We’re delighted that Panayoti Kelaidis, the Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens, is the interviewee for this month’s Take Ten: Q and A. Panayoti has been an enthusiastic gardener since the age of 8 and has worked at Denver Botanic Gardens for the last 29 years. His great loves are alpine plants, trees, ferns, cacti, bulbs, xeric plants of all kinds, and yes, vegetables and fruits. Basically, Panayoti told us, he loves everything with chlorophyll.
1. What is the one thing that we’d be surprised to learn about you?
My major in college was Ancient Chinese language and literature. I never took a course in horticulture or botany.
2. If you could create the perfect plant, what would it be?
All plants are perfect. We are the flawed ones.
3. What is your favorite place in the world for finding inspiration or how do you go about finding inspiration in your work?
I find endless inspiration in my own garden at Denver Botanic Gardens, in nature and wherever plants grow freely and happily. I derive enormous pleasure and inspiration from chlorophyll in all its manifestations.
4. What’s the greatest plant expedition you’ve been on?
My first trip to South Africa changed the course of my life. I think I could say the same about my first trip to Mexico with Paul Maslin in 1978.
5. What’s your favorite dish made with fruits or vegetables?
Much Greek home cooking is vegetarian: I have tried to recreate my mother’s “tsigariasta horta”: a fabulous stew with all manner of wild greens and potatoes, flavored with fennel. I haven’t gotten it right yet.
6. What’s your take on the debate over native plants?
All plants are native somewhere. I love them all. I’d like us to preserve the tiny fragments of relatively untrammeled wild areas as pristine as possible, but I think the native stance is self-defeating and tedious in the extreme.
7. Do you think gardening has become too politically correct?
Not MY gardening. Those who choose to turn gardening into a platform for their platitudes are in the tiny minority and are easily ignored.
8. If you could make one wish about what gardening would be like in a perfect world, what would it be?
I would like to see all “landscaping” turned into gardening. But then, landscaped areas are in the minority: most of our roadsides and urban and suburban spaces are just horticultural slums.
9. Do you have any other passions in your life besides gardening?
I love family, literature, poetry, watercolor paintings, oil paintings, museums, music, theatre, good food, company, friends, movies, concerts, hiking in the mountains, visiting gardens, traveling to exotic places, finding treasures at thrift shops, my president, government, mayor, boss, colleagues and above all, my girlfriend!
10. When you’ve died, what do you want to be remembered for in the world of gardening?
I would like to be remembered as a man who taught the world that the steppes are the mother of gardens, and the richest, most beautiful gardens on plant earth.