Plant collector turns suburban lot into a ‘gallery’ of living art

For many suburban homeowners, working in the yard is a chore, a dreaded weekend drudgery done solely to stay in the good graces of the HOA and the next-door neighbors.

Lowrie Glasgow is not a typical suburban homeowner.

In the 12 years since he moved to his half-acre suburban lot in Greenville, S.C., he’s changed just about everything in the yard.

“A lot of people come to a house, they don’t like something and so they hire a landscaper to come in and use maybe 25 to 45 different plants,” he said.

Glasgow likes to work from a much larger selection.

He has hundreds of different plants tucked onto his property. These plants (396 at the moment) are all documented on Glasgow’s Plants Map profile.

Plants a life-long passion

When he set up his profile, Glasgow decided to call his garden, “Ferdinand’s Pasture.” The name  shows how his fascination with the natural world has been a life-long pursuit.

“When I was 5 years old, a neighbor used to call me Ferdinand,” after the bull in the classic children’s story by the same name. In the story, Ferdinand was known to sit and smell the flowers while all the other bulls were busy butting heads.

Listening to Glasgow talk about his work with plants, you can see that same child-like fascination with the beauty around him. “Going out and seeing something budding in the springtime is a beautiful thing,” he says. “A few days later, you might see some of the green coming out.”

Asked to describe his gardening style, Glasgow said, “I move with the wind. I like something, I try it.”

Gardening is his main form of exercise and entertainment, and it has opened him up to a world of travel as he has visited gardens in Europe, Asia and around the United States, often through his participation in plant societies.

Plant tags and labels enable learning

Glasgow is fascinated by plants, and loves learning to identify new ones in his travels. That’s why a major pet peeve is finding a well-put-together garden with no plant labels.

“That’s always bothered me,” he said. “It would be like if I went to the National Gallery of Art and there were no labels. It would be ridiculous.”

Plant tags allow a plant enthusiast to learn new species. That brings more joy to activities like hiking, where those same plants may be encountered in the wild, Glasgow says. “It’s like anything, if you keep up with it, it becomes more interesting.”

Keeping his own records

Glasgow knows that if he doesn’t keep good records of his garden, he’ll lose track of information about the many plants he has added to his property over the years.

“When I walk around the yard, I like to tell people what plants are,” he said.

He has used notebooks and stashed receipts over the years, but when Brent Markus—owner of Conifer Kingdom, featured here–mentioned Plants Map to him one day, he was intrigued.

Glasgow liked not only the ability to add interactive tags and signs to certain plants, but also the fact that he could create a virtual database documenting his entire collection of plants.

“I liked the fact that I could keep it on the Web and have it up in the cloud,” he said.

Glasgow does most of his data entry in the winter months, when he’s not out working in the garden as much. He has hundreds of plants on his Plants Map profile, and has installed Plants Map’s interactive plant tags on many of them.

He also started a Plants Map profile for his daughter’s yard, which is close to his home.

In some ways, he sees this documentation as an asset that contributes to the properties’ values.

“If the house ever gets sold, it’s nice to know you have, for example, a Yellowwood Tree in the backyard, which is hard to grow,” he said.

More than anything, it’s about fun

Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’

For Glasgow, tending a garden and experimenting with different plants to see how they fare in South Carolina’s climate is about a lot more than just changing a landscape.

It’s a door to unending learning, and an invitation to travel and explore.

“When I travel, I try to think about gardens just as much as I try to think about going to a place like the Louvre,” he said.

Places like the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., and the Mt. Cuba Center in Deleware are favorite stops for him. He also enjoys the views of sweeping landscapes in places like Valley Forge, Penn., or England’s Blenheim Palace.

 

Plant societies offer excellent opportunities for horticultural-based travel. Glasgow is hoping to go to France this fall for a Maple Society symposium in Brittany. He’s planning to travel to Syracuse, N.Y., in August for the American Conifer Society’s national meeting.

“A lot of these groups have post-event tours, where you can go around on a bus and see different gardens,” he said. “It’s much more economical than a commercial tour.”

The thrill of the hunt

Stewartia pseudocamellia

In addition to travel, the search for the most interesting plant he can find to fill a space in his yard becomes a journey in itself, as he gets to know the nurserymen and growers who have the plants he’s looking for.

“I don’t want to go to the local nursery and pick up the first thing I see,” he said. “I like to go out and get something that’s unique.”

Some of his favorites are his dove tree, the third of its species he has attempted to grow on his property. He remembers seeing them in bloom in Boston, England and other more northern locations.

“I have one growing in a shaded area. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but I’m trying,” he said.

Another favorite is the Bigleaf Magnolia, which is native to the Southeastern U.S. and can have blooms that measure more than 1 foot in diameter.

The constant search for something new, and the work it takes to maintain his growing collection, are both sources of satisfaction for Glasgow.

“When I’m out in the garden, I’m not thinking negative thoughts,” he said. “When I go to sleep at night, I’m thinking, ‘What plant am I going to put where?’”

A world of wonder, on a half-acre suburban lot. Paradise.

To learn more, follow Ferdinand’s Pasture on Plants Map.