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talk about this silly thing called Echinacea. If you’re like 80 per cent of the public, you’ve probably killed more than you’ve done well with…because of the hybridization of these Echinacea. Hybridization has taken our tough, tough plant, Echinacea purpurea, and hybridized it with other species to get yellows, oranges, and mangos and all sorts of other nonsense and so the vigour has simply gone down.” Armitage goes on, “Because if you’re in a garden centre, dang, it’s all about being successful. All about…your neigh- bour, being successful. This is the Armitage key to how to buy and sell Echinacea. “Anything purple, anything white, has purpurea in it. The more purple, the more white, [then] the more purpurea is in it; the more chance of success. And you [the nursery folk] say the only stuff that sells is mango. Anything double oughta be stuck in a trash bin! I think anybody that doubles an Echinacea should go to jail…but that’s just me,” he chuckles. “Why would you do that to a plant? Any of the fancy

ones…do not buy a fancy Echinacea in the fall. It doesn’t have time to get the roots down and into the ground as well as it needs to, to be established. Purpureas can be sold until the middle of August. Fancy stuff…I’m talking about the Mangos and the weird double things…they generally will not do as well, unless you plant them in the spring, and then they’ll come back. We’re losing Echinaceas in zone 7 and they’re supposed to be hardy to zone 3. It just shouldn’t happen.” It’s that opinionated frenzy to educate us — gardeners and

industry folk — which has made him such a force. He continues to make huge contributions to horticulture,

The Margarita Sweet Potato Vine is probably the most widely-known introduction by Dr. Allan Armitage. With it’s brilliant chartreuse leaves and bold texture, it is found shining in planters all over the world, complimenting and contrasting foliage and flowers and adding the perfect amount of texture!

a bigger difference than any other horticulturist in the last century. Dr. Armitage manages to be affable yet opinionated —

an unusual combination. It’s a treat to sit down and chat with him! He works with “anyone that touches a plant”, and much of his advice is directed at professionals. He says we need to try to communicate more with people who are not so much gardeners as trying to make their properties beautiful. Still, he admits that the world needs “crazy plant people” to teach us about what plants do well where. Many people ask him, “Should we use common names?”

He replies “ABSOLUTELY! That’s how we communicate with the public! It’s all about getting people excited about plants.” Armitage believes we need to tell more stories to get

people engaged. In fact, he’s written whole books on the topic. He says, “You can tell people that Bergenia is a fantas- tic plant, and why, and they’ll forget. If you tell them why the common name is pigsqueak — if you wet your thumb and forefinger and draw them across the leaf, it squeaks — THAT they’ll remember!” For instance, “dogwood” is a name that evolved from “dagwood”. “Dag” is an old English word for dagger — the wood was so strong you could make pointed things (tools) and it became known as dag tree or dag wood! Nothing to do with dogs whatsoever. Fascinat- ing. One of his passions is talking about new cultivars and whether they’re useful or not. On Echinacea: “We’re gonna

46 • Fall 2016

constantly releasing and updating books which educate and engage the public. (His treatise, Herbaceous Peren- nial Plants, was named one of the top 75 books in the last 75 years by the American Horticultural Society.) Now he’s released a new app for smart phones: ‘Armitage's Greatest Perennials and Annuals’. This app should revolutionize the ease with which the public can learn about plants and professionals can sell their designs. Even garden centres could use it to help their staff learn

more about plants and what does well where. Showing customers that a plant, like False Indigo, which, he says, “looks like a stick in a pot” at the nursery, how it will be beautiful in their gardens, sells the plant and increases success, bringing customers back. The app even includes lists of plants for pollinators, deer resistance and drought- tolerance, all with great advice and insight from the man himself and all part of his belief in “solution gardening”. Says Armitage, “I’m still very enthusiastic about what the

future is but it’s not the future of gardening. It’s the future of decorating. I have a lovely garden but my neighbours have a decoration. It’s much more functional. We’ve got to get those people buying plants. A lot of gardening has to do with solution gardening; deer, critters. We need a “deer table” [at garden centres].” With this type of advice, in the past and in the future, it’s

clear the Dr. Allan Armitage will continue to make a differ- ence, and continue to be one of the most influential people in horticulture. x Sean James NPD, is a member of Master Gardeners of Ontario and is president of Fern Ridge Landscaping. He’s also chair of Landscape Ontario’s Environmental Stewardship Committee and a graduate of the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture. He had a chance to sit down with and interview Dr. Armitage and to hear him speak at the Niagara Parks Alumni Conference in September.

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