Small Flower Garden Ideas with Angela Palmer

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Small Flower Garden Ideas with Angela Palmer



Angela PalmerAngela Palmer is plant obsessed!  She is relentless in her search for clever and innovative ways to introduce and market exciting new plants to the planet.  World-class breeders seek out and trust Angela with their finest inventions and plant discoveries.  What is the hottest gardening trend next season? If you love being on the leading edge of plant science, garden gossip and the latest possibilities, this is the episode for you!



In This Episode You Will Discover:

  • drought-tolerant pollinator plants
  • roses, roses 149 years of new roses!
  • how to learn to distinguish 4 separate colors of pink roses by eye
  • “Foam Flower” – tiarella cordifolia
  • spectacular garden design ideas
  • are you ready for “Everlasting Hydrangeas”?
  • life lessons of a top plant breeder agent
  • “Garden Candy – It’s Ok To Drool!” – greatest slogan ever?
  • perennial flower garden plans on a budget and any sized space



Resources Mentioned:

Plants Delight – 

Gardenista –

This is the book Angela mentioned on the show! 

Our Guest’s Links:

Follow Angela Palmer on Twitter:

Visit Angela’s garden resource site on the web:

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Watch the Podcast Interview Here:





Dave:  Well good morning, good afternoon or good evening depending on where you are in the world when you listen to this!  I’m Dave Ledoux and welcome to a fun edition of Back To My Garden.  East coast today if you’ve got your map and you’re playing the home game.  We’ve got a great guest, Angela Palmer.  Angela is plant obsessed!  She searches for clever ways to introduce and market new and exciting plants to the entire planet.  World class breeders trust Angela with their inventions and discoveries.  Folks she’s an insider’s insider, we’re going deep today!  I want to welcome to the show from Boston Mass, Angela Palmer!  Hi Angela.

Angela:  Hi how are you?

Dave:  I’m excited that you’re here.  

Angela:  I’m excited to be here.

Dave:  We’ve got a ton of stuff to cover and I want to hear your story, and I know our listeners want to get to know you as well.  So Angela just relax and take a minute or two and share with us a little bit about your background, and how did you get into gardening?

Angela:   Well I have a degree in Plant Science and Ornamental Horticulture and I always thought I wanted to be a landscape architect.  And so I took all those classes and the science classes then all the fun art classes that went along with the drawing skills and photography needed to be a landscape architect.  Then I graduated from the University of Delaware with my Plant Science and Ornamental Horticulture degree and I was tired of being poor!

So I went and got a job and figured I’d go back to grad school.  My first job was working for The Connor Pyle Company. You may know their brand Star Roses, and Drift Roses and the Knockout Roses.  I was very fortunate to fall into a company that had focused their entire 150 years on new plant introductions.  Not that it was my intent getting the job there, but I bounced around in the company and did a couple of things that weren’t very fun.  And then the owner took me out in the rose fields and they were evaluating roses at the time.  He said,”what do you think about that one”?

I said, “it’s pretty!”

He said, “that’s what we need to hear!”

And I just looked at it with wide eyes, and what did I do?  They had never had a woman looking at plants!  They’re selling to women, you know the consumer up to this point in time is 75% women buying the plants in the household.  Now men are starting to get into it with some of the veggie gardening and stuff but they had never had a woman on their Plant Evaluation team.  So they gave me the entire department.  It was a complete disaster.  The labels were a mess.  There were weeds everywhere.  It took me two years to straighten it out.  And then it was mine.  And we built it from there.  And it was a great experience learning how to do all of that.  And then I went and did the same thing for the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  And came back to the east coast and worked a little bit with the National Arboretum in Washington DC. because they have a plant introduction program.  And then I started my own business almost ten years ago, it will be ten years in January.  I had breeders come to me and say they wanted to work with somebody that they felt they could trust and somebody that knew plants and wasn’t just a marketing or business person.  And so I think I’ve got the perfect combination of skills to do this job.  I love the marketing part of it with all my art background.  I love teaching people how to use the plants with my design background.  And I’m a plant geek!  So what more could you look for in somebody that’s looking for new plants for the market.

Dave:  Oh man this is going to be a good podcast!  So those of you listening to me and Angela chitchat about new plants, and you’re driving in your car, please don’t take notes.  I’ve already started taking notes.  It’s all going to be up on the blog at  You’re going to want to follow Angela on Twitter @plantweenie That’s also on Instagram that’s also on Facebook.  But more importantly make sure you check out Angela’s resource site, it’s awesome.  It’s called

Angela:  And we do have an e-newsletter which is like a blog post which goes out at least every other week.  We try to do it every week.  It’s called The Weeding Gnome.  That’s where we talk about, I write it, and I talk about my travels, going around the world looking for plants, and things that frustrate me in the world, my pets, my kids, and it’s a good read, I hear.  So everyone talks greatly about it.

Dave:  For those of you who don’t know how to spell French, Dave Ledoux has an x on the end.  It’s not Ledunk, it’s L-E_D_O_U_X and that fits perfectly into  Nouveau means new in French.

You have an incredible lifestyle but it’s hard earned.  I mean you’ve got the experience.  Give our listeners a little bit of flavor when you were first getting started.  You went out in a rose patch with an owner.  What were you feeling?  What was your experience in gardening up to that point?  What was it like in the beginning?

Angela:  I actually didn’t grow up gardening.  My parents didn’t garden.  My grandparents didn’t garden.  So I didn’t come by it naturally.  I was more interested in the structure of outdoor spaces and the plant science just came in as a way to fill those spaces.  So I didn’t come about it the romantic way that everybody else does.  But once I started spending my early after college years out in test fields all the time you can’t help but love them.  You’re able to tell the difference between a light pink and a medium pink and a dark pink and a bubblegum pink.  And learning to test the different fragrances of the roses. I worked with winemakers to teach me how to distinguish raspberries from citrus from grape and bread and milk and all these odd fragrances that are in the roses because we try to write them in the description.  So that’s the fun part of it.

Pink Roses

Pink Roses

The not so fun part of it is it’s a 1000 degrees in Bakersfield California in the middle of a field, being covered in dirt and being pricked by the roses.  The good and the bad.  That’s what I like to say.  And I get to be outside when I want to, which is great.  If you’re a landscape contractor or a person in other parts of the industry like a grower you’re pretty much outside when you have to be.  I get to choose on a nice day to go outside and take photographs and look at the trial garden or I can sit in my office and hunker down when it’s super cold or super hot.  It’s the best of both worlds actually.

Dave:  You know a lot of gardeners have to fight for every penny in the budget to buy new flowers or build in their garden.  I would imagine, though, that you were in a bit of a different boat.  You had a budget from place to place?

Angela:  I’ve always tried things at home, and I worked for a big nursery so we would get stuff from the garbage pile which was fantastic. I understand about plants being expensive.  It breaks my heart to see something cost so much at a garden center.  But what we all don’t realize is how much goes into getting that plant there.  I think that’s something that when you see the cost that goes into patenting a plant and producing a plant and just sending out trial plants.  You start to see why it costs so much.  It’s still hard to drop $50 for a hydrangea but I think what we’re trying to do is raise the bar and show people the value in the plants.  And what they give back to them in their lives.

Dave:  That’s a perfect segue, Angela, because I mentioned you’re an insider’s insider.  I’m going to give a terrible weak introduction of PlantsNouveau and I want you to polish it for me.  

When I looked at your website and began to analyze, if I raise something brand new, I invent a new plant, I come to you and you help me to get it all over the world.  Is that a synopsis of Plants Nouveau?

Angela:  Pretty much.  I like to say we’re a plant breeders agent.  So like a musician or an author has an agent, plant breeders have an agent.  They want to be out in the field or in their greenhouse doing what they do.  They don’t want to have to deal with shipping plants or patenting plants or marketing plants or talking to growers.  A lot of them are like mad scientists!  Even the people who find things in their backyard they don’t know what to do, they don’t have the wherewithal to get it to market which is a pretty intricate process that takes years.  And so that’s what we do.  We take it from that point.  Even more so with the ways the patent laws have changed we are now helping the breeders do their selecting because they’ve shortened the process so much that if we aren’t in on the beginning of the process we may not be able to protect the plant.  So that has changed our business model a little bit.  We take it from there.  And then try to disseminate it all over the world and get everybody talking about it so they get excited about the plants.

Dave:  Someone out there listening to our voices has dreamt about crossing two kinds of hot peppers together to get a new variety or two kinds of orchids to get a new variety and now you’ve actually met someone that can help you take that dream into reality.

Angela:  Absolutely!  I think our forte is working with the little guys.  And we have the patience.  Some of the big companies aren’t very patient.  And we are total plant geeks, my business partner and I.  So we know what it’s like, we understand plants and we can tell if something is worth pursuing obviously.  We also know how frustrating it can be when they think they have something and they don’t so we try to let them down easy and point them in directions or try to tell them what they can do to improve the plant that they’ve got.  But we specialize in dealing with small backyard breeders and hobbyists.

Dave:  I want to pick your brain now.  A lot of the listeners, one of their favorite things is getting plants that no one else in their neighborhood has.  What’s hot, what’s trending?  Look into your crystal ball, do some predictions for us.

Angela:  Well, hydrangeas have been hot for awhile.  But there’s this new series of hydrangeas coming out called The Everlasting Series.  And we’ve seen reblooming hydrangeas that maybe rebloom, maybe they rebloom for some folks and sometimes they don’t.  I never had luck getting them to rebloom.  But there’s a lot of talk about that on the market.  Well there’s this new series coming from one of our breeders who was working for the cut flower industry only.  So they’re looking for big stiff strong stems that can hold up in the cut flower world.  And they started breeding hydrangeas for the garden world.  And now they’ve got this series of flowers that starts out one color then fades to another, and fades to another, and ends up looking like this melange of antique shades that will stay that way all the way until a really hard frost.   And so that’s why they’re called “Everlasting”.  On one plant if it comes out pink it might turn to pink and green, and then it will turn to maroon, and dark green and it will stay that way until the frost so you’ve got all these different colors on the same plant.  And not only that, but I’ve lifted three-gallon pots with one stem that’s how strong they are, it’s amazing.  You have to see it to believe it.  The videos we’ve been making.  These plants you could beat someone over the head with one of the flowers and it wouldn’t fall apart they’re that strong.  They feel like they came from Michael’s and they’re latex.

Dave:  So we’ve weaponized hydrangeas now, that’s good.

Angela:  Yes!  Yes and trying to grow them so that they look like a very nice plant in the garden center which is something that they’re very good at in Europe and we’re not so good here.  You see lots of green leaves but you don’t see them covered with flowers in the garden center so we’re working on changing that too so this whole hydrangea culture is about to change.  They already are flying off the shelves because they’re these perfect little pots with like 15 flowers on them.  And people can’t resist them and they want to take them home.  It’s exciting to see that change happening in the US.

Dave:  Is that something we’d have access to via mail order or the internet?

Angela:  Yes, there’s quite a few websites that sell them in the States, I’m not sure about … we’re working on Canada.  I have such a hard time finding mail order companies from the States that ship to Canada.

Dave:  Seeds aren’t too bad.  

Angela:  Seeds?

Dave:  They’ll ship seeds.

Angela:  Oh yes.  Right.  We have an import permit.  

Dave:  Everlasting Hydrangeas are hot, they sound amazing.  What else is cool?

Angela:  We have a bunch of our perennials that we’re working on.  Our selection of native plants, so we have a bunch of things that are improvements on natives.  There is one Tiarella which is a foam flower and one of my favorite plants that we have a hard time getting people to buy only because in most parts of the U.S and in Canada the season for bloom is April.  Sometimes earlier than that depending on where you’re are.  Not a lot of people are going to garden centers in April, the beginning of April.  And the garden centers don’t want to carry them.  We have the same problem with Hellebores.  A whole other topic.  But these early spring blooming plants are so important for the bees when there’s not a lot in bloom.  And this is a native plant, it’s good ground cover.  



We have one selection that’s called Octo-rero.  It’s named after a river in Pennsylvania.  And it can be planted under oaks and walnuts and maple trees in dry shade and still perform really well.  And that’s something that I’d love to see people start using instead of English ivy, and vinca, and things that are a little bit invasive in parts of the country.  Plus they bloom, they have great fall color, they’re practically evergreen.  They just lay down in the winter and new leaves come up in the spring.  So it’s a terrific plant that is so underused so barely seen in the US.  I would love for those plants to get some more attention.

Dave:  You mentioned pollinators, we’re doing our milkweed planting here shortly.

Angela:  Yes, we have a series we’re working on called “Garden Candy” and so the tagline for it is “It’s Okay To Drool”.  It’s going to have a bee drooling over these beautiful flowers.  We have a bunch of stuff that’s going into that.  Some phlox cultivars, a new lobelia that’s called “Black Truffle” and it’s as sumptuous as it sounds.  It has black foliage and deep fire engine red flowers and it’s truly a native selection so it’s not a hybrid.  It’s overwintered here for me in Massachusetts for the last three years which have been very snowy and uncomfortable.  So it’s a truly hardy plant as well.  And so that’s really exciting.  I think anything with black leaves, it looks like a Coleus until it flowers and then you get the added benefits of these bright red flowers that the hummingbirds love.  I love being out in the trial garden and hearing and seeing all of the pollinators, the hummingbird moths and the wasps and all of these things.  We’re really trying to show this when we talk about plants especially in Youtube videos and things like that.  A lot of times people are afraid when I say seven species of wasps are on this one Solidago that we’re going to introduce.  But it’s a really cool thing when I can be as close as my hand to them and they’re not going to bother me.  They’re interested in that plant and trying to teach consumers that these insects are so beneficial and these plants, by planting them and milkweed and other things in the their gardens so they can help the environment so much is something that we’re real excited about.



Dave:  For those of you listening make sure you check out Angela’s Youtube channel.  You can go through and be a subscriber, that way when new vidoes come up you’ll automatically get notified and you’ll also get on her email list as well.

You’re kind of taking us in new directions it’s interesting but I want to know, because you’re busy and working with breeders, did you even get a chance to garden in your own garden this year?

Angela:  Well this was not a good summer for me.  I was just lamenting that fact the other day that summer in Massachusetts is really important.  I’ve only lived here for, this will be my third year and I don’t like the winter!  So it’s really rough on me to miss the summer because it’s so beautiful here.  I came from Chicago and Baltimore Maryland where you have so many extremes it’s so hot in the summer and it’s so cold in the winter and here it’s so nice in the summer, so yes, I missed the whole dang summer travelling, going to breeders and looking for new plants.  And this year was worse than ever but I’m trying to deal with it and I’m feeling always a bit behind in my gardening.  Somehow it all gets done.  But I do feel like I missed a lot and it makes me sad.  I really love living with the plants.  If I can’t tell you exactly how big it’s going to grow and exactly what color the flower is and take photographs the whole year I feel like I’m not doing my customers justice.  I feel like we really need to know everything about these plants, and yeah I missed the summer.  But this was the worst one yet.

Dave:  You mentioned the Everlasting Hydrangea and all these gorgeous flowers.  Octo-raro, how do you spell it?

Angela:  Octorao.

Dave:  I’m going to put that in the show notes.  Do you have anything for the vegetable fans out there, have there been any developments?

Angela:  We don’t have anything yet.  We have worked with ornamental plants.  We are starting to get into fruiting shrubs so I see them probably coming down the horizon fairly soon.  But that is the one aspect of horticulture that we really haven’t been a part of.

Dave:  Flowers will keep you busy for thirty years?

Angela:  Oh yes.  And there’s so many other companies working on the veggies right now, there’s a lot of competition and a lot of really neat stuff coming out that’s for sure.

Dave:  Your tagline, “Garden Candy – It’s Ok to Drool” you can think hard all day and not come up with something that good, it’s fantastic.

Angela:  Yes!  I just came up with that.  I think I was sitting in a restaurant and there was something close to that and I thought that’s perfect and it formed the thought.  We’re working on some art for it and having the hummingbirds and the bees drooling over the flowers.  Its something I don’t think any marketers have done yet.  So it’s something that we’re really trying to push and take advantage of the fact that people are ready to listen about this stuff now even though we’ve been talking about it for years.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Dave:  You know Angela I just glanced at the clock our time is rapidly whipping by  and now is the time in the show when we play a game called Five Quick Questions.

Angela:  Ok!

Dave:  This is your chance to share your wisdom and experience with novice gardeners, are you ready to play?

Angela: Yes!

Dave:  Question number one, in your opinion, what’s the biggest excuse that people give you for being afraid or not even trying gardening?

Angela:  Well I think that the fact that plants aren’t cheap and they’re afraid they’re going to kill them.  And nobody likes for things to die.  We have a culture in the US where we have to keep everything alive, even poinsettias at Christmas time, most other countries in the world have what they call throw-away plants, and I think we need to get Americans a little bit more into buying things and enjoying them and letting them die.  Maybe then they won’t be so afraid of gardening.  It’s ok, we can compost it and put it back in the circle of life and it’s ok.  It’s something we struggle with, people are afraid of gardening.  They think it’s hard and they’re going to kill something that’s living.

Dave:  When you were growing four different shades of pink roses, did any of them every die?

Angela:  Oh yeah, I’ve killed lots of plants.  I think it’s Tony Avent, the guy who owns Plant Delights, the big famous mail order nursery down in North Carolina, he says “If I haven’t killed it three times I can’t honestly say I’ve killed it.”  Or something like that.  It’s a great thing to live by, that’s it’s ok.  And things have died and things have gotten eaten.  It happens. It’s always sad but life goes on.

Dave:  Question number two … this will be interesting because you’ve worked alongside some amazing gardeners … what’s the best gardening advice you’ve ever received?

Angela:  Just try and enjoy it.  Not to take it so seriously.  And think about how the microbes are getting in your fingers and how that’s helping your body, and take in the sunshine and breathe the fresh air.  I tend to be this kamikazee gardener that has no time because I have two small children and I run through doing what I need to do.  I don’t really get to enjoy it.  And that’s one of things that I really strive to get to in my life is to let gardening be something that’s super enjoyable to me.  And I think if it is to more people then more people will garden.

Dave:  That’s interesting, we could talk a whole hour just about the emotional side of gardening for a lot of people it’s almost medicinal.

Angela:  It is.  And I think that’s something that we don’t really talk about enough in the industry when we’re promoting plants.  

Dave:  There is a website called it’s kind of like Facebook, a huge online community.  There’s a whole sub-reddit of people who talk about their doctors asking them to garden.

Angela:  Oh really?

Dave:  And they share their stories and it’s pretty inspiring stuff.  

Angela:  That’s interesting.

Dave:  Yeah, it’s like medicine.

Angela:  I’ll have to check that out.  I have lots of friends who aren’t in the industry, who that is their therapy.  I have a friend who’s a vet, and a friend, high-powered folks, head of marketing for big banks, and that’s what they do.  They garden.

Dave:  Fantastic.  Question number three. Websites.  The internet’s a big place.  Everyone should go to and join your email list.  What are a couple of your favorite websites that you use as references?

Angela:  Wow.  You know you ask a very timely question because we are looking to redo our website, so I have spent an enormous amount of time looking at websites.  Trying to find places that inspired me and I think if you’re looking for really pretty pictures and inspiration of how to do things and then a lot of times if you want this fancy outfit here you can go buy these clothes that look just like them at Target kind of website for gardening it’s called that’s one of my favorite sites because they explore all these wonderful places and it’s very picture heavy.  They give ideas and they’ll show you how to have this look in your garden.  So if you’re kind of looking for design inspiration that is one of my favorite sites.

And what else? I think being on Pinterest is better than being on a website if you’re looking for anything, any type of plant, any inspiration, that’s someplace I would go for gardening information.  Unfortunately I think our industry lacks places to go for a lot of answers.  There’s a website called Gardening Answer.  It’s a young girl and she’s doing all these amazing things.  She does videos, she does every week a different project.  And she gives answers to any questions you can ask and I think that’s where we need to go with websites.  It’s been an interesting study of what’s out there.  And I was surprised by how little I found that I was inspired by.  I know my expectations are probably way too high.  That’s a hard question for me to answer because I’ve been so into it the last few weeks looking at all of these industry websites and bloggers and things like that trying to find inspiration and not sure that I could point to just one.

Dave:  Well then question number four will kind of tie into that because it’s about books.  A lot of people still love to read books, I know I do.  Do you have a particular favorite gardening book that you can recommend?

Angela:   There’s so many.  I love, I’m much more of an environmental gardener, so I think one book that anybody who gardens is Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy.  What it does is talk about if you plant one oak tree in your backyard, how many species of insects it will support.  And why you need certain plants, and how you can help the environment.  I think that’s something that anybody who’s trying to get into gardening should read because it’s just so insightful and talks about how beneficial these plants are to the world around us, not just for them to be pretty in our gardens but how beneficial they are.  So if you’re looking to contribute food-wise, and even for yourself he talks about all that stuff.  It’s a great project going on at the University of Delaware where they’ve done all this research and it’s been making the lecture circuit at every gardening conference. I think it’s well out there, it should be easy for people to get.  And then the other books that I love are Julie Messervy garden design books.  She’s really wonderful in teaching people how to garden, she has quite a few of them out there. And then there’s something called The Layered Landscape by Rick Darke that’s another one that talks about gardens in the style of the highline and the Lurie Garden and places where they’re coming in a putting huge sweeps of all sorts of plants and making it just so beautiful for the public.  It’s sort of how to achieve and define that type of garden which I think is important to show the public all these plants that are out there.

Dave:  Question number five is a fun one.  If somebody came to you and said “Angela I want to grow something wild, crazy and unusual next season” what’s the #1 suggestion you think every gardener should try to grow?

Angela:  So maybe the thing everyone asks me about when I walk by?

Dave:  Exactly!

Angela:  It would have to be the Red Leafed Castor Bean because it’s just an amazing plant and it’s so tropical looking and it will even grow 6 to 8 feet tall up here in Massachusetts so a lot of time the big Elephant Ears and things they say will grow 6 feet tall grow 3 feet tall in colder climates.  But that is one plant when everyone who comes over asks about.  And I think it’s fun for kids because it grows so fast.  It is poisonous so you want to make sure you don’t ingest the seeds but that’s a fun plant and has a great story about castor oil and riscin and it’s sort of dangerous so I think that’s a great plant for people to try because it’s so easy to grow.

Dave:  The Red Leafed Castor Bean.  You know I’ve done sixty of these podcasts and no one has mentioned the red leafed castor bean!  Awesome!

Angela:  I have always loved that plant!  I don’t know why, it’s just so tropical looking plant and it ends up in odd places like medians in cities.  I think because you just put in the ground and you don’t have to do anything to it.  It’s incredibly drought-tolerant and it has an odd look to it, Dr. Seuss-looking, but things that grow fast and big for annuals, it’s an annual but you can save the seeds, so it’s just fun.  I think stuff like that intrigues people and gets them into gardening.

Dave:  Oh yeah, the wow factor or the what-the-heck-is-that factor.

Angela:  Right!

Dave:  Nice.  Angela we’ve just flown by on our interview here, you’ve been an incredible guest.  I want everyone listening make sure you follow Angela on Twitter @plantweenie, and it’s the same on Instagram, and you can find her on Facebook and on   If you do nothing else out of this interview, head over to and send Angela a note, and tell her how your garden was this year, and ask her how to put you in touch with some of these breeders, and about some of these exotics and the everlasting hydrangea.

Angela:  And one thing we try and do, as much as I can find the sources for them, is to put a mail order resource for every plant that I can find one for on the page itself.  So if you go to that plant’s page, and you absolutely have to have it, and you can’t find it anywhere, there should be a mail order source so you can buy it through the mail.

Dave:  Angela you are awesome!  I want to give you the last word today to our listeners.  Can you leave us with a message, or a note of encouragement or a pearl of wisdom?

Angela:  Well, I just came back from a big think tank session of nursery growers, and they were trying to come up with some sort of national campaign that would get people to plant plants.  And, of course, nothing was resolved at the meeting.  But one thing that came out of was “plant something”.  That’s campaign that’s been going around, and 15 states have adopted it.  But I think, if we can all just remember, at least a couple of times a year, plant something.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  It doesn’t matter if it’s sunflower seeds, doesn’t matter if it’s milkweed, doesn’t matter if you’re planting a tree.  Just get your hands on something, and plant something, and you won’t be disappointed.

Dave:  Absolutely brilliant.  Angela, thank you so much for being on the show.

Angela:  Thank you!




Listen to Angela’s flower garden ideas Here: