WHAT’S HE HOT FOR?
I asked if he’s fickle, continually falling in love with something new. You bet; his favorites change with the seasons. Right now he’s excited about old-fashioned Korean mums like ‘Country Girl’ and ‘Venus’ for their masses of flowers, their tall elegance (unlike the short and stubby more common types). And he loves the white and silver veins of Arum italicum foliage, a plant he collects. Although a Mediterranean plant, it does just fine in his Zone 5B garden in Northeast Pennsylvania.
FAVORITE U.S. SUPPLIERS?
Plenty of ’em. Rice recommends Plant Delights, Seneca Hill, Niche Gardens, North Creek, Bluestone Perennials, Munchkin Nursery, Mount Tahoma, Bon Vivant, and he would have said Heronswood but we all know that story. He also likes the micro nursery Evermay, which specializes in primroses.
ENVIRONMENTAL TRENDS IN BRITAIN
When Rice first came to the U.S. he was surprised by all the flags in people’s lawns indicating the use of pesticides, something that’s never seen in England. In fact, most pesticides have been withdrawn from the market because they’re "reckoned to be environmentally unsound." And hardly anybody uses a lawn service, either, which is no surprise, given the smaller lawns there and the greater numbers of do-it-yourselfers (aka gardeners).
There’s also widespread understanding in Britain of the importance of private gardens as wildlife habitats. Rice explained that when flying over England all you see are fields, not the forests one sees flying over North America, so even small lots are valued as sites for trees, shrubs, berries, seedheads and butterfly plants. Now having listened carefully to England’s Wiggly Wiggler podcasts, I’d heard of the campaign there to Save the Hedgerows, but didn’t quite get who the hedgerows were being saved from. And that’s where it’s ever so helpful to be interviewing a real live Englishman, who can explain that at one point the government was awarding grants for the removal of hedgerows in order that more efficient farm machinery could be used. Now I get it.
And finally, Beth Chatto pioneered the use of drought-tolerant plants with the publication of her Dry Garden in 1978, but with summer droughts in recent years and government prohibitions on watering, there’s now widespread consciousness of the need for water conservation.
No, I didn’t embarrass myself by asking about his private life. But I did take advantage of his vast knowledge to ask about my Euphorbia x martinii, which went bloomless this year. See, it’s one of the weirder perennials, blooming on old stalks, so what’s a gardener to do? Rice suggested I remove the stalks after blooming and then not worry; new ones are sprouting up for next year. Then he recommended a new variegated Euphorbia called ‘Glacier Blue’ that I immediately put on my gotta-have list.
THE RICE GARDEN
No, not rice paddies – Rice’s own garden in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s just under 2 acres of old growth forest, almost all shaded, and the biggest challenge is DEER, lots and lots of DEER. But his concern goes beyond his own garden: "In this great forested country, the forest is in danger of not being able to regenerate because the deer are eating all the seedlings." And not only have deer become invasive but the few plants they don’t eat have gotten out of control, too, like Kalmia, or the hayscented fern that grows in great sheets in the woods (both locally native, like the deer themselves).
ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS?
In Rice’s experience, thinking of
a great book or story idea is the easy part; it’s getting someone to
agree with you that it needs doing and sign you up that’s hard. In
fact, only about 1 in 10 of his ideas ever comes to fruition. And
remember, he has 20+ published books and bunches of awards to his credit, so good luck,
gardenwriter newbies. Lucky for us, we can always write for the Internets.