Bob Lyons will present "The Color of the Native Plant Palette … and other Related Thoughts" on Sept. 4 in UD's Townsend Hall.

Native Delaware: World of color

Learn about native color in the garden at UD lecture planned Sept. 4

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9:22 a.m., Aug. 21, 2012--Get John Frett and Lyons talking about color in the garden and (good-natured) sparks are sure to fly. 

Frett is a connoisseur of a “refined” color palette. Director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, Frett gets more enthused about the form, texture and structure of a plant than the shade of its blooms. In contrast, when it comes to color, Lyons’ motto is “bring it on.”    

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“You should see the containers on my front porch,” says Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture. “Oranges, yellows, reds, blues, purples – I’ve got every flower color imaginable. I’m not into the bland stuff, like some people are.” 

“Bob is all about ‘in-your-face color,’” retorts Frett with a chuckle. 

Although they enjoy tongue-in-cheek needling, Frett and Lyons also respect each other’s talents and sensibilities. So when Frett needed an expert to talk about color in the landscape, he looked no farther than Lyons, who has lectured widely on the subject. 

Lyons will present “The Color of the Native Plant Palette … and other Related Thoughts” on Sept. 4 in UD’s Townsend Hall. A kick-off event for the annual UD Botanic Gardens Fall Plant Sale, the talk will focus on readily available herbaceous plants that pack a wallop of color.

Like the spiky, show-stopping red blooms of cardinal flower. Or, the bright yellow flower heads of sunflower, which can extend a foot in diameter, on plants that are 12 feet tall. Or, the vibrant, tangerine-orange blooms of butterfly weed.

What’s more, this panoply of color comes from plants that are native to Delaware.  

“Some people think that the exciting colors are only found on exotic plants and that blandness reigns in the world of natives,” says Lyons. “But bright color can be achieved with many northeastern U.S. native herbaceous species and other North American species.”      

After his house burned to the ground two years ago, Lyons decided to re-build on the same site and has focused his time ever since on the reconstruction project. As a result, some invasives, including Japanese knotweed, have made inroads into his yard. This summer -- his first in the new home – Lyons has plunged into revitalizing his garden.     

To satisfy his craving for color, he has planted native varieties of azalea and hibiscus as well as alumroot, Joe Pye weed and butterfly weed. A small meadow, predominantly of wildflowers, will be planted this fall. Lyons hopes to feature a jumble of hues, from the purples and lavenders of New England aster to coreopsis, in shades of lemon and butter yellow.  Closer to the house, Lyons’ garden becomes more intensely cultivated, with pops of color from native perennials such as Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), which has bright red and yellow blooms.

Lyons also uses annuals for a blast of color. He selects non-natives, such as petunias, geraniums and impatiens, as well as annuals native to Delaware, including Black-eyed Susan and coreopsis.

Lyons’ Sept. 4 lecture will feature plenty of photos of brightly hued private and public gardens. He’ll also present info about the “fast trackers” – those new hybrid varieties of natives notable for their color. Indian Summer Rudbecka and Sunrise Echinacea are two such “current darlings of the industry,” says Lyons.  

The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 for members of the UD Botanic Garden Friends group; $10 for nonmembers. The plant sale will be held Sept. 7, 4 p.m.-7 p.m., and Sept. 8, 8 a.m.- 11 a.m. To register for the lecture, or for more info about either event, call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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