By Jeannine Romero.
Karl Gercens, East Conservatory manager at internationally renowned Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and dedicated garden globe trotter, flew into San Diego from Japan to speak at the SDHS November meeting, and later took the red eye home to begin installation of the Christmas display in the Longwood Conservatory, which opens Thanksgiving Day.
Gercens, director of the conservatory for the past twenty years, noted that Longwood draws one million visitors a year. But in December alone, 400,000 people flock to the Christmas display. This year’s theme is Trees Reimagined, which will include a tree made of bird houses. He noted that each year is unique, and past displays never reappear again.
But if Gercens was experiencing any jet lag during the meeting, one would never know. Despite a flight from Japan, where he garden hopped, his energy level was decidedly upbeat, as he excitedly described to the audience his favorite gardens around the globe.
He has been dedicated to gardens since first grade, when he started gardening with his grandmother in Mississippi.
He laments that horticulture is a "dying industry" without as many nurseries as there once were, and said that Longwood hopes to inspire gardeners to pursue their own garden passions.
Longwood is definitely "not a botanical garden," he said. "The purists hate it," he acknowledged, saying that he just tells people to enjoy Longwood. “It is a fantasy land.”
Currently, chrysanthemums are on display and the conservatory features 14,000 blooms on a single stem. From January to March, orchids will be on display and afterwards, they are all sold. A moth orchid arch is made of 300 Phalaenopsis blooms. “This is not about rare and unusual,” he said, “it is all about inspirational.”
Numerous features make the conservatory unique. An acacia passage dates back to 1925, Gercens said. They bloom beautifully, albeit briefly, in February, and then get cut back. He boasts, "We can grow croton and tulips side by side." Several different rooms feature different styles, such as a dry garden and Mediterranean.
The conservatory also features a 4,200-square-foot indoor green wall planted in between eighteen individual restrooms. "It is an experience to go to the bathroom," he said, proudly. "We were voted the best bathroom in America," Gercens said, referring to a 2014 award by Cintas, a uniform and supply company that runs the competition.
Gercens travels frequently during the year and Instagrams his 100-plus days of garden visits a year. His recent Japan trip racked up thirty-six public and private gardens in nine days. He said he was "floored by Japan."
He encourages everyone to "support gardens, visit them, and tell everyone about them."
His recommendations of gardens and best times to visit them can be organized by calendar, too. A garden travel year in a Karl Gercens' guidebook might look like this:
January: Upton Oaks, and the Broadfield Gardens, New Zealand
February: Garden art, Morocco
March: Anza-Borrego Desert Gardens, California
April: Generalife Gardens at Alhambra, Spain, and Serres Royales de Laeken, Brussels (“There is a greenhouse of more acres than I can count. It is open two weeks out of the year in April. Plan your trip around that—it is totally worth it,” he says.
May: Chicago Botanical Garden, Illinois (for poppy inspiration); Sakonnet Garden, Rhode Island
June: De Tuinen Van Appeltern, location of the 2012 Floriade Expo in the Netherlands;Floriade Expo will next be held in Almere from April to October, 2022
July: Drummond Castle, Scotland
August: Thuya Garden, Maine (see the lilies in bloom!)
September: The Bay Garden, Ireland; everything is lush and green with great color combinations
October: Leaf peeping, around Columbus Day, in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont
November: Gardens in Japan
December: Beechwood Gardens, Johannesburg, South Africa, (where there is “more floral diversity than all of Europe,” and the weather is gorgeous)
Other favorite gardens around the world, he noted, are throughout the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina ("the Paris of South America"); Quito Botanical Gardens with twenty-foot fuchsias (his flower crush); and Iguazu Falls in Brazil.