KENNETT SQUARE—The spring planters installed last weekend by the Kennett Beautification Committee in partnership with the Four Seasons and Spade and Trowel garden clubs, Bill Reynolds of Pratts’ Greenhouse, and the borough’s Department of Public Works, are giving Kennett residents a welcome taste of spring—and they’re only the beginning of Historic Kennett Square’s “Kennett Blooms” planting and placemaking initiative.
Historic Kennett Square has announced that three professional local horticulturalists will bring their artistry to beautify key spaces in Kennett Square this spring and summer as part of Kennett Blooms.
“Kennett Blooms is all about making Kennett Square more livable and lovable this spring and summer,” says Historic Kennett Square’s Executive Director Bo Wright. “We’re excited to breathe new life into several different areas of town through beautiful plantings, and in doing so we’re also able to support three women-owned small businesses and showcase the talent of some of our local garden designers.”
For each of these women—Katie Verdieck, founder and designer at The Gardeness; Dannie Wright, creator of Hilltop Garden Design; and Stephanie Hewett, owner of Prairie Wind Professional Gardening—the dream of owning her own garden design company first took root at Longwood Gardens, which is an anchor sponsor of Historic Kennett Square’s Kennett Blooms.
Parklet Planters—“Miniature Gardens”
Both Verdieck and Wright found their way to professional horticulture through working and training as artists. Verdieck had recently graduated from The Tyler School of Art and Architecture and was working at a desk job when she had an epiphany that brought her out into the fresh air on the other side of the window. “Today’s so beautiful, I want to be outside,” she remembers telling her coworker. When her coworker told her that’s what weekends are for, Verdieck says, she thought, “No, that’s what my life is for.”
Classes in both horticulture and design at Longwood Gardens gave Verdieck the skills to bring her artistic sensibility to creating gardens. Starting The Gardeness in 2019 brought her a sense of freedom and also has nurtured her lifelong love for science and nature. The Gardeness name, which is “simple but lush,” reflects who she is and her desire to be women-friendly. The vast majority of customers at garden centers where she’s worked, she says, are women. Verdieck likens horticultural design to painting—with plants. An eye for color, texture, and the subtle nuances of contrast and shape is necessary for creating an aesthetically pleasing experience.
Verdieck, who designed the beautiful planters at the intersections of South Broad and State and Cypress Streets as part of the HKS Christmas in Kennett program, says her favorite horticultural canvas is the container. “A container can be its own little work of art,” she says. “The possibilities are endless for creating a miniature garden or little forest, bringing in different elements of nature.”
For Kennett Blooms, Verdieck will be designing the planters in the parklets, which will add dimension, color, and beauty as well as privacy and a vibrant sense of life to these popular outdoor dining areas. “I love to design spaces that I would enjoy spending time in,” she says. She’s looking forward to incorporating perennials, annuals, shrubs, and more to create inviting spaces where people can gather safely to enjoy great food and conversation together in the fresh air.
Genesis Walkway and Parking Garage Entrance
Dannie Wright started gardening when she was working full time as an artist. Like Verdieck, she spent her days indoors craving the outdoors. After falling in love with gardening while volunteering at Rose Lawn, a historic rose garden in Cartersville, Georgia, she began to pursue a career in gardening. She and her husband moved to this area when she did the outdoor display summer internship at Longwood. In addition to owning Hilltop Garden Design, Wright is a Horticulturist responsible for the annual display in the idea garden at Longwood Gardens.
“My work as a gardener is inextricably tied to being an artist,” she says. “Every garden space is a living opportunity to create a beautiful piece of art that changes and adapts to its surroundings. The same principles followed in the art world of structure, mass, form, color, balance, and positive/negative space are inherent to creating balanced and pleasing gardens. This makes garden creation incredibly challenging and rewarding.”
Wright, who designed the beautiful planters that gave the West State Street parklet such a magical, natural, and spacious ambiance last summer and fall, as well as the planters for Christmas in Kennett at the State and Union intersection, will be transforming the bed along the Genesis walkway as well as the space in front of the parking garage sign at the corner of North Union and East Linden Streets. “I want both of these spaces to be beautiful introductions to Kennett Square,” she says.
One of Wright’s guiding design principles has to do with what she calls the “bones” of a garden. “Bones aren’t the sexy part that get people excited to get out in the garden or into garden centers, but evergreens, trees, and shrubs are what give a garden structure and context. This is the linchpin of every project I work on, including my plans for the Genesis walkway,” she says. Her vision is for these transformed spaces to be visually interesting and pleasing throughout the year and to reflect the rich garden culture in our area.
Wright’s influences are gardeners who embrace airy, romantic, naturalistic, and wild gardens, including Tom Stuart-Smith, Jinny Blom, and Arne Maynard. It’s important, she says, to reflect a sense of place and naturalism in every garden space she works on. She also enjoys a challenge and loves working with sites that seem to only have negative qualities. “These are the sites that require the most creative solutions,” she says, “and working with these issues rather than against them becomes the genius of the place, and the thing that makes the project special.”
Beautiful Plantings Will Redeem “Hellstrips”
Stephanie Hewett is also looking forward to meeting a challenge in her Kennett Blooms project, which is to redeem and transform the “hellstrips” (narrow beds between the sidewalk and the street) on South Broad Street. She’ll begin with significant soil remediation and her goal, she says, is to add interest in as many seasons as possible in these small spaces, which also need to be easy to maintain. “Anything planted must be drought tolerant and tough enough to withstand getting stepped on and visited by our canine friends,” she says.
Hewett grew up gardening alongside her mother and grandmother in their large vegetable garden in her home state of Kansas. She worked in retail greenhouses through college before moving to this area to be part of the Professional Horticulture Program (formerly the Professional Gardener Program) at Longwood Gardens. Hewett started Prairie Wind Professional Gardening, whose name honors her Kansas roots, after graduating from the program in 2004.
“We’re primarily estate gardeners,” she says. “We offer long-term maintenance and design for our clients, helping them achieve their garden goals for the future while maintaining their properties to the highest standard possible. We design container plantings, annual plantings, perennials beds, and shrub borders. We prune, plant, weed, water, and deadhead all that needs it.” In short, Prairie Wind does it all. Area residents will know Hewett’s beautiful aesthetic from The Creamery, where Prairie Wind maintained the outdoor gardens and installed and maintained the plants inside.
Each of these women pay tribute to the rich horticulture of Southern Chester County and are thankful for the opportunities afforded them by Longwood Gardens. Mount Cuba Center, with its dedication to conservation and horticulture, is one of Hewett’s favorite places, and Wright particularly loves the diverse and beautiful landscape of the Binky Lee Preserve in Chester Springs, with its trail surrounded by Crabapples, Goldenrod, and New England Wood Aster in the fall.
Verdieck, Wright, and Hewett are all itching to get their hands in the dirt to start bringing their visions for these different spaces to life. “Stay tuned for these transformations over the next month or so,” says Bo Wright. “Historic Kennett Square is the community-supported nonprofit that makes Kennett thrive. HKS intentionally designs projects like Kennett Blooms to make Kennett Square more beautiful and people-centered. All of us know from our travels that when we’ve been in a place that’s beautiful and pedestrian friendly, we feel good about the experience and want to return—and that’s exactly how we want people to feel about Kennett Square.”
The fact that Kennett Square was listed this week as one of the Eight Most Exciting Suburbs Outside Philadelphia, in addition to garnering numerous other awards and recognitions over the past several years, demonstrates the town’s enormous potential.
“Our overarching vision at HKS is to see Kennett Square become the most beautiful town in America, where people from different backgrounds, generations, and walks of life can afford to live and contribute to the community, where new architecture complements old, where creativity flourishes, and where everyone can belong and prosper.”
Kennett Blooms, Wright says, is one step in that direction as the town begins its critically important recovery from the economic ravages of the pandemic. “The more community support we raise for Kennett Blooms, the more transformative placemaking projects we can bring to life in Kennett Square this spring and summer.”