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13 December 2021

Leslie Harris: The Garden 'Splainer

It’s funny how the most inconsequential events can send life in a different direction. For example, because Leslie Harris’ first baby was such a good sleeper 35 years ago, Leslie is now a garden design consultant and host of her own podcast “Into the Garden with Leslie.” That baby’s love of a nap gave Leslie, who was on maternity leave, free time to putter in the garden, and develop a deep love of it. She eventually founded LH Gardens in Charlottesville, Virginia, with the horticulturist team doing “fine gardening” for clients: setting up container plants and garden beds. Leslie has since handed over the business to concentrate on podcasting, radio, blogging, speaking and consulting. Some topics you might hear her garden ’splain are “Summer Doldrums: Tips on how to maintain your enthusiasm as the season gets hot and boring,” or perhaps appropriately “How to put your winter garden to bed.” After all, putting her baby to bed was what started all of this. It’s what we’ve always believed, a good nap changes everything.

JM: What have you learned from the quarantine?

LH: The garden has always been my happy place. It has been pleasantly re-affirming to learn how much it has helped others.

JM: What is the focus of your podcast, “Into the Garden with Leslie”?

LH: Making gardening accessible.

JM: What’s your favorite season?

LH: Forever it was all about summer because, as a former teacher, I could take a break and get into my Connecticut garden. Now, I like fall—I don’t need to worry about school breaks anymore—and it’s cool enough outside to enjoy the garden in Virginia where we live now.

JM: What are your top three favorite plants and why?

LH: The Hydrangea arborescens because it’s so showy, yet it’s a native, and it blooms in sun or shade. Sedums of all sorts, from tucking low ones into my stone wall to watching the ubiquitous but rewarding ‘Autumn Joy’ and its relatives Verbena bonariensis because it volunteers so cheerfully all around, never invading and always adding interest.

JM: Boxwood blight has been a real problem here and since you helped people with gardens, how do you deal with it?

LH: Our company had to be extremely cautious and mindful in the summer of 2018 when we got 30 extra inches of rain; there was a big outbreak in Charlottesville. It’s sort of like the current pandemic—not good, but if you know how to be smart about it, you won’t spread it and it can be contained.

JM: What plant gets no love (is underused) and why should we pay more attention to it?

LH: I just did a fun podcast with writer Marianne Willburn, who recently wrote an article in American Horticulture Society’s magazine, “The American Gardener.” It was called “In Defense of Plants Without Press.” We discussed the fact that many great plants, particularly older ones, don’t get the attention newer ones do. We mentioned Begonia grandis, older Hydrangeas, persicarias and other ‘pass along’ plants.

JM: What’s the aesthetic of your garden?

LH: I have called my garden a mullet garden: business in the front and party in the back. The front is smaller, sunnier, tidier and visible to the world. The back is, shall we say, more experimental. I love the idea of a good ornamental edible space but have been unable to execute as of yet in Virginia. Now that I will have a bit more time, it’s “on the list.”

JM: What are garden tools you can’t live without?

LH: Okatsune hand pruners #1 (very sharp, very compact) and a soil knife. I strap them both on my belt like a total nerd.

JM: What gardens have you visited recently that you love? What gardens or garden institution has influenced the way you manage yours?

LH: I got to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this summer and REALLY loved it (Boothbay, Maine). In terms of influences on the way I personally garden, David Culp’s The Layered Garden is definitely a big one. My garden is new, but I eventually want it to be active and full most of the year.

JM: When is the last time you hugged a tree?

LH: Probably just a few weeks ago. There are two big tulip poplars in my yard that get affection from me on a regular basis.

JM: What’s one of your favorite resourceful/inspirational books on gardening?

LH: For how to steward the land, I like Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home” For garden how to, Barbara Damrosch’s “The Garden Primer” And, for garden know how, Hugh Johnson’s “The Principles of Gardening”.

JM: What’s new or coming up for you in 2022?

LH: I have a lot of fun speaking engagements planned, and I hope to grow my podcast to be able to garden-splain and get more people enthused about gardening.

Leslie wearing Janet Mavec's Cicada Wing Earrings.