuals deployed in creative ways. One notable theme was succulents—they showed up in stone troughs and dishes, ceramic planters and pots, and in a range of sizes. There were teeny-tiny miniature succulents and bigger, sculptural ones.

All-foliage planters were also on the scene, offering a colorful alternative to flowers without any need to deadhead plants or worry about planning successions of bloom to last all season. Imaginative combinations of leafy plants—colorful coleus, trailing sweet potato vine, deep purple oxalis, ivies, plectranthus, dracaena and dichondra—opened up new avenues of design for home gardeners’ experimentation.

One popular plant that showed up in a number of containers was golden creeping Jenny (lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) a trailer that will spill over the edge of a pot or cover the ground in a garden. The bright chartreuse-golden color harmonizes with reds and oranges and lights up a pot of deep purple ipomoea ‘Blackie’ or New Zealand flax (phormium ‘Atropurpureum’).

There were stately formal containers; and flights of fancy, too. Susan Kennedy Zeller offered the “Big Truck Nursery,” with a toy John Deere dump truck filled with an assortment of flowers and foliage. And Bettina Benson’s whimsical “Tiny Troughs” were two stone troughs planted with miniature hostas and epimediums scaled down to dollhouse size.

The evening’s honoree was David Seeler of The Bayberry nursery in Amagansett. Mr. Seeler is widely known and respected as a nurseryman, but, said HAH president Elaine Peterson in introducing him, not many people know he is also a distinguished landscape architect. She also praised him as a supporter of the horticultural community in many ways.

Mr. Seeler, who is marking his 50th year in horticulture, paid tribute to his peers in the nursery industry here on the East End. He remarked that in terms of display quality and plant offerings, nurseries in the Hamptons set the bar very high.

With this year’s fair a pleasant memory and the dedicated volunteers who put it all together getting some much-needed rest, planning will soon begin for next year’s big event. East End plant lovers, get ready. In the meantime, consider taking in a lecture or two, or becoming a member. To learn more, visit hahgarden.com or call 537-2223.

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