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March into the ­Garden

Learn from plantsman Bill Cullina and ­benefit Unity Gardens

In our gardens, we can work in concert with nature. Or we can work against it, which will never be “as successful, aesthetically pleasing, functional or inexpensive” as trying to mimic natural processes, says William Cullina, executive director of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. <<photo by Amity Beane>>

This time of year gardeners feel the itch for warm weather. We’re wistful about anything green and have gardening books spread out in inconvenient places in eagerness for another season.
    Scratch the itch by honing your design skills with plantsman, author and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens executive director William Cullina. He comes to Annapolis March 7 to talk about the botany of design.
    Raising consciousness of things local extends to the plants we keep in our gardens. What Cullina means by the botany of design is that limiting factors — soil, sunlight, water, wind — affect the mix of plants that thrive in an area. His rule is observe what’s present. Analyze what’s there, and take photographs, to begin the design.
    In the heavily populated Mid-Atlantic, gardeners are a main support of their local ecosystems. We can work in concert with what is. Or we can work against it, which will never be “as successful, aesthetically pleasing, functional or inexpensive” as trying to mimic natural processes, Cullina says.
    How plants work together is a key issue in the botany of design, which depends on plants that cooperate and contribute to their surroundings.
    “That’s part of the practical, too,” Cullina says. “We have less and less time to take care of landscapes, and it scares people, all the maintenance in putting in a garden.”
    If you want a lower-maintenance landscape, steward the soil over time, he says. Soil stewardship “has the most profound impact on success as a gardener,” he says. “It also means you can have a garden that doesn’t require a lot of input.”
    Valuable as natives are, Cullina doesn’t demand they make up the whole garden. For trees, native is most important. But if you like a peony that was hybridized in Japan, use it, for beauty and its possible contributions.
    Ornamental magnolias, for example, are popular with luna moths, which use the leaves for cocooning, he says. And “bumblebees are just as happy pollinating ornamental mint as they are wild asters.”
    Cullina’s talk benefits Unity Gardens, which makes grants up to $1,000 to community groups undertaking greening projects in Anne Arundel County. Projects include outdoor classrooms, reforestation and rain gardens.


Saturday March 7, 9am-12:30pm at The Key School, 534 Hillsmere Dr., Annapolis. $50: rsvp: ­www.unitygardens.org.