by Dawn W Todd, Intern

This week I had the pleasure and good fortune to interview Ciscoe Morris, the effervescent and energetic gardener, television and radio host, teacher and lecturer, writer of blogs, newspaper articles and books, leader of garden tours to exotic locations…did I leave anything out?  The fact that my Horticultural Careers instructor made me do it is entirely beside the point.

I was supposed to find someone who was already doing what I want to do, and I had heard from classmates that Ciscoe is a great guy; friendly and funny and easy to talk to, and generous with his time. So, I screwed up my courage and sent an email through his web page. He wrote back! And he is a great guy, exactly as described.

I won’t go into the details of how Ciscoe came to be (among so many other things) a garden writer. Instead I will pass along some of the information he gave me that bears on the purchase and care of plants. Next week, we’ll talk about sustainability.

Ciscoe is a plant collector—the garden he shares with his wife, Mary, is said to be a lush wonderland of the familiar and the exotic. But after all, he lives on a city-sized lot.

Q: “What makes you decide to give precious garden space to a particular plant?”

Ciscoe: “First I’ll tell you that I’m a total plant addict. I love plants with a passion. If you see a plant you love—later on you’ll figure out where you can put it. You’ll have to figure out the proper conditions for it. Buy it and then find a spot—but you have to be ruthless in removing it if it doesn’t perform. It’ll be three years before you know. The first year it sits…and it’s the third year before you really know. Don’t be afraid to move it. I find plants and bring them home and see where I find a perfect combination…I’m constantly moving plants.

You have to try growing a plant to really learn what it needs. You can’t just read about it in a book. The real fun is trying to grow it…plants don’t always follow what the tag says. Take chances and have fun.”

Does Ciscoe ever plant things as an experiment, just to see if he can grow them? He does. He said again that you can’t always know what a plant needs by what the plant tag says. He points out that the tags aren’t necessarily written for our climate. You have to try and figure out what will make the plant succeed.

So what about the use of native plants? You all know that the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden contains a blend of Pacific Northwest native plants and unusual exotics.  How does Ciscoe feel about the trend to focus on natives?

He told me he loves native plants, but, “To me, if you use only native plants, that’s a little like asking Monet to paint with three colors.” Ciscoe went on to say, “There are tons of plants from all over the world that don’t take over, but have the same drought tolerance, provide habitat, and also have color, flowers, something else that makes them an incredible addition. Using a combination of the two…birds, insects have natives to rely on, but a constant search for other plants that fulfill the same functions; that adds color, interest, fun to gardening.”

That’s a view of gardening that I suspect Dr. Kruckeberg would agree with.

Ciscoe is going to be speaking at the NW Flower and Garden Show on Thursday, Feb 6 at 11:30 a.m. and Saturday, Feb 8 at 1:30 p.m. His wife Mary will be speaking on Wednesday, Feb 5th at 3:15 p.m.  Please don’t forget to stop by the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden booth while you’re there!

Check in later for Part II of the Ciscoe Morris interview.