Greetings from PDN, where we’re in the midst of a wonderful spring season. Although we had a short hot spell early in April, overall, it’s been a very nice spring for the plants. Because of our prolonged cold winter and the lack of a late spring frost, we had one of the best magnolia seasons in memory, and now the perennials are bursting forth with amazing vigor. Without question, we’ve also had the best peony season ever.and it’s not even over yet. We continue our peony trials for varieties that will grow and flower well, even in the low-chill southeast. Our offerings reflect the best of those trials that we have been able to make available so far.
Our hostas in the garden are also looking great this spring.mainly because we focused our efforts on improving the soil and moisture where we grow them in the garden. We discovered early on that hostas do not thrive in sandy soils, even when compost is added. Once we added a small bit of clay to our mix however, their performance improved dramatically. Hostas also perform much better when they are grown in either morning sun, or very open high shade. They really don’t fare very well in deep, dry shade.
Of course, we don’t want all hostas to get large, hence several new miniature offerings this spring. Since the wildly popular Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ was introduced in 2000, growers have been looking for new variegated sports of this gem. We are pleased to offer three this season, each of which has its own personality and will make a delightful small clump in the garden. These include Hosta ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’, Hosta ‘Mighty Mouse’, and Hosta ‘Pure Heart’. Although our photos of Hosta ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’ and Hosta ‘Mighty Mouse’ look similar, they are not. In spring, Hosta ‘Mighty Mouse’ has a much brighter edge, while Hosta ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’ has a chartreuse border. Small hostas aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy these cuties and can keep them from getting overrun in the garden, they are really quite superb.
I love the flush of spring iris, first the woodland dwarf Iris cristata, followed by two other shade lovers, Iris japonica and Iris tectorum. Now, we are just getting off to a great start with the fabulous Louisiana iris. The first few have just opened, with more to follow by this weekend. While Louisiana iris are great right out of the southern US swamps, you would be amazed what breeders have been able to do in terms of flower size and flower colors… to the point that Louisiana iris is now a rival of Siberian and Japanese iris. I was talking with Kelly Norris of the American Iris Society when he visited last fall about how badly people underestimate the winter hardiness of the Louisiana Iris. Just because they were born in the Deep South doesn’t mean they don’t fare well further north.
Another plant that impresses me more each year is Ligularia japonica. Our hot summers render us a ligularia-deprived climate, unless you still consider farfugiums to be ligularias. While ligularias are very important landscape staple in the northeast, their bold-textured form is sadly absent from the southeast, with the exception of Ligularia japonica. We’re still not sure how far south they can go, but certainly into Zone 8 and possibly further. So far, we have offered material from Japanese genetics, but we have a new crop for next year of Chinese native material, thanks to a 2005 collection from our friend Hans Hansen. Because of their large leaves, ligularias prefer soils that stay a bit on the moist side.
This spring, we’ve been working with the folks at Floating Islands Southeast www.floatingislandse.com to install one of their floating islands in our rain garden retention pond. With their help, it has just been planted, so we look forward to having it fill in as the season progresses.we invite you to watch as it develops. If you aren’t familiar with their products, the islands, made of recycled plastic bottles, etc., are designed be planted and then float in ponds as a nutrient bioretention filter.
Speaking of Open House, it’s already time for our Spring Open House. I know many of you missed the Winter Open House in February due to cold weather, but I hope you will be able to visit with us during our Spring Open House, which starts this today and continues next weekend also.
I normally don’t take off on overseas plant exploration trips in April, but this year was an exception as I was fortunate to spend a week in early April botanizing on the Greek island of Crete. Over the last few years, we noticed how well many of the plants from Crete were performing well in our garden, so we decided to see what other plants might have good garden potential. We were quite amazed at the botanical crossover including three North Carolina natives which are also native in Crete.despite our non-Mediterranean, wet-summer climate. If you’d like to travel vicariously with us, without leaving the comfort of home, we have posted our expedition log with images on-line at www.plantdelights.com/Tony/crete.php.
In the nursery world, we regret to report that Jane Bath’s Georgia nursery, Land Arts, has closed its doors after 18 years in business, although Jane’s landscape business remains open. You may remember Jane’s most famed plant introduction, the wildly popular, Dianthus ‘Bath’s Pink’.
Bad news in the nursery industry continued this month when George W. Park Seed Company (which includes Wayside Gardens) filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection on April 2. Park Seed also operates two affiliate businesses, Park Seed Wholesale and Jackson and Perkins Direct Marketing (Roses), which were also included in the filing. Park has 120 days to present a plan for restructuring for long term success, or the assets will be sold to pay off its debts. In the meantime, it’s business as usual. There is always the option that another firm will purchase the company and try to keep it running.
For those who may not know much about the company’s history, George W. Park Seed Company began business in 1868, and started their wholesale division a few years later in 1870. Wayside Gardens opened in 1920 and operated until 1975, when it was purchased by Park Seed and moved from Mentor, Ohio to Greenwood, SC. Jackson and Perkins, was founded in 1872, and was subsequently purchased in 1966 by Harry and David Co., who owned it until 2007.
Park Seed was still run by members of the Park family until a “hostile takeover” in 2008. Don and Glenda Hachenberger, first obtained a 50% stake of Park Seed and Wayside Gardens in 2005, when they financed Karen Park Jennings takeover of the nursery in a family squabble, from her brother Leonard Park. As the Park stable of businesses began to decline, the Hachenberger’s were able to acquire 100% ownership in 2008. In 2007, they (technically J & P Acquisitions, a company made up of Don and Glenda Hachenberger and their children’s trust fund) also purchased Jackson and Perkins from Harry and David for 21 million dollars, and moved its operations to Greenwood, South Carolina. All four companies were are currently operated under the Park Seed umbrella, and since neither Wayside, Jackson and Perkins, or Park Wholesale have staff, all the work is performed by the employees of Park Seed.
In 2009 alone, sales of the Park Seed umbrella companies declined a whopping 29%, from 61.6 million to 43.7 million. The worst decline was from Park/Wayside (35%), Jackson and Perkins (30%), and Park Wholesale (15%). In addition to the current bankruptcy issues, the Hachenberger’s investment group was also sued for breech of contract by Harry and David in June of last year, and again in February of 2010.
The Park family of companies, while owned by Don and Glenda Hachenberger, who are in the midst of divorce proceedings (never a good thing), are run by Furman graduate, Charles (Chas) Fox. Chas’s bio indicates that he played three years in the NFL, before getting into the horticulture business. Interestingly all of the NFL sources that I’ve checked with, indicated that he only played 4 games in 1986 as a receiver with the St. Louis Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals). Fox is also president of Southern Sun Biosystems, a venture capital-funded company that he co-founded to sell high dollar propagation systems. Although Southern Sun Biosystems was a financial bust, Fox was also able to sell his company to the Hachenbergers, who it seems were looking for a quick way to shed some extra cash. Chas also started the now defunct Knox Nursery in South Carolina.
You can read more about the Park Seed story, including comments from readers and even some Park Seed staff in the Greenwood Index Journal.
There is a small charge to access their archives, but in summary, many of the posters seem to think that Park’s problems are more of a management issue than an economic one. This theme is also echoed in the on-line comments posted on the Garden Watchdog forum. Regardless of the cause, the Park family of companies are a very important part of the mail order nursery industry and a large employer in the Greenwood area. We wish them the best of luck in turning their ship around and returning to their glory days.
In the “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” file this month is the government caused shortage of tree bark for both homeowners and the nursery industry. So, why should we care about bark? Only because virtually every nursery in the US uses a potting mix that is primarily pine bark. In its efforts to promote green energy, and since free market economics don’t make the use of biofuels logical, USDA started a biomass fuel subsidy program with your tax dollars, which now threatens the availability of bark for the nursery industry. In February, The Farm Security Administration Biomass Crops Assistance Program (BCAP) set a subsidy rate of $45 per ton for woody biomass, which would mean that the price of pine bark could easily double or triple, which will affect both availability and affordability for nurseries, that are already struggling because of the recession. The American Nursery and Landscape Association is working with USDA in the hopes that someone with common sense will listen. And who is it that doesn’t think we don’t need lobbyists to prevent ridiculous legislation such as this?
We’ve had our own little fiasco this spring, when we discovered that we had used a defective batch of nursery fertilizer last summer and fall. It seemed that the slow release fertilizer that we used from late July through October had a defective coating that caused the fertilizer to dump all the nutrients at once during the middle of the winter. We first noticed the problem in late winter when some crops in the nursery started declining and dying. The problem worsened as we neared spring, and many plants that should have emerged didn’t. Testing of the affected crops revealed extraordinarily high levels of salts. We contacted representatives of the fertilizer manufacturer, who have worked with us and agreed that the fertilizer is indeed the culprit, but that doesn’t bring the plants back to life. To this point, the casualty count is over 5,000 plants. As you can imagine, this has caused us to be sold out of many plants that were in plentiful supply in the fall, many of which you had already ordered and paid for. For those who ordered plants so affected, we sincerely apologize, and appreciate your patience as we repropagate those items which could be re-propagated and refund for those whose propagation isn’t feasible or timely.
Marco Van Noort
One of the plants that we have extolled the virtues of is Geranium ‘Rozanne’ PP 12,175. Well, there has been an ongoing controversy with a look-a-like called Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’, which finally reached a conclusion. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ was patented in the US on February 25, 1999. Less than a year later, in January 18, 2000, a similar seedling from Holland’s Marco Van Noort hit the market, named Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’ PP 12,148. All of us who had grown both varieties, agreed that they were extremely similar, but not exactly the same.we chose to sell G. ‘Rozanne’. Both varieties were issued a US patent, since Van Noort did not include Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’ as the closest similar variety on his patent application, which he was required to do by law. Blooms of Bressingham, which has the marketing rights to Geranium ‘Rozanne’ filed a patent infringement suit against Van Noort. The bitter dispute lasted over seven years, and Van Noort recently gave up after spending over 200,000 Euros. DNA tests showed that the two varieties were indeed similar, but not the same. Heck, I could have told them that for far less money. Van Noort has agreed to stop sales of Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’ after July 1, 2010.
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