Bluemel receives MNLA Achievement Award

John Akehurst introduced Kurt Bluemel as recipient of the 2012 MNLA Professional Achievement Award at the annual meeting of the Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association on Jan. 11 in Baltimore. Bluemel is acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of the "ornamental grass movement."
Founded in 1964, Kurt Bluemel Inc. is a nursery grower and supplier of ornamental grasses, bamboo, perennials, ferns, sedges, rushes and other exotic nursery plant materials.
In 1950 Bluemel was earning $8 a month working for his step-father, when he read a want ad in a German horticultural trade magazine which it turns out was published by Klaus Jelitto’s father. A Swiss nursery in Zurich, specializing in year-round vegetable production, was hiring and the pay was an extraordinary $45 a month and included room and board.
In March 1953, Bluemel took a pivotal job with Arnold Vogt Gartenbau, specializing in perennials and rock garden plants. He stayed on for six years, attaining a position as lead foreman and getting his first exposure to ornamental grasses.
Richard Simon of Bluemount Nurseries, in Monkton, Md., interned at Vogt’s Zurich nursery in 1957. Meeting Bluemel, Simon offered him employment propagating plants for the family business back in the States.
Soon he met Wolfgang Oehme, who had arrived from Germany three years earlier. Oehme was working for a landscape architect and also had some private customers on the side. Bluemel was delighted to meet another plantsman. The two began sharing information, collecting seeds of unusual species and importing plants from Switzerland and Germany.
In 1964, after four years at Bluemount, Bluemel went into partnership with Oehme and two of Oehme’s clients, Leo and Pauline Vollmer.
Bluemel and his wife Hannah have lived on the same Fallston farm for 44 years. The house sits on a hillside above the nursery and is surrounded by broad sweeps of perennials and grasses and anchored by stately trees, some planted in 1964.
The farm has a research and development greenhouse where he has grown and introduced plants into the market for the last 50 years. He counts 700 species and cultivars of ornamental grasses and sedges, 1,500 perennials and 100 bamboos among his inventory. Bluemel’s most popular commercial introductions have included the gray-green switch grass, Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’; a mid-sized Joe-Pye weed, Eupatorium ‘Gateway’; and the little blue stem grass, Schizachyrium ‘The Blues.’ There are hundreds of others with which you may be familiar all of which he has given to the horticultural community patent-free.
He is an avid and active member of the Perennial Plant Association and the American Horticultural Society as well as other international plant unions in an effort to proliferate the art and science of horticulture.