2009 Plant Delights Nursery February Newsletter

Greetings from Plant Delights! We hope everyone is coping well with a winter that, at best, brings back memories of winters past. Parts of central and southern Florida have endured abnormal freezes, while much of the Midwest was hit with a devastating ice storm leaving them without power for up to a week. Here in Juniper Level, we saw a low of 9 degrees F on January 16 … the lowest temperature in 5 years. Some of our test agaves bit the dust, but all of the plants that have been out in the gardens for years made it through fine. We’ll report later on the freeze damage as it continues to show. Don.t be fooled into thinking plants which look great the day after a freeze are all fine, since damage often takes a month or more to show up.

One of the most intriguing physiological reactions to cold weather is how evergreen plants change the pressure in their cell walls to cope with low temperatures. It’s interesting to venture out on very cold mornings to see plants such as aspidistra, trillium, and rohdea appear as small piles of melted blackened mush. Once the temperature rises, however, the cells return to normal, the stomata (leaf breathing apparatus) reopen, and the plant miraculously bounces back. Gardeners in colder climates have no doubt noticed this on rhododendrons, which similarly curl their leaves on cold nights to reduce water loss.

For those who have pushed palms past their recommended zones, you may be seeing some damage now in regions which have experienced near normal winter temperatures for the first time in many years. Three types of palm damage occurs … foliar burn, spear pull, and the call of the grim reaper.

Foliar burn occurs when the foliage turns a sickly pale grey green … usually about 3-4 weeks after the freeze event. Some very tender palm foliage will turn brown the morning after the freeze, but this is much less common. Trachycarpus latisectus and T. martianus are good examples of palms that we grow as dieback perennials. These damaged leaves will not recover, but the plant should resume growing normally in spring. I would not cut the damage leaves until the growth resumes vigorously during spring. In our experience, spear pull usually occurs without widespread leaf burn. In this case, a slight tug on the new growth results in the top few developing leaves coming out in your hand. In most cases, the plant will survive. I prefer to leave the damaged spear leaves intact until spring, when they can be removed to allow air to reach the damaged tissue and prevent rot. Some growers find a fungicide helpful, although I have never resorted to this. To prevent damage, some palm growers like to clothespin the new leaves together which seems to help. The older a palm gets, the less likely it is to have spear pull damage, which is why some palm growers prefer to grow them indoors until they reach a 3-5 gallon size. Since we grow only small-sized palms, we plant ours at a smaller size and consequently experience more spear pull until the plants gain some age. Palm death is pretty easy to recognize as a complete tissue meltdown, resulting in a pile of mush and the accompanying smell of rotting plant flesh. That being said, if there is any doubt, leave it alone … it doesn’t cost anything to wait until spring and see.

We have spent much of the last decade assembling an excellent array of hellebores and in 2006, we added a Winter Open House to showcase these and other wonderful plants that strut their stuff in the winter garden. Instead of starting our own breeding program, we relied on the work of others including John Elsley of SC, Dick and Judith Tyler of VA, Dan Hinkley of WA, Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne of OR, and John Massey of Ashwood Nursery in the UK. We pick outstanding selections from these breeders work, and plant them together in the garden. We find by planting color forms about 20′ from each other, we can lessen (not eliminate) cross pollination between colors.

After flowering, hellebore seed is gathered in June and July and sown immediately in containers of potting soil … fresh sowing is very important for good germination. Unlike many other seed, hellebore seed will not germinate until it has been subjected to cold temperatures (stratification). We leave hellebore seed pots outdoors until they begin to germinate … usually early-mid January for H. x hybridus. These seedlings are then transplanted at the two leaf stage into cell packs where they remain for a couple of months, at which time they are shifted up into 1 qt pots. The key is to push the hellebores at this early stage to get as much growth as possible while the weather is cool, since hellebores go into a semi-dormant state in summer. The more growth you get in early spring, the better the chance of them flowering the following spring. Because of the cool temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, they are able to get a much higher percentage of plants to flower during the first season than here in the Southeast.

In summer, it’s just a matter of keeping the hellebores alive in containers … a real chore in the Southeast. One secret we discovered is to switch to an aluminized shade cloth compared to the typical black shade cloth. Even with the same percentage of shade, the aluminized cloth keeps the greenhouse nearly 10 degrees cooler, so the plants actually survive the summer. Before we switched shade cloth types, we would loose between 90 and 100% of our entire hellebore crop during the summer. Regardless of your economics, it’s hard to make money that way. We lost so many hellebores before we switched, we probably still haven’t broken even on them.

In late fall, the hellebores begin growing again and we typically expect to get 10% to flower the first season and the remainder in season two. Starting a couple of years ago, we switched our emphasis to grow plants that have flowered before we sell them. As I mentioned, this usually requires keeping the plants for an extra season and also includes the time required to sort through all the hellebores on a weekly basis during the flowering season and group them by flower color. Granted, the economics are probably better to sell the plants before flowering, but we hope the added value is worthwhile to you as a gardener.

As a homeowner, you can certainly allow the seed to fall from your hellebores and sprout in the garden, but keep mind it will generally take 3 to 4 years for these plants to flower and if you’re looking for a particular color pattern in your planting scheme, this may not be the best idea. We hope you will enjoy our amazing selections. As a reminder, our Winter Open House this year is Friday and Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm on February 27 and 28 and March 6 and 7. Click here to find out more about visiting.

Another winter grower we got into in a big way about a decade ago are trillium. As we studied the genus, we realized two things … first, most of the plants sold in the US were collected from the wild for sale and secondly, no one was focusing on the Southeastern species.

When outcry arose in the US about wild collecting trillium for sale, many of the commercial harvesters went underground and so, soon began a large business in trillium laundering. Plants were dug in the wild (usually Tennessee and Arkansas), then sold to large wholesale growers and brokers in Europe. The European growers operate on the military policy of ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell.’ The trillium are then being re-exported back into the US, where there is plausible deniability and the trail of these wild collections have gone cold. I should add, however, that in most cases, trillium are anything but rare in the wild, and where land is being cleared or sustainably harvested, I see no reason why trillium could not be harvested and sold … although that is not the direction we decided to head into.

As I mentioned, most of the collectors were only selling the ‘northern’ species including T. grandiflorum, T. luteum, T. erectum, T. vaseyi, and a few others. As we began to study trillium, we realized there were a number of species that were completely ignored. As a rule, most of these are the sessile type, which means the flower sits directly atop the leaf, as compared the pedicellate trillium, where a short stem (pedicel) attaches the flower to the leaf.

We began a series of treks through the southern states studying trillium and bringing back individual samples to grow and propagate. As you can imagine, this is a slow process since all trillium in our climate take 4 to 5 years to grow from seed. Each plant is hand-pollinated and then the seeds are sown directly in the ground after harvest. Like hellebores, the seed must be sown fresh. Four years later, seed from those plants are harvested and sown and four years later, we finally have enough to sell. We have even found that the rare solid-silver leaved variants, which we have found in almost all of the southern species, come amazingly true from seed. It is our belief that we now have the largest seed-grown commercial trillium production in the country. One of the advantages of growing tens of thousands of trillium is we are able to select some amazing seedlings which will then be propagated for introduction in the future. We hope you appreciate the time and energy involved in making these special plants available.

Of these southern trillium, the first to emerge in winter is Trillium underwoodii from the Florida Panhandle. For us this form of T. underwoodii emerges often in early January, and is amazingly resilient after cold snaps, including our recent 9 degree F freeze which found a few clones in full flower. Too many freezes when the plant is fully expanded will result in the foliage becoming tattered while also eliminating the possibility of seed. The second to emerge is T. foetidissimum, followed by T. ludovicianum in mid- to late-January. Next in line in late January is T. maculatum, the Florida Panhandle forms of T. lancifolium, and then the Gulf Coast forms of T. gracile in early February. The same species originating in a more northern locale maintains its genetics for later emergence even when moved. A classic example is the Alabama form of T. underwoodii, which emerges 2 to 3 months after the Florida form when grown side by side. Finally, Trillium decumbens, T. cuneatum, T. ooestingii break the ground in March, followed by the northerly forms of T. lancifolium and T. recurvatum in late March. Most of the early sessile trillium have emerged, before being joined by the first of the southeastern pedicellate species including T. pusillum in late March and T. catesbiae in early April. I know some of you wonder why we bother to put origin information on many of our offerings, but this often makes the difference between success and failure with these southeastern natives in some of the more northern climates. Over the years, we will continue to add a tremendous array of different species from different populations. If you would like to learn more about trillium, there are two great books on the subject. Trillums by Fred and Roberta Case, and Trilliums in Woodland and Garden: American Treasures by Don and Rob Jacobs.

If you’re like me, you’ve recently sworn off news shows, since watching too much of the incessant gloom and doom serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In some good news, however, a recent study reported in the UK Daily Telegraph, documented that: ‘As little as 30 minutes a week tending the garden or allotment can dramatically improve men’s performance in bed, according to the experts in the field. Digging, weeding or mowing the lawn for half an hour reduced men’s risk of failing to live up to expectations in bed by more than a third, the survey found. Men who spend even more time in the vegetable patch can more than halve their risk of impotence, researchers at the Medical University of Vienna found in their study…Erectile function can be maintained even by low, regular physical activity, concludes the report. Energy expenditure of as little as 1,000 calories a week reduces the risk. Doctors should use these findings to encourage their patients to do more physical training and adopt a healthier lifestyle…The latest study, published in the journal European Urology, shows men do not have to be keep-fit fanatics to reap the benefits and need to burn just 1,000 calories a week. This reduced impotence by around 38 per cent, the research showed… Men who burned off up to 4,000 kilocalories a week saw their impotence risk drop almost 52 per cent.

You can read the entire article by clicking this link … then get off the couch and get back in the garden!

In upcoming events (the same weekend as our 2nd Spring Open House), the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society would like to invite you to ‘Gardening at the Peaks’ from May 8-10 at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood in Roanoke, Virginia. The meeting will feature tours of two amazing gardens, Paul James mountain garden just south of Ronoake along with the Glebe Hill garden of Gary and Carol Osbourne. If you haven’t visited either of these gardens, you’re in for a real treat. Paul keeps hinting about restricting tours of his world class plant collection (6000+ species), so this may be one of the last chances to see this amazing gardening treasure. In addition, the two speakers include Kristine Johnson of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and Virginia’s own garden writer and photographer extraordinaire Pamela Harper. To register for the meeting, contact Sharon Horn at oldturnpikefarm@gmail.com or by phone at 540.350.2666.

Those involved in wholesaling or retailing perennials, no doubt know the name Dale Hendricks. Dale and his business partner Steve Castorani started Pennsylvania’s North Creek Nurseries in 1988 (the same year PDN started) as a wholesale source of perennials, with a focus on US natives. As of December 30, Dale has retired from the business and sold his ownership stake to his business partner, Steve. As part of Dale’s mid-life crisis, Dale tells me he realized that he enjoyed the plants rather than running a business that had become very large and extremely successful … a common problem among ex-hippies. Along with spending more time with his family, Dale has already started a small backyard business called Green Light Plants to organically grow a few special plants for his former business. Dale will also be spending time on the board of the Community Gardens of Chester County, and in his spare time will continue speaking and doing nursery consulting. Even if you’ve never heard of Dale before, you have no doubt grown some of his plants or felt his considerable influence on the horticultural world. If you see a display that says ‘American Beauties’ at your local garden center, that’s all thanks to Dale. From all of us at PDN, we’d like to salute Dale and wish him the best of luck in his new life.

While we’re giving out pats on the back, we’d like to also congratulate plantsman Hans Hansen of Minnesota for winning the first Todd Bachman Award, (named after the nursery CEO killed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics), given by the Minnesota Landscape Association to someone under 40 years old who has demonstrated innovation in business, marketing, horticultural production, floral, or landscape practices in the horticulture industry. Hans has spent the last 17 years as manager of the tissue culture lab of Shady Oaks Nursery in Minnesota. Hans is a pioneer in working with many tissue cultured plants, being the first to successfully culture variegated agaves, arisaemas, and a number of other plants as well as being the first to tetraploid hosta in vitro. His hosta introduction are consistently ranked among the top in the field. He has also participated in a number of plant exploration trips, resulting in many of the plants you find in the pages of our catalog. Embarking on a new phase of his career, Hans departed Shady Oaks in fall and will be joining another firm by spring. We offer our heartfelt thanks for all of Hans’s work and wish him best of luck in his new venture.

If you’ve created or discovered the next million dollar plant and don’t know where to turn to get started, one of the important steps, once you determine that your plant is a good candidate for the market, is to obtain a plant patent. There are a number of avenues from using a patent lawyer to using a patent agent with a wide range of prices. A large number of the new perennials hitting the market are being patented by a small firm in Minnesota, run by a friend and former Minnesota nurserywoman and now patent agent, Penny Aguirre of Biological Patent Services. There are quite a few plants we offer whose patents have been handled by Penny, so if you find yourself in need of such services, you can contact Penny at pennyag@earthlink.net. We don’t get any kickback from this, but are only providing this as one option with which we are very familiar.

Chances are you’ve never heard of the Keith Arboretum, but if you like woody plants, I’d recommend you fix that deficiency. I remember back in the 1980s when the late JC Raulston first led me to Charlie Keith’s garden in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. JC was fascinated with the tree collection Charlie had assembled. Fast forward 20+ years when Mike Dirr finally made the pilgrimage, only to be equally as blown away by Charlie’s collection. In fact, it was Mike who encouraged Charlie to preserve the garden for future generations, resulting in the establishment of The Keith Arboretum. If you’re in the area, Charlie is looking for volunteers to help with labeling. You can find out more at www.keitharboretum.org. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to learn more about this incredibly special world-class collection of trees.

If you keep up with national news, you may remember the December 19, 2008 construction accident at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. While under construction, a temporarily-elevated walk linking the garden to the adjacent Piedmont Park collapsed, killing one construction worker and injuring 18 others. An investigation is continuing, but the garden tells us the construction work will continue. As of mid-January, all of the injured men were out of the hospital and able to walk, with none suffering permanent brain damage. The garden in conjunction with the contractor, Hardin Construction Company has set up the Jonquil Fund to help the workers and their families. So far, over $70,000 has been raised. If you’d like to contribute to this fund, visit the gardens website at www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org.

Our condolences also go out to Lori Kordner and her family, in the death of her husband, Tim (age 49), who took his life on Jan. 21. Tim was a local radio and television gardening personality who ran a garden center known as Brewery Creek in Belle Plaine, MN for 30+ years and who regularly sold produce at the Minneapolis and St. Paul farmers markets. In addition, Tim had recently increased his focus on peonies when he purchased the entire breeding collection of intersectional peonies from retired peony breeder, Roger Anderson (P. ‘Bartzella’). Tim’s peony nursery, Century Oaks Peonies, was just on tour last summer with the American Peony Society.

Last month, I mentioned the death of Eddie McRae and that his wife Judith, ran her own lily nursery, but I got the name wrong. Her nursery is The Lily Garden and not The Lily Nook, which is a Canadian firm…sorry.

While I’m correcting errors, crinum expert Jay Yourch noticed we had mistakenly used the wrong image for Crinum ‘Summer Nocturne’ in our spring catalog. The correct image is now on-line, but unfortunately, we can’t change the printed catalog … those darn gremlins.

Before I close, I’d like to remind everyone that February 15 is the deadline for entering our Top 25 contest for 2009. It doesn’t cost anything to enter and you’ve got a chance to win our $250 gift certificate. Follow this link to the contest rules and entry form.

As with all businesses, 2009 is not getting off to a banner start for many of us in the nursery business as we brace ourselves for making for many sleepless nights and difficult decisions. Once again, we would like to sincerely thank those of you who have placed orders and plan to do so this year. We’re working on writing descriptions for some new plants that will make their way onto the website shortly … we’ll send you an email when they’re posted. Many nurseries are hanging on by a thread and unless business picks up soon, many of your favorites may not be around for future seasons.

Again, we thank you for your support!

Please direct all replies and questions to office@plantdelights.com.

Thanks and enjoy