Suzanne Warner Pierot
By Patricia Riley Hammer
I joined the American Ivy Society in 1984. I was a Senior Gardener at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. I was asked to gather all the Hedera varieties we had accessioned and put together a pot collection that would possibly be used in the New York Flower Show to reproduce an Ivy display 50 years ago by the Garden Club of America. I began the search by visiting the Plant Records Department and learned that we had about 54 different ivies growing somewhere on the property of over 1000 acres. I found them in production, in collections, growing on walls, filling spaces between the Orchid Collection, outdoors, indoors and just about everywhere. It did not take long for me to realize that ivy was one of the most diverse plants at the Garden. We used it everywhere and it comes in all sized shapes and colors. Ivy has a wide variety of growth habits and sends out “sports” readily so that new ones were showing up regularly. It is also easy to grow and adapts to many locations and conditions. Before I knew it I was hooked and wanted to learn all I could about this magical plant.
I had so many questions. In the beginning, I was especially interested in learning the correct names. Many of our ivies had broken or lost labels and since there are about 600 different cultivars and I was a novice I needed help. I contacted Dr. Sabina Mueller Sulgrove. She had so much knowledge and was so willing to help me that within a few weeks I was completely devoted to ivy. Along with introducing me to the world of ivy she also introduced me to The American Ivy Society and all the wonderful people involved in the group. It was not long before we started a local chapter and started having monthly meetings at Longwood.
I soon learned that the American Ivy Society was started in October of 1973 by a “housewife” from Scarborough, New York. Everyone talked about this amazing garden club housewife, Suzanne Warner Pierot who was interested in ivy, wanted to learn more about the plant and set out to learn all she could about now my favorite plant. Besides being the founder of the American Ivy Society she is author of The Ivy Book, the results of her tenacious quest to learn all she could about the plant.
I learned that Suzanne started her quest by going to local nurseries and buy all the different named ivies she would find.. She wanted beautiful ivies to grow over the rocks in her garden. She soon learned about the confusion in ivy names. In Suzanne’s style, she set out to find the right names, strive to correct the names in the industry.
Not long after the conception of The American Ivy Society, Suzanne was invited to come to Washington, D.C. to attend the celebration of the gift of George Washington’s “River Farm” to the American Horticultural Society as its’ permanent headquarter.
Suzanne was just starting to write The Ivy Book and was not going to pass up a chance to learn from the experts and to promote her new passions, Ivy and the American Ivy Society, so off to River Farm. Everyone who was anyone in the horticultural world was attending this momentous event. The guest of honor was the First Lady, Pat Nixon. At the luncheon Suzanne was seated next to Dr. Russell Seibert, a world renowned plantsman and the Director of Longwood Gardens. Imagine that, The American Ivy Society and it birth has some small connection to Longwood Gardens.
Suzanne told Dr. Seibert of her plight and asked for his help. He took her by the hand and introduced her to all the Directors of the major gardens in the country asking them to help her and the American Ivy Society. She could not have picked a better luncheon companion.
While writing The Ivy Book, Suzanne became more and more aware of how hard it was to talk about all the different ivies. She now had a collection of about 60 different ivies. She wanted to write a book that would simplify the identification of ivy. She found they could be divided by leaf shape, size color ending to be eight categories. They were “Variegated”, “Miniature”, “Heart-shaped”, “Fan”, “Curly”, “Bird’s foot”, “Ivy-ivy” and “Oddities.” Hence that was the beginning of the Pierot Classification still used today by anyone talking about and describing ivies.
When I joined the American Ivy Society in 1984 Suzanne was not active due to illness in the family that took her from her gardening interests. Over the years I had heard so much about this energetic house wife who started the American Ivy Society and wrote the book on ivy. Ivy was my new passion and Suzanne quickly became one of my “horticultural” heros. I must say there were several really outstanding women that I met in my early years with AIS that became great role models and helped me to grow and learn that you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. Dr. Sabina Sulgrove, at the time Director of Research for AIS, took my hand and taught me so much about ivy. Other women members of AIS that definitely had influence on my career and my life were Mary Ellen Ross, owner of Mary’s Gardens in Camden, Maine, Peggy Redding, Naples, FL, Pat Wellingham-Jones, Northern California, Elise Everhart, Baltimore, MD, and Daphne Pfaff, Naples, FL. All of these women gave me a step up along the way and stood behind me to keep me from falling down.
But Suzanne had become a legend and not long after getting entrenched in all things ivy and AIS I quickly learned there was so much more about Suzanne than just an “energetic housewife from Scarborough, NY. I learned that she started her career by lying about her age (she was only 17) and applying for the job of movie publicist for Howard Hughes. She got the job and it took her to England where she was part of the very exciting and fast moving movie world. Later in our friendship I remember traveling with Suzanne and listening to all her fabulous tales about the places she traveled and the people she met.
Suzanne is also a very established author and has written other plant books including What Can Grow In The Shade, Suzanne’s Garden Secrets, and Easy Guide to Tropical Plants. Her passions and talents go beyond the garden and she has written a cooking book called Suzanne’s Cooking Secrets. One of my favorite stories from Suzanne is how she came to write The Passionate Pelican. She told me she was sitting on the beach in some exotic place watching the pelicans and like everything else she became curious about pelicans. Not curious like most of us, Suzanne style curious so she set out to learn all she could about Pelicans! After exhaustive research she wanted to share her knowledge so she wrote a book.
Suzanne is well traveled and never feared new challenges. I know she owned a plantation for several years in Costa Rico. While living there she devoted every minute to learning about the flora and fauna of the region. Not only did she become an expert on Pineapple and Heleconias but she also learned about monkeys and other exotic creatures of the area. Suzanne would never stand for not learning all she could about the things around her.
Over the years I have had the great privilege to travel with her and get to know Suzanne Warner Pierot. I would describe her as strong willed and determined. She does not believe in failure and she sets very high standards for herself and any project she is takes on. She believes in doing things and doing the right. She can be a very effective task master and knows how to keep the ship sailing in the right direction.
Suzanne is generous and willing to share her knowledge, her garden, her kitchen and her time. I will always be grateful for all the encouragement and coaching she gave me not only as a leader for the American Ivy Society but for my entire career. I always knew she was a #1 fan of my career and she always took every opportunity to promote my topiary work. I watched her do that for all of us in AIS and beyond.
Suzanne is funny and entertaining. I remember sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for what may have been hours for delayed flights listening to fabulous stories of her travels and people she met but it seemed as though that time ended way too soon.
It is not hard to see how the American Ivy Society has been so successful over the past 30 years. Suzanne has now stepped down from President but her drive and dedication will never fade for those of us who are lucky enough to be among her friends and colleges. Suzanne has definitely made a difference in the ivy world. I know she will remain an inspiration to me and all of us at AIS.
Suzanne spends her time devoted to her family and her garden located in Woodstock, New York, with over 100,000 plants. It has been selected many times to be included in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Directory to Visiting America’s Gardens.
Suzanne Pierot - Obituary