Chautauqua In Bloom winners announced at BTG recognition ceremony

The Chautauqua In Bloom season officially ended Wednesday at the garden recognition ceremony in Smith Wilkes Hall, during which the winning gardens of this year’s biennial contest were announced.

Jeanne Wiebenga, who led the ceremony, provided a slideshow featuring all the gardens that won. She and others involved with the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, which organized the event, provided all the gardens that entered into the contest with certificates and ribbons. Additionally, the winners of each of the four categories received a stone for their garden that commemorated their success during the 2015 season.

Barbara Zuegel, vice president of BTG, said only 41 gardens were entered this year, compared to 57 in 2013.

“I was a little disappointed because there are so many gorgeous gardens, but some people just didn’t want to be bothered with entering,” she said.

Six judges from outside Chautauqua Institution selected the winners for the four categories. Alan Greenberg of 53 Foster won Sunny Garden of the Year, Debbie and Bill Currin of 5 Vincent won Container Garden of the Year and Lynda and Jeff Acker of 44 Cookman won both Shade Garden of the Year, and Eco-Friendly Garden of the Year.

The judges selected the gardens based on five criteria: the design and layout of the garden, the plant selection and variety, the health of the plants, the neatness of the garden and the use of color.

Rochester, New York, native Jane Milliman returned for the fifth time as a judge for the contest. A professional garden writer and photographer, she is the publisher of  Upstate Gardeners’ Journal and wrote a gardening column in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle for 20 years.

Judging all the gardens that entered the contest, she said, was no simple task. At Chautauqua, residential gardens tend to be fairly small, which forces people to be creative with the space they have, she said.

“The plant palette tends to be limited,” Milliman said. “People are only there and gardening for so long, and they want things that will be blooming while they’re there. So we see a lot of the same plants. And when we see something different, the judges get really excited.”

Though only three gardens were entered into the eco-friendly category, she recognized the importance of this new category for the contest.

“It ties into the greater movement the Institution itself is doing,” she said. “The reason for the creation of this category was to take advantage of that movement that’s already going on and have gardeners pay more attention to that.”

She said it took the judges four to five hours to agree on the winning gardens.

“There’s always a lot of debate, and we end up going back a second time to our top choices to look again and argue some more,” she said. “There are a lot of great gardens in Chautauqua, and it’s very difficult to choose the best one.”

Dorthy Yard, who has taken numerous gardening, landscape design and environmental studies courses since 1973, came from Waterford, Pennsylvania, to judge the gardens. She estimated this was her eighth year as a judge for the contest.

She said the key to a successful garden was whether it seems like a place where one would like to spend time. She also praised any gardens that served the environment and recognized that gardeners at Chautauqua are held to different standards than other gardeners, as many of them are only here for less than three months of the year.

“They have to grow things that respond quickly and are relatively easily maintained,” she said. “After all, it’s their vacation. They don’t want to spend all their time in the garden working.”

Despite fewer people entering the contest this year, Zuegel still feels it was a success — especially with the new eco-friendly garden category. She anticipates more people will enter that category during the next contest in 2017, once they become more familiar with environmental gardening practices.

“A lot of people think native plants are weeds, or that if they have a hearty plant, then that’s a native plant,” she said. “It’s going to take some time for people to know what’s what. But some people got extra points because they didn’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers and so forth, or maybe they did something that took quite a bit of effort in water management so that water wouldn’t run into the lake.”

She stressed that gardeners of all experience levels are welcome to enter the contest next time.

“People think, ‘My garden isn’t good enough,’ and that’s not the point,” she said. “We’re not expecting everyone to have gardens like the Butchart Gardens in Vancouver. We’re just trying to enhance the grounds. This is about recognition and about thanking everyone who’s done a little extra to make the place look beautiful.”