What to expect at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) Conference

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After returning from the APLD Boston conference, I reflected about how the conference was beneficial to me as a designer. With no shortage of trade shows, garden tours and conferences to attend each year, I wanted to share some insight into the conference and my personal experience to help anyone on the fence with attending.

What to expect at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) Conference from Boston 2017 - More at thinkingoutsidetheboxwood.com

This year the conference was in Boston, MA, last year it was in Santa Fe, NM and next year is in Toronto.  My comments below follow the structure of both past conferences, but with images from Boston. You can see images from the Santa Fe tours I posted before HERE.  In my following posts I will share images from the Boston conference garden tours. I have so many I need to work on editing to the best ones, but this post gives you a sampling of the garden tour locations.


The conference is broken down into two main buckets; speakers/educational/panels and tours. I am adding a third section for networking, since it can be forgotten benefit out side of CEUs when reviewing the agenda. There are around 100+ attendees over the course of the event with some staying the whole time and others for just the tours or speakers/courses. And with a conference that size, there are not a lot of extra bells and whistles.

What to expect at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) Conference from Boston 2017 - More at thinkingoutsidetheboxwood.com



The conference portion of speakers, classes and panels takes place inside a hotel conference space which keeps everything in one central location. The Conference (counting pre and post) runs five days. I am not sure how long this link will live, but HERE is a breakdown of the schedule this year. With a pre-conference events on Thursday and the kick off with the in the classroom conference including six different sessions. Below is a breakdown of the conference topics:

  • Opening Keynote: The Art of the Makeover – Reinventing Existing Landscapes with Patrick Chasse, ASLA
  • Designing with Natives with Travis Beck, Director of Horticulture, Mt. Cuba Center
  • Quenching Heat, Humidity & Drought: Gardens that Dazzle – Withstanding the Dog Days & Onward with Warren Leach, Landscape Horticulturist and owner  Tranquil Lake Nursery.
  • Expose Yourself! How to feature your work locally, regionally and nationally
  • Place Making – Designing for Place through Customer Engagement with Garth Woodruff, APLD Assistant Professor Andrews University
  • Closing Keynote: The Designer’s Way: Creating Gardens and Lives of Beauty and Meaning with Julie Moir Messervy.

I spoke along with three other designers in a pre-conference panel about growing and expanding your business, which was a marathon, 3 hour, non-stop discussion about how we are running our business. It was a great discussion, and I hope there are more of these types of panels in future conferences. However see my next bullet point on networking.


What to expect at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) Conference from Boston 2017 - More at thinkingoutsidetheboxwood.com



Most beneficial element of the conference for me is always the networking with fellow designers. No two designers have the same firm structure, career path or plant palette. However, everyone is open to talking about the good and bad of the business and giving as much advice and experiences as possible. The time on the buses, during break sessions at dinners and hotel bar drinks – I have had the most impact on my professional career from the networking during those moments. It was through this networking time I have joined a group of other Design | Build | Maintain companies across the country for monthly calls sharing business insights.  I think this is a factor that is overlooked in considering a conference, but again is so valuable to professionals.


What to expect at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) Conference from Boston 2017 - More at thinkingoutsidetheboxwood.com



The APLD garden tours are scouted by local APLD members, and majority include private homes that are infrequently opened for tours. Given the group are all gardeners, home owners know the group will treat the space with respect and care. There are two days of tours, which the closing session and awards at the end of the final day. I would not let the location of the conference stop you if not aligned to your local environment. Last year the conference was in Santa Fe, and while the area has very unique terrain and water needs and completely different from Central Ohio. However the use of materials, planting combinations/patterns and incorporation of artwork was inspiring and relevant to me as a designer (Again see my photos HERE). Actually maybe more so since made me look at things completely differently than my normal environment. Also, as you can see in many of my following posts, getting photos without people is not a problem. You also have fellow experts around you if there are any questions, someone will know the plant, tried the method or how to maintain.



What to expect at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) Conference from Boston 2017 - More at thinkingoutsidetheboxwood.com


I know it is a financial Investment to attend the conference, and I would budget with conference, hotel, food and travel to cost in the range of $3,000 – $3,500 for five days. You can save on hotel rooms if you are willing to room with someone, you spend very little time in your room between tours and the classroom time. It is a packed agenda, expect to leave the room around 8 and return around 9/10 pm.

Here is my quick packing list:

  • Camera and charger and a cellphone charging cube
  • Hat, sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Rain Coat
  • Business cards – make sure all your social handles are listed
  • Note Book, pen and traveling bag for the bus
  • Light Snacks and water for the bus rides

Other tips: Spend as little time in your room as possible. Go to dinners with attendees, meet up for morning coffee runs. Ask questions, lots of questions. Research the host city for additional spots to visit. Drop pins during garden tours to visit areas again.

What to expect at the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) Conference from Boston 2017 - More at thinkingoutsidetheboxwood.com


I know it requires a financial investment to attend a conference. I hope this helps give you some details on what you can expect and really what the end pay off can be. The APLD conference next year is in Toronto, Canada September 13-17. If you have any questions leading up to the event, please feel free to message me, I am happy to jump on the phone and talk.

Sites for Great RHS Chelsea Flower Show Recaps

Advice, GARDEN DESIGN | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hard to believe that The RHS Chelsea Flower show has already closed and all the beautiful gardens are being torn down. Since I have yet be able to make the trip across the pond to see the gardens myself, I have gotten good at finding others that have for all the best images and videos. Since I am sure there are others like me looking for the best perspective to the show, I wanted to share my sources. Please if you have any sources please pass long, either videos, blogs or articles. Hopefully soon, I will be able to share my own experience until then I will continue to live vicariously through others. (Sorry for the lack of photos, but I clicking through the links you will not be disappointed)



Shoot provides photos and the plant breakdowns for all the show gardens. New this year they provide photographic photos of the plant IDs to help you identify the plants in the gardens and understand how they play with the others with spread, height and texture. This detailed information is great for anyone that needs help ID-ing the plant they like. You can also go back in the archives to previous Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower shows.


Preparing for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with James Alexander-Sinclair 

I love anything behind the scenes, and the videos James Alexander-Sinclair did for creating the Zoe Ball Listening Garden provide that on the fly behind the scenes commentary. The second video shows how they tested the sound vibrations in the water, which is just beautiful and you will never understand from looking at the finished photos alone. James has a series of videos called The View from Here… which are also fun watching.


RHS 3D Garden Views

For the best quality photos, no one beats the RHS’s own website. For the show gardens they even provide 3D tours, allowing you to experience walking through the spaces experiencing all the different angles. The RHS also has great videos of the whole process leading up to the big reveals that are fun to watch. The link provided is to the landing page of Charlotte Harris’ garden for the Royal Bank of Canada. HERE is another great video with Charlotte talking about the elements that influenced her garden design.


The Frustrated Gardener 

For amazing personal photographs, I love the posts from the Frustrated Gardener. The images are beautifully presented on the page, allowing you to focus on each one’s attributes. Beyond the Chelsea articles, this is an amazing blog to add to your reading list for a great garden design perspective.


How to add Dahlias to Your Garden

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As peony madness fades with the summer heat, it’s time to hail the beauty of dahlias. Dahlias are an easy addition to any existing garden and offer a large range of colors, petal shapes and sizes to fit your desires.  Also, planting a tuber around the frost free date will provide you with beautiful blooms in July and August, a quick, and bountiful payoff not often common in the garden.  There is a bit of maintenance of digging and storing tubers over the winter in very mild climates like zone 9, but you should have no fear in planting these in your garden and will have a great time selecting the varieties to add.

Dahlia 'Cafe au Lait', Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'- How to add Dahlias to Your Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

How to add Dahlias to Your Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood





Since you can add tubers to an existing garden, you have lots of options to place dahlias. Look around your home to see if you have any of the locations below that meet the full sun and well-drained soil requirements, if you do then move on to selecting the varieties you want to order!


– In a perennial border, or in an existing bed at your home. Looking at the existing foundational plantings around your house, see if there are spaces you can place a few dahlias.  The taller varieties are great in the background or mixed near taller plants, while place some of lower varieties in the front.

How to add Dahlias to Your Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

This is a client’s front yard perennial bed. It is located behind a boxwood hedge and is filled with a mixture of blue/purple perennials. We have a few containers spaced through the bed to add seasonal color, along with these cafe au lait dahlias.  



– In a container. Anyone with a front porch, stoop, balcony or patio that gets full sun can do this option.  Use the taller varieties (30-40 inches) as the “thriller” in your container.  Or fill an entire container with the shorter varieties (20-24 inches).

How to add Dahlias to Your Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

This is a garden created by Deborah Silver from Detroit Garden Works I visited a few years ago with the Association of Professional Landscape Designer (APLD). Deborah added dahlias with other perennial and annual flowers in these large containers. You can also do in smaller container, with 1-2 of each plant variety. 



– With your Vegetables. Pollinators love dahlias and so will your vegetables. Since you are already in with the vegetables watering, feeding and harvesting, this is an easy location to add some dahlias. You can add these along the edges our outside the fence line. This is a great place for the taller varieties.

How to add Dahlias to Your Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Here is a client’s vegetable garden which features a pollinator and cutting garden  inside the vegetable garden. To the left of these dahlias there is a swing and the dining table in the center allows the homeowners to enjoy the blooms while they are still in the garden. 

   How to add Dahlias to Your Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood  

Here is a harvest of both the dahlias and vegetables from a client’s garden. Fresh food and flowers for dinner is a great combo. 



The best place to plant is in a location that gets full sun and well-drained soil. Since you are planting these for the blooms, provide lots of organic matter when planting and weekly feeding once buds appear for the best blooms.


How to add Dahlias to Your Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood


I mentioned earlier there is a wide variety of distinctive features to dahlias, giving you lots of options in color, petal shape and size to select. Two great sites for selecting which colors, shapes or varieties you like are the following;

The National Dahlia Collection – This site provides you with a vast listing of dahlias that helps you see the options in shapes and colors. Broken down into; ball, cactus, collerette, decorative, dwarf, pompon, semi cactus, waterlily, miscellaneous.  –  https://nationaldahliacollection.co.uk/selecting-dahlias

Floret Flowers – A specialty cut flower grower extraordinaire in the pacific northwest, she is a big fan of dahlias, and shares all favorites with successes and failures in beautiful flowers.




Since dahlias are typically planted from tubers, online ordering is very easy and offers a large selection. You will want to time your ordering to get the best selection – think early January to place a preorder for spring shipping. But you can start pre-shopping suppliers now for your selected varieties and confirm when they expect to start taking dahlia orders.


If you are a bit more impatient to get blooms this year – you can check at your local garden center to see if they have some established plants growing for you can transplant into your garden. However, at this point it will be slim pickings for the varieties (if any), but worth a try.