C. Colston Burrell

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PO Box 76 5685 Peavine Hollow Trail Free Union, Virginia 22940

C. Colston Burrell is an acclaimed international lecturer, garden designer, award winning author, naturalist and photographer. He has shared his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and his respect for regional landscapes with audiences for 35 years.

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Additional Information

Perennial Combinations - An Amazon.com best seller for 10 years!



C. Colston Burrell is an acclaimed lecturer, garden designer, award winning author and photographer. A certified chlorophyll addict, Cole is an avid and lifelong plantsman, gardener and naturalist. Cole is a popular lecturer internationally on topics of design, plants and ecology. He has shared his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and his abiding respect for regional landscapes with professional and amateur audiences for 35 years. He is principal of Native Landscape Design and Restoration, which specializes in blending nature and culture through artistic design. In 2008 Cole received the Award of Distinction from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers for his work in sustainable gardening.

Cole’s latest book, Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide, coauthored with Judith Knott Tyler, received the 2007 American Horticultural Society Book Award. He is author of several popular titles, including Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials - 10th Anniversary Edition with Ellen Phillips, Perennial Combinations, Revised 2008, (an Amazon.com best selling garden title), Perennials for Today’s Gardens and A Gardener’s Encyclopedia of Wildflowers, which won the 1997 AHS Book Award. Cole writes regularly for Horticulture, Landscape Architecture, American Gardener and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. His writing reflects a love of plants, and he champions their use in artistically designed, environmentally friendly gardens.

Cole worked as curator at the U.S. National Arboretum and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. He has devoted a lifetime to studying native plants in the wild and in gardens which lead to undergraduate degrees in Botany and Horticulture. He has an M.S. in Horticulture and a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Minnesota. He is a lecturer in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia, where he teaches about plants and their ecological connections to natural systems and cultural landscapes.

After tending a city lot alive with birds and butterflies in Minneapolis, MN, he now gardens on 10 wild acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia, where he grows natives and the best plants of the global garden. Cole’s garden Bird Hill was featured in The New York Times and frequently appears in national and regional publications. The garden is a popular destination for national tours. Visitors discover a collector’s paradise set among a pastiche of woodland, meadow, and gardens inspired by the beauty of the regional landscape.




THE SUSTAINABLE GARDEN: Magic, Myth or Reality

Everyone is talking about sustainability, but what does it
really mean to gardeners and landscape professionals? Do our gardening
practices have a negative impact on the environment? Can we make a difference
by changing the way we approach design, planting and maintenance? These are a
few of the questions to explore in terms of the hallmarks of sustainability
like water harvesting, composting, fertilizing and creating habitat. This
lecture highlights sustainable practices within the framework of both formal
and informal gardens and their relationship to larger regional systems.



Every garden has a challenging site where conventional
solutions are more work than reward. This lecture helps gardeners choose the
best native plants to thrive in tough site conditions, from wet or compacted
soil to hot dry sites and dense shade. Using nature as a model, we explore the
adaptations that allow native plants to cope with the toughest conditions
Mother Nature can dish out. With nature in mind, we combine site appropriate
plants to fashion beautiful gardens with reduced maintenance.


LITERATURE INTO ART: Books That Changed the Way We Garden

In today’s fast paced information age, it is hard to imagine
a time when gardeners relied on books rather than YouTube videos for
inspiration and practical advice. This lecture examines the shifting roles that
gardens have played in our culture, from Victorian bedding schemes to outdoor
living rooms, and highlights some seminal books that changed the way we
envision, design, plant and maintain outdoor spaces.


WITH NATURE IN MIND: Design & Plants for Shaded Gardens

Woodlands are places of subtle beauty and quiet enchantment.
This lecture focuses on techniques for working with seasonal rhythms, forest
structure and vegetation dynamics to design shade gardens of unique and lasting
beauty. Learn about the unique challenges of designing shaded spaces that
celebrate beautiful native wildflowers and shade plants from around the world
that thrive under nature’s canopy.


SEASONAL SPLENDOR: Year Round Color in the Shade Garden

Spring provides an embarrassment of riches for woodland gardens and shaded borders. The challenge
for is to keep the garden colorful throughout the growing season. The key to
success is to layer the garden the way nature layers her woodlands and glades. Employ
plants with exceptional form and varied textures that persist after the
ephemerals have acquiesced, such as filigreed ferns, arching Solomon’s seals, and
soft sedges. Weaving richly textured groundcovers, shrubs and understory trees
into a seamless tapestry provides color through the seasons.



The best part of the gardening year begins as the asters are
fading. The onset of winter brings a respite from heat, and signals the start
of a season filled with berried branches and seductive silhouettes. Decorative
elements and artful planting conspire to provide places to grow myriad
winter-blooming plants such as daphnes, hellebores, and minor bulbs. This
lecture focuses on the unique challenges of creating interest with both living
and built elements and presents a variety of approaches to add texture, color
and fragrance to the unsung season.



The late 19th Century set the stage for the
blossoming of a national love affair with native plants. From the Victorian
passion for the outdoors and the birth of the field guide, to the environmental
movement and the blossoming of modern native plant nurseries, native plants
have become integral to horticulture and design in America. In the new millennium,
invasive exotic species, habitat destruction, global warming and xenophobia are
a few of the issues still germane after three centuries of promoting and
employing North America’s diverse and
beautiful flora.


HELLEBORES: An American Passion

America has finally discovered hellebores. Early flowers, long bloom season and
beautiful evergreen foliage endeared them to past generations. Today’s
hellebores are not like the ones seen in your grandmother’s garden, however. A
revolution in breeding has produced a range of hybrids never dreamed possible,
including picotee, anemone and double flowered selections. This lecture
explores the diversity of wild species as well as the myriad beautiful new
hybrids.  The story of cultivation and hybridization takes us from the wilds of Montenegro
to nurseries in England, Germany and Holland, and back toAmerica.



Native plants are currently the height of fashion. Gardeners, restorationists and
landscape architect are planting natives, but do we really know what is native,
and where? When we plant a floodplain species in an upland, are we gardening
ecologically? Are cultivars native? These are a few of the questions C. Colston
Burrell will explore as he examines the current popularity of landscaping with
native plants from an ecological perspective. He will focus on the
possibilities, techniques and issues behind ecologically based sustainable
landscape design using native plant communities and regionally native species
as the basis for creating gardens and restorations.


FINISHING TOUCHES: The Power of Details in Garden Design

Ever wonder why some gardens make your heart sing? Chances
are you are responding to details. All gardens have well defined spaces and
good planting -- great gardens stand out because of details. From paving
patterns to stonework, fencing, containers and sculpture, the details in both
functional and artistic elements make a garden personal and magical. This
lecture celebrates spaces of various sizes that combine form, color and texture
in hardscape and plants to fashion memorable places.


PERENNIALS WITH PANACHE': Stalwart Plants for American Gardens

Specialty Nurseries from Coast to Coast are bursting with
new introductions originating in gardens and wild areas across the globe. From
collector’s plants to tomorrow’s mainstays, we will explore an exciting palette
of plants for woodlands, beds and borders, as well as ways to incorporate them
into the garden’s tapestry.



Combinations are the building blocks of successful gardens. Groupings of plants that share
the same growth requirements will be the most successful, and the lowest
maintenance. Color, form and texture are media the garden artist uses to create
a rich tapestry of unique beauty. Plants with outstanding flowers, foliage and
fruits, put together a few at a time, help you to build a garden that is
beautiful and successful. This lecture stresses the use of colorful flowers and
foliage to create season-long interest in beds and borders of all sizes, in sun
and shade.



Ferns impart a cool grace to gardens that no other group of
plants can match. They beguile us with just their fronds. From the filigreed
lace of the lady fern, to the erect swords of the deer fern, fronds provide
color, form and texture to meet the most stringent design criteria. Learn how
to tame these garden treasures and discover the beauty and variety of new ferns
available today. Topics to be covered include fern anatomy, life cycle, growth
forms, cultivation requirements


MORE THAN A PRETTY FACE: Native Alternatives to Invasive Exotic Plants

Landscape plants fulfill many diverse rolls in the varied
settings within our gardens. They contribute form, color and texture to the
garden tapestry through flowers, foliage, fruits and bark. They form the
permanent as well as the ephemeral structure that defines the garden boundaries
and spaces. Many of the plants most readily available in garden centers and
nurseries have been invasive exotic species that spread beyond the bounds of
our gardens. These invasive species alter the structure and function of
ecosystems and displace native species. This lecture presents a wealth of
native trees, shrubs and perennials that can serve as alternatives to invasive
species, additionally providing food for butterflies, birds and other wildlife.


SACRED SPACE/PLAY SPACE: Celebrating the Mystique of the Garden

Why do we garden? To nurture and cultivate, yes, but also to
express ourselves. For many, their gardens are stage sets, where the drama of
life plays out in quiet and fanciful ways. This lecture examines the shifting
roles that gardens have played in our culture, from Victory gardens to outdoor living
rooms, and suggests ways to make them integral to the everyday experience of
gardeners and non-gardeners alike.


GOOD BONES: Creating a Framework for the Garden

Many people point to their garden as something isolated and
disconnected from the fabric of the landscape. A well-designed garden is more
than a collection of planting beds, it is a logical sequence of spaces,
enhanced by the plantings, structures and ornaments that define them. These
space-defining bones determine how the garden looks through the seasons,
especially in winter. Cole Burrell takes you through the process of designing
and furnishing the floors, walls and ceiling of the garden as he demonstrates
how to refine the garden’s spaces with structures, plants and ornaments.


 INTIMATE GARDENS: Comfortable Spaces for Outdoor Living

Most gardeners are faced with the challenge of creating
their version of paradise in a relatively small space. As our property
boundaries shrink, and our lives become more hectic, our gardens become havens
from the world around us. We definitely want a place outdoors to entertain and
relax, but we also long for a stronger connection to the natural world. Intimacy
is more than privacy and enclosure, however. Our gardens become intimate when
we develop relationships with the plants, design elements, ornaments and processes
that make them truly personal.


DESIGNING FOR HABITAT: From Back Yards to Byways

What does a garden need to attract and sustain wildlife? How
do we meet the aesthetic goals of owners while providing the structure and
resources necessary to maintain the insects and birds we love? Can we create
healthy habitat with a mixture of native and exotic plants? This lecture
explores the possibilities and limitations of designing sustainable habitat
gardens at various scales, from urban spaces to rural retreats.


OBSESSION AND EXPLOITATION: The Cultural History of Trilliums

Connections between trilliums and
humans have existed since indigenous peoples employed their medicinal powers.
They are celebrated in song and rhyme, featured on stamps, and their perfect
symmetry has been abstracted into logos, symbols and art. Their name is
exploited to sell products and housing developments.  The story of trilliums is one of obsession and


Understanding Cycles and Flows

Were you paying attention in science class? If so, you
remember the water cycle and the biomass pyramid, right? Nature’s sustainable
systems balance inputs and outputs through flows of energy and cycles of
nutrients, water and carbon. Unfortunately, human systems are often out of
balance. As a result, they have diminished sustainability. This lecture demonstrates
why sustainable landscapes are only achieved when designed to facilitate rather
than hinder or interrupt nature’s cycles and flows.


NATIVE PLANTS IN YOUR GARDEN: Lessons from Nature and Culture

Native plants are currently the height of fashion, but do we
really know what is native, and where? When we plant a floodplain species in an
upland situation, are we gardening ecologically? Are cultivars native? These
are a few of the questions C. Colston Burrell will explore as he examines the
current popularity of landscaping with native plants from an ecological
perspective. This lecture focuses on techniques for working with seasonal
rhythms, structure and dynamics of native plant communities to design sustainable
native gardens of unique and lasting beauty.


 NORTH AMERICA’S FORESTS: A Celebration of Trees and Wildflowers

Deciduous forests dominate eastern North America, yet this extensive province is only one of seven woodland
types that blanket the North American continent. From the old growth hemlocks
and tulip poplars of the southern Appalachians to colossal California redwoods, these forests serve as
important reservoirs for biodiversity. Each forest type has unique vertical
structure, species composition and vegetation dynamics ruled by climate,
rainfall, soils, slope and aspect. This lecture explores the beauty of North America’s forests, their unique inhabitants as well
as threats to their existence such as invasive plant species, insect epidemics
and climate change.



From a small city lot in Minneapolis (Zone 4) to 10 acres in
the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (Zone 7), plantsman and author C. Colston
Burrell explores the ecology, inspiration, design and choice plants that shaped
his two distinctive gardens. In his gardens, art, architecture and both native
and exotic plants conspire to create comfortable spaces enveloped in rich
tapestries of lush foliage and colorful flowers.




DESIGNING FOR HABITAT: From Back Yards to Byways

NATURE’S SUSTAINABLE SYSTEMS: Understanding Cycles and Flows

FINISHING TOUCHES: The Power of Details in Garden Design

WITH NATURE IN MIND: Design & Plants for Shaded Gardens



HELLEBORES: An American Passion

SACRED SPACE/PLAY SPACE: Celebrating the Mystique of the Garden

NORTH AMERICA’S FORESTS: A Celebration of Trees and Wildflower

OBSESSION AND EXPLOITATION: A Cultural History of Trillium



GOOD BONES: Creating a Framework for the Garden.



Photo Gallery

  • Hellebore: A Comprehensive Guide
  • Great Natives for Tough Places
  • Perennial Combinations
  • A Gardener's Encyclopedia of Wildflowers

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Audience Reviews

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Excellent Speaker

Nina Hedrick from Tennessee - 02/17/2013 18:28:00

Our organization, the Southern Appalachian Plant Society, had C. Colston Burrell present his Program: Design Ideas and plant Combinations for Winter Gardens at a recent meeting. His talk was very well received by our large audience, and was followed by a lively and informative Q and A session. His knowledge of plants and design was well evidenced by his beautiful photographs and excellent presentation skills. We intend to have him present to us again, and highly recommend him to other groups.

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Great Photos and Good Information

Lynda from Summerfield, NC - 04/17/2012 19:49:17

Cole gave two presentations for our event, and both were very good. His delivery was smooth, information good but not tedious, and he charmed his audience with his passion for plants.

I particularly liked the fact that he interacted with the participants and was very friendly and social throughout the long day. Guilford Horticultural Society recommends this speaker.

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