NER Annual Meeting a Success!

By Jerry Kral in Meeting Recap

The ten-year revisit of Rochester by the ACS at this year’s NER meeting provided several unique highlights for the 172 attendees. Attending were eight National Presidents and nine members from the very first ACS meeting! An astounding collection of 80 Dennis Dodge plants was offered at both the silent and live auctions. 270+ plants made this the largest auction offering ever for the NER. Dozens of 100 year-old conifers were on display in Rochester’s Highland Park Pinetum.

Friday afternoon registration and social time renewed old acquaintances and the silent auction began. Dinner and drink made for a pleasant ambience for attendees to enjoy the hundreds of special conifers on display. Richard Eyre, of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, presented an entertaining slide show about special conifers and how to use them in the garden.

We left bright and early Saturday morning to explore the Highland Park Pinetum. This was a rare chance for folks to see what 100-year old trees look like in a 30-acre section of Highland Park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted to mimic sub-alpine meadow. The sighing winds blowing through the conifer needles of the towering trees evoked comments such as “This is like a conifer cathedral!” Even jaded old timers were impressed.

We left the tranquility of the Pinetum for the conifer gardens that Karen and I have lovingly tended for the last 20 years. Our one-acre garden displays around 300 conifer cultivars in garden settings. Secluded seating areas, the sounds of water falls and fountains, classical to whimsical statuary, the largest collection of low voltage orange mushroom lights in North America, towering groves of black locust many reaching 130 feet and a quarter acre walk-through rock garden displaying many styles of this type of gardening are some of the highlights.

We next visited the estate gardens of Dave Swinford, where we enjoyed a pleasant meal under a large tent. Dave is a recent victim of ACS (Addictive Conifer Syndrome) and he and I have had epic battles when plants arrive in Rochester at Oriental Garden Supply over which plant is going home with whom! The Swinford estate features some elements designed by Fletcher Steele. A 15-foot curving wall with a planting ledge over a hundred feet long displays miniature conifers to perfection. The Steele pollarded Norway spruce hedge planted in the early 1930’s is fantastic. Dave’s fondness for the weird and strange conifer was well displayed by specimen sized plants. The estate, built by Margaret Strong, an eccentric collector of toys, was the inspiration for Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play.

Next was a visit to the gardens of Brooke Henninger and Mert Bohonos. Brooke’s garden was proof that limited space is no excuse for limiting your selection of conifers. Brooke designed a remarkable display of dozens of conifers and ginkgo artfully tucked in the nooks and crannies of well-placed rocks and boulders in a garden occupying only 6000 square feet! A Hinoki hedge and several specimen sized Japanese maples anchor the display. A common remark by attendees was, “You know, we have space to do this!”

Mert’s garden was a wonderful contrast in style. Formal and meticulous, with inspiration from years of study under the tutelage of William Valavanis, a grand master of bonsai, Mert’s garden was an exquisite display of trained and artfully pruned landscape conifers and ginkgo. A long table display of Mert’s bonsai was on display. Many of the bonsai techniques used for pot display were used to display even larger landscape elements to perfection.

Of course, the real action was now to begin. A relaxing dinner set the stage for the auctions. The silent auction featured over 200 plants, some “one-of-a-kind”, and the bidding was heavy. I distributed over 200 silent auction plants in 25 minutes to the eager winning bidders. The live auction followed with 45 unique plants selected with assistance from Bob Fincham and Rich Eyre. We had a lively group of auctioneers, who made the live auction a real theatrical entertainment: Bill Wells, Ran Lydell, Brent Markus and John O'Brian. They entertained, worked the crowd, and brought in the big bucks to benefit the Region's coffers. Bids of several hundred dollars were common. Over $16,000 was raised for the NER of ACS. A highlight of the auction was Bill Wells auctioning one of Brooke's Jose Marti cigars for $25.

Unique to an ACS meet was a full Sunday morning breakfast which we followed with a wonderful “tail gate” buying opportunity. Several post-meeting opportunities gently allowed attendees to return home satiated and happy after a wonderful NER meeting.

Photos by Karen Kral, Larry Nau and Dennis Groh.