DALLAS — One of “Garden Guru” Kent Russell’s clients owns an $8.7 million estate in Rhode Island where, two weeks before a wedding was to take place, a sizable outdoor urn happened to contain only a smattering of daisies — not enough to do the planter justice.
“They said, ‘You’ve gotta help,’ ” recalled Russell who wasn’t worried. “I work really good under pressure, really good with last-minute requests.”
Russell replaced the tiny daisies that someone else had planted in the 5-feet-tall, 4-feet-across planter with much larger white hydrangea surrounded by blue-leaf hosta, white-and-silver variegated grass and soft lamb’s ears. As a final touch, he added a rare specimen, the white variety of “a delicate little summer annual” called trailing lantana, which he alternated with bigger and bolder mandevilla flowers.
“I did my magic,” he said, taking pleasure in remembering how he had completed the project two days before the July 2017 wedding. “It’s like being able to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute.”
Russell, a celebrity gardener based in Bucks County, may not be called upon to work magic when he attends the Back Mountain Bloomers Garden Club annual fall luncheon Oct. 4 at the Irem Temple Country Club, but he expects to bring gardening stories and plenty of “fat and full and healthy flowers.”
During the two or three days before he arrives in the Back Mountain, he plans to make the rounds of some of his favorite plant nurseries in Lancaster County, New Jersey and Delaware, purchasing whatever catches his eye. He’ll talk about them “show and tell-style” at the local event, and sell them to any gardeners who want to take them home.
“It’s much more satisfying for people when they can put something on their balcony an hour later,” Russell said, “rather than hearing they have to get it from a mail-order catalogue or a nursery far away.”
Earlier this week, Russell undertook his customary ritual to prepare for a talk in Connecticut, driving around and picking up such plants as a double-flowering cone flower, raspberry in color, that “looks really unusual” and a coral bells plant with leaves that remind him of burnt mahogany.
“The original coral bells always had green leaves but nowadays there’s a whole bunch of new ones,” he said. “These were like reddish copper leaves with pale pink flowers. That would go great as a fun foliage accent next to a yellow mum, for example.”
Russell, who has all sorts of ideas for pairing plants, from herbs to evergreens to “whatever it takes to look good,” expects to find similar fun accents for the Back Mountain Bloomers’ event. No doubt he’ll discuss container gardening, too, because that’s one of his specialties.
He has been giving gardening talks since he was 18 years old, when members of gardening clubs who visited his family’s nursery, Russell Gardens, noticed how knowledgeable he was.
He describes himself as being “born with a silver trowel in his hand,” and picked up the moniker “The Garden Guru” during 2 and 1/2 years of hosting garden segments for PBS.
With all his traveling to nurseries and speaking engagements, plus visiting the gardens he designs for more than a dozen clients in five different states, Russell spends a lot of time on the road.
The odometer in his fire-engine-red van, which is so often filled with flowers, offers evidence of his dedication. The vehicle is only six years old, but he’s already put 347,000 miles on it.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT