June was quite a month, starting with a botanical expedition to the Balkans, including the countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. During my 2010 expedition to Crete, my traveling companion, Tom Mitchell and I talked quite a bit about the Balkan flora. Tom had botanized the region a dozen times and he thought many of the plants there would be a good climate match for North Carolina. After not leaving the country for two years because of Michelle’s illness, I was thankful for the opportunity to join up with Tom again and get back in the field. The trip was a wonderful success and it was great to see so many familiar plants growing in the wild…epimedium, hellebores, pulmonaria, asarum, iris, etc. As in the past, I kept a daily expedition diary, which has now been posted with photos on our website.
While I was gone, the weather here in NC was much cooler than normal. Once I returned, however, we entered a three week period of unseasonably hot, record-setting temperatures including Raleigh’s first ever period of three consecutive days above 103 degrees F. It looks like we’ve only got a few more days to go in this pattern before we return to the below normal temperatures and above normal rainfall that we enjoyed earlier.
Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are suffering from the devastation of the horrific Colorado wildfires to the flooding from tropical storm Debbie, which dumped up to 31 inches of rain on some of our customers’ gardens. Following Debbie were the bizarre straight line winds (derechos) which slammed the region including Virginia, West Virginia, DC, Maryland, and northwest to Ohio just prior to July 4, and uprooted thousands of trees. The storm left thousands of folks without power for over a week. I expect there will be plenty of folks with new sun gardens after those storms.
This weekend marks the start of our Summer Open House. Despite the heat, the gardens are looking great with plenty of plants in full bloom from hemerocallis to hibiscus to helianthus…it’s truly an “H” time of year. If you can’t handle the heat, you may want to come early in the day or even wait until the second weekend which, if you believe long-range forecasts, looks to be a good bit cooler. One of the great treats for this year’s Summer Open House is a chance to see all of the agaves in bloom. Although we had nine agaves flower this year, one has finished but the rest should still be in bloom…at least for the first weekend. The dates are July 6-8 and 13-15…8-5 on Fridays and Saturdays and 1-5pm on Sundays. We sure hope you’ll be able to join us.
I’m not sure if it was the phase of the moon or some other cosmic line-up that prompted all the musical chairs in the horticultural world over the last month, but it’s been one heck of a busy time. June ended with the announcement that the Port Gamble S’Klallam Indian Tribe had purchased Heronswood Nursery and Gardens from the mercurial George Ball. The S’Klallam Tribe lives on the Kitsap Peninsula, where Heronswood was started and the Heronswood property was actually part of their ancestral lands. At this time, no one is really sure what this means for the future of the gardens, but we’ll all look forward to finding out soon. After moving the mail order nursery to Pennsylvania in 2006 in an attempt to show those in the Pacific Northwest horticultural community that he could make Heronswood profitable in a more horticulturally sophisticated region, he subsequently ran it completely into the ground, putting Heronswood mercifully out of its misery.
In more news from the mail order nursery world, our friends at RareFind Nursery tell us that they are also under new ownership. After the 2009 death of founder Hank Schannen, we were all uncertain if Hank’s baby could survive, but I am glad to report that Oliver LaFarge Hamill of Lawrenceville, NJ is the new owner of Rarefind. The staff tells us that Oliver, the owner of the organic Cherry Grove Farm http://www.cherrygrovefarm.com is also a plant lover and long-time Rarefind customer. We wish them the best of luck!
I also mentioned recently about the bankruptcy of K. Van Bourgondien Nursery and its other affiliates. Well, as he has often done in the past, Niles Kinerk, the founder of Gardens Alive has purchased all of the Van Bourgondien enterprises as of May 31. Kinerk has become the “Pacman” of mail order and now owns twelve nurseries including Gardens Alive (1988), Spring Hill Nursery (2001), Michigan Bulb (2001), Brecks (2001), Henry Fields (2001), Gurney’s (2001), Thompson and Morgan US (2009), Iseli Wholesale Nursery (2011), Weeks Roses Wholesale (2011), K. Van Bourgondien Wholesale (2012), Dutch Bulbs (2012), Simple Pleasures Wholesale (2012), along with several non-plant companies; Audubon Workshop (1997), Bit and Pieces (2008), The Paragon (2008), TouchStone (2009), Room Service Home (2009), Images of Canada (2009), The Added Touch (2009), and Spilsbury (2009).
In yet another corporate sale, Jiffy Products, the owners of the 150-year-old Ferry Morse Seed Company recently sold the distressed company to Plantation Products of Massachusetts. Ferry Morse is a distributer of low end seed to box stores and other large discount commercial retailers. Without warning, Plantation fired the entire staff of 200 people at the Fulton Kentucky factory when they returned from lunch on May 18. Shortly after the layoffs, Plantation hired back half of the Kentucky staff to work on a transition program until the Kentucky factory closes for good at year’s end. Plantation also closed Ferry Morse operations in Fremont, Indiana, and will close its White City, Oregon center by years end. According to staff at the Kentucky factory, during its seven-year ownership, starting in 2005, Jiffy Products had run Ferry-Morse into the ground due to incompetent management. Web tales of regularly getting the wrong type and poor quality seed seems to have been the rule rather than the exception…a truly sad situation.
In still yet another deal of horticultural significance, Syngenta, one of the world’s largest agricultural research companies, sold off its interest in Fafard, a 90-year-old manufacturer of commercial potting soils. We always get concerned when a product we use gets sold, as happened years earlier when our former seed-starting mix, Metro Mix was sold and the quality went to hell. At that time, we switched to the dramatically better Fafard Mix, so now we hope we don’t have to start looking again. At least in this case the purchaser is Sun Grow Horticulture, one of the largest producers of peat moss and peat moss related products. Fingers crossed!
From Philadelphia, another of the national stars of the garden center world has filed for bankruptcy. The highly regarded 69-year-old Waterloo Gardens, which I last visited in 1996, is now holding on by a thread. Bankruptcy judges have already ordered Waterloo to close its original location in Devon, PA. Like many other nurseries and garden centers, Waterloo’s aggressive expansion was ill-planned and ill-timed. Two new Waterloo locations in Warminster, PA and Wilmington DE closed in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The only remaining location is the Exton, PA location.
In the “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help you” news this month, commercial greenhouse maker, XS Smith is closing up shop after 66 years in business. Anyone in the floriculture business knows XS Smith and their reputation for high quality greenhouses. Our very first greenhouse at Plant Delights was an XS Smith greenhouse. The company blamed its closure on The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which made borrowing money much more difficult. Smith said that the new law now requires a complete reevaluation of the property when applying for a loan, slowing and complicating the process. To make matters worse, XS Smith’s largest customer, Carolina Nurseries, went bankrupt last year.
Also from the “I’m from the Government”…oops file….if you’ve ordered a Pink Champagne blueberry plant, which has been prominently pictured on other mail order catalog covers, you’ll want to read this. Briggs Nursery in Oregon, which propagated the blueberry, just got word from the USDA experiment station in New Jersey that they sent Briggs the wrong plant to produce. So, the chances are pretty good that your fruit will not be pink. If you bought this plant and it doesn’t have pink fruit, you should contact your vendor for a refund.
I’d like to update another story that I wrote about last year, which was the tree damage caused by Dupont’s new environmentally friendly herbicide, Imprelis. As it turned out, the herbicide was friendly to the environment…just not to the plants growing in the environment. Dupont is now processing over 30,000 plant damage claims. Dupont has set aside $225 million, but says their payout looks as though it could reach the $575 million mark. Dupont says they already have offers out to half of the claimants and hope to complete the process by this fall. The amount cited above does not, however, include money for a Federal class action lawsuit. Part of the difficulty is the unknown factor of how long the Imprelis will continue to impact areas where it was applied. Ouch!
Finally, it’s with a very sad heart that I announce the loss of one of our 14-year-old cats, Ruby to cancer on July 3. Although Ruby was one of the shyest of our cats, many of you had the chance to meet her during Open House. Ruby is survived by her sister, Pearl and half-brothers, Zirconia and Henry. View the Gallery of Ruby’s Life