Region: Southwest

Julie Plath

Sub-Region: Desert
State: Arizona
Business: Owner Signature Botanica, L.L.C.

Biographical Information

Madison, WI, native; received BS-Horticulture from U.W.-Madison. Continued at U of Minnesota - St. Paul for a MS- Horticulture. Worked nine years for Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA - first as Research Gardener then as a "Section" Gardener in Greenhouse Production. Moved to Las Vegas to consult and oversee construction of a multi-million behind the scenes greenhouse for support of the Bellagio Conservatory prior to its opening. Have also worked various retail nursery positions and presently a vendor/merchandiser for Stover Seed Co. in the Phoenix valley.

Please tell us briefly about your favorite cause/business/product in which you are involved that you would like to share with the general public and why.
Good gardening practices that are routinely ignored both by the gardening public and the "landscape maintenance industry". Poor longevity and health are often preventable problems in the landscape but instead are ever increasing liabilities.

Where can members get more of your advice?
Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Background Information

Briefly describe the climate where you garden now (climate zone, state, area) and any other areas where you have gardened in the past.
USDA Zone 10; Sunset Zone 13. Upland Sonoran Desert. Rainfall approximately 10" per year with half falling in summer monsoons. Winter pacific rains. Winter low temperatures 28 - 30 F; summer 110's. Past gardens in Mohave Desert of Las Vegas, PA, WI, MN.

How long have you been gardening?
30 years.

What triggered your interest?
My sister brought home plants from a college propagation course; also my grandparents veggie garden (I got to pick the Kohlrabi!). Our backyard neighbor, an Ag professor at the UW, was also an avid perennial gardener.

What is your specialty, expertise or claim to fame?
Research and growing of plant materials from around the world under glass: S. African bulbs, Dutch bulbs, Proteaceae. Also Bonsai, water gardening, cactus and succulents.

What formal education do you have?
Bachelor of Science - Horticulture from University of WI - Madison. Masters of Science - Horticulture from University of MN - St. Paul. Completed Certificate of Merit in Horticultural Plants from Longwood Gardens Continuing Education Program.

 Julie's Book Recommendations

Arizona Gardener's Guide

Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants

Sunset Western Garden Book

  Julie's Favorite Websites

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Desert Botanic Garden

What formal horticultural training do you have?
See above.

What is your favorite garden or plant-related topic? Tell us a little about them.
Garden Evolution - my theory on the interaction of Human and Plant Husbandry. The idea that a garden, even if conceived on paper, is never a static environment. Pruning - creating more of what a plant is. The art and science of applied plant shaping and enhancement. Living Spaces - garden ecosystems and sustainable landscapes. Again, the notion of garden as a non-static, interactive and holistic space.

What is your biggest gardening pet peeve? Tell us about it.
Plant butchery - topping trees, "meatballing" plants. Also improper irrigation and-or maintenance practices.

How much time per week do you spend gardening?
Hard to measure and somewhat seasonal. 20+ hours each week.

How much time per week do you spend working at the business of gardening, such as consulting, reading, writing or talking about your gardening subject?
Nearly every waking hour.

What gardening or horticultural clubs, societies, or organizations (or any other interest) do you belong to?
Arizona Nurseryman's Assoc., Cactus and Succulent Society of America and its local chapter. Local Bonsai clubs, American Society for Horticultural Science.

What other biographical information would you like to share?

Gardening Questions

What do you like most about gardening?
The constant change and unending surprise. There is always something new to see, tough, smell, and discover.

What do you dislike most about gardening?

What individual has influenced your gardening interest the most? How?
As an undergraduate, Dr. Edward Hasselkus. He began my lifelong love affair with woody plant materials. Today, my husband Steve, who opened up the a whole new plant world in the SW deserts.

What is your favorite place or activity in the garden?
On the back deck where I can see and hear the water garden and the bird feeders while the coals heat and the beer is cold.

What is your favorite time in the garden?
Twilite is when the sky is lovely, temps can be glorious, quiet descend, and all the colors of the garden can be most vivid. Floral scents can also be the most intense.

What is your favorite public or private garden in the world? Why?
Longwood Gardens is still a magical place: for its' history, diversity, size, creativity, outreach to the public, educational programs, and the vision of its' creator - Pierre S. DuPont.

What is your favorite color in the garden?
Greens are the backbone of the the garden and the range of its hue and color is incredible. Interestingly, it also exists in flowers but is rare enough to be exceptional.

If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?
Euphorbia francoisii is a caudiciform succulent with fleshy leaves in wonderful colors. The Japanese have done much with breeding and grown in a bonsai pot they evoke nature in miniature - like tiny prehistoric trees.

What plant have you tried to grow that has given you the most trouble? Or, what plant would you like to grow and can't, and why?
Lithops are painful. Very exacting water and dormancy requirements. They rot very easily. Also, the birds eat them. I love temperate plants like Japanese maples, azaleas, and dogwoods, but they won't grow in the heat and lack of winter cold, in the Phoenix area.

What is your favorite gardening outfit or costume?
Broad-brimed had with extra shade flaps. Cut off t-shirt and shorts, socks and Keds with a boat-type, thicker sole. Cute...",Observation

Do you have a gardening philosophy you would like to share with other gardeners? What is it?

Who is your own favorite gardening personality on TV, radio or in print? Why?

What is the one question about gardening you would really like people to ask you?
common sense and perseverance - all with an eye to the individual art of a plant."

And what's the answer?
Martha Stewart, despite her reputation, broke new ground as a garden guru. Plus I was on her program and in her magazine so I'm biased. She treated me very well.

What is a garden myth you hear frequently which you know is untrue?
How do I choose a plant for BLANK situation?

And, what is the reality?
Too often people don't ask this and then end up with a failure or just something not right or disappointing. The old "right plant for the right place" scenario.

What group or kind of person do you think would benefit most from the advice you can give on gardening?
"Overwatering is caused by too much water all at once."

Would you like to participate, or can you recommend someone who you think should? We're always looking for more expert gardeners to tell about their philosophies and give their plant recommendations contact us and we'll get started (it's easy and a great way to promote yourself).

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