Friday, June 21, 2013

Karen Bussolini Shares her Voyage of Discovery And Brings Joy Back into People’s Gardens

Growing up in Canton Center, Conn., Karen Bussolini remembers racing with her father to be the first to grab Organic Gardening magazine from the mailbox. Her father, the son of Italian immigrants, was amused that there was a name for the kind of gardening his family had done for generations.

“To him, that was just good gardening,” she said.

Understanding the interconnectedness of the web of life came naturally to both father and daughter, who planted gardens everywhere she lived as a young adult - even tucking beet plants between the foundation shrubs in her apartment complex while studying art at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Bussolini, accredited since 2010, is a renowned author, photographer, educator and eco-garden coach who considers her lifelong love-turned-career of nature and gardening a “voyage of discovery.”

“All of my endeavors - the photography, writing, speaking - are all about learning things. Every time I take a picture I think about ‘what’s the purpose of this, what do I want to show’ that can help people not only see what a plant looks like but what makes it so appealing and how it fits into the bigger picture,” she said.

After college she worked as a professional architectural photographer for over a decade. She began photographing and writing about gardens in the 1980’s, quickly becoming a resource to editors and an inspiration to her then mostly landscape design clients, who were thrilled to see their gardens in print. One thing led to another and Bussolini’s reputation for excellence grew.

She has written for magazines and newspapers including American Gardener, Better Homes & Gardens, Colonial Homes, Historic Preservation, Organic Gardening, Women’s Day and Yankee. She co-authored and photographed the book, Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden (Timber, 2005) and served as sole photographer on several books including Backyard Design(Bulfinch), A Country Garden for your Backyard (Rodale), The Unsung Season: Gardens and Gardeners in Winter (Houghton Mifflin), and The Complete Homeowners Tree and Shrub Handbook (Storey Publishing), for which she traveled all over the country, with a concentration on the east coast, capturing specific trees and shrubs in the perfect light of spring.

“That book got me into a lot of trouble because I fell in love with so many trees and shrubs,” she laughed. “All of the aspects of my life are so interconnected - photos for books and for lectures, coaching clients, writing books, writing articles - I think about things and I see things and I feel a story brewing, or it’s something I want to investigate more. If an editor says ‘yes,’ that gives me the excuse to go and learn more!”

Bussolini feels she has a mission to educate others through her professional endeavors, sharing her passions and teaching homeowners how to garden and landscape their yards more sustainably.

“I want to inspire people to wipe out that sterile suburban mode of landscaping that is so detrimental to life. It does not support life or joy. There’s so much we can do in our own yards to knit back together fragmented habitats and to support wildlife,” she said.

Bussolini’s contagious enthusiasm also serves her well in her role as eco-garden coach. She said her clients are often amazed at what is growing in their backyards, from invasives they can pull to beautiful perennials they only have to stop deadheading in order to increase.

In lectures, she’ll often show a picture of an apple tree with an owl nestled in the tree’s hollow.

“I tell people that if everything is perfectly groomed and there are no hollows for owls to live in, then you won’t have the owls, that eat the white-footed mice that carry ticks that carry Lyme Disease. I encourage people to have a bit of imperfection,” she said.

She often refers her clients to NOFA Accredited professionals for installations and is presently seeking more of them in the northwestern corner of Connecticut she calls home.

Bussolini, who sings in a classical vocal ensemble and loves to swim, is also proud to share that her 23-year-old son also loves gardening and is working for a NOFA Accredited landscape designer “and loving it.”

“Every aspect of my life is so rewarding,” she said. “I guess I feel like I have important work on earth to do and I love sharing that with people, and passing on a sense of the interconnectedness and stewardship of the earth.”  For more information, visit