Do you prefer to see your weeds in or out? Flower powers: One influential speaker at Goucher's garden festival believes in natural gardens

the other is known for floral arrangements epitomizing design.

September 24, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Photographer and author Ken Druse believes people should cultivate natural gardens, partly so the fauna dependent on native plants will flourish.

He points out, for instance, that the monarch butterfly is 'N unpalatable to birds only so long as it feeds on certain milkweeds. Destroy the milkweed, run the risk of destroying one of our most beautiful insects.

You wouldn't think that this was a controversial position, but people feel passionate about their gardens. After the publication of Mr. Druse's latest book, "The Natural Habitat Garden," garden writer Michael Pollan called his ideas "xenophobic" in a scathing article in the New York Times Magazine.

You can be sure Mr. Druse's talk for "A Festival of Flowers and Gardens," next Thursday at Goucher College, will ignite a few fireworks among those who love their orderly English gardens and Japanese maples. But his glorious slides of natural gardens from all over the country will delight and instruct.

"It's going to be pretty and inspirational," he promises. "I'd like to help empower home gardeners, to show them they can contribute directly to the health and benefit of the planet."

Mr. Druse is one of two guest speakers at the event, sponsored by the Green Spring Valley Garden Club to benefit the Irvine Natural Science Center.

In the morning Chris Giftos, master flower designer and director of special events for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will create floral arrangements and "give away secrets of the trade," he says. In contrast to Mr. Druse's presentation, it will be a morning for everyone who delights in design, style and order.

Mr. Giftos began his career in New York at Christatos & Koster, a fashionable florist located at 63rd and Madison. His first client was Greta Garbo.

This was in the early '60s. He worked with incredible flowers for incredible clients, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When the museum once ordered 100 centerpieces, he decided the Met needed its own floral designer and proposed that he work for them, even though it meant a cut in pay. In 1970 he became the Met's floral designer and assistant banquet manager.

"I grew into the job," Mr. Giftos says, "at the same time the museum was tripling in size." (This is his 25th year at the Met.)

An endowment from Lila Acheson Wallace, co-founder of Reader's Digest, is responsible for the five enormous fresh flower arrangements he designs each week for the museum's Great Hall.

During his two-hour program, Mr. Giftos will create one of these huge Great Hall arrangements, plus several other designs to illustrate how easily they can be done. Then the flowers with their containers will be auctioned off.

"It'll be a relaxing two hours," he says. "I try to show people not to have any fear in arranging, and how to care for cut flowers, which are 90 percent water and very fragile."

In contrast to Mr. Giftos' beginnings in the floral business, Mr. Druse received an M.A. in filmmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design and eventually became an illustrator. "But I was always interested in plants," he says. "I was the kid who rescued plants. I once grew a tree seedling I found in the gutter."

Mr. Druse began his horticultural career by illustrating a garden column for House Beautiful. In 1979 he took over the writ- ing of the column.

"I came to photography last," he says, "which is what I love most."

In 1989 he published his first book, "The Natural Garden," now in its fifth printing. It was one of the first books to introduce the concept of naturalistic gardening and is now among the best-selling coffee table garden books of all time. "The Natural Shade Garden" followed soon after.

For his latest project, Mr. Druse wanted to create a guide book for simulating natural habitats.

"You can garden at least part of your property in the style of the past," he says.

"The Natural Garden Habitat" is used as a textbook at some colleges, but it's much more than a textbook because of Mr. Druse's photography of native-plant gardens and the text's moving philosophy.

Mr. Druse tells the story of Evelyn Adams, a Massachusetts woman who 50 years ago planted four trilliums. She now has a spectacular array of thousands of these "threatened" (not yet endangered) plants. It's one of the 35 native-plant habitats pictured in "The Natural Habitat Garden."

"Flower gardens are beautiful," Ms. Adams told Ken Druse, "but they don't look like the Lord made them."

"A Festival of Flowers and Gardens," presented by the Green Spring Valley Garden Club, will be held from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sept. 28 in Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium. For information or reservations, call Susan van Wagenberg, (410) 366-0320, or Kitty Washburne, (410) 363-1371. Cost is $75 for both programs and lunch, $40 for "Flowers and Entertaining," the morning session only, 10 a.m.-noon (Chris Giftos); $40 for "The Natural Habitat Garden," the afternoon session only, 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (Ken Druse).

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