2010 Plant Delights Nursery June Newsletter

Dear PDN’ers:

Who turned on the heat? While we’ve had really good rains in June, they have been accompanied by abnormally high temperatures which arrived much too early in the season. Because of the hot weather, we have put all plant shipping on hold until temps drop back to the upper 80’s/low 90’s. As much as we are told that we can control the climate, we can’t get our operator manual to work correctly, so we will therefore resume shipping as soon as Momma Nature allows.

We’ve just finished our late spring inventory: the kick-off event for our fall catalog production season which is now underway. Catalog descriptions are nearly finished, as we now make sure we have good photos to go with each new introduction. In evaluating the spring season, sales were not quite what we had hoped for, so once again we have an excess of several items and unfortunately for us (fortunately for you,) we need the space for summer production. Consequently, it’s time for our summer overstock sale. This year, we’re dubbing it our “World Cup, Kick’em Out, 20% Off Sale”. Click here to find out what’s on sale.

We’ve also added several new plants to the web since last month, many of which are available in limited quantities.

In plant news, it was great to hear from plantsman Jim Waddick of Kansas City, who shared with us that his Helicodiceros muscivorus has been hardy outdoors and actually flowered this year. Since there are so few of these grown, there haven’t been many folks testing it for winter hardiness. We’ll get our Zone 7 rating changed to a Zone 5b … thanks, Jim.

Gladiolus ‘Atom’ was one of the few plants that we offered this year that we didn’t grow ourselves, and guess what … we received and sold the wrong plant! Once they flowered, we were greeted with nice pink flowers … not the brilliant red with a white picotee edge we expected. Therefore, if you got one of these before we saw them flower, please contact our customer service department for a refund or credit. Although we’ve discarded the off-type stock, we would like to know the identity of the plant we sold, so if you recognize this cultivar, please let us know.

In the latest news from the nursery industry, CEO Steve Hutton announced the closure of the Conard Pyle Wholesale Nursery in West Grove, PA, which is shutting down its 32 year old wholesale division. What will remain of the scaled back 113-year old company is only their rose and liner division. For those of you who don’t know the name Conard Pyle, these are the folks who market and license Mediland-Star Roses and Knockout Roses.

Another sad development is the liquidation plant auction this week of 5,000,000 container plants at Carolina Nurseries in South Carolina. Not only was Carolina Nurseries the largest nursery in South Carolina (700 acres), but president J. Guy was the founder of the Novalis program, which currently serves as a nationwide conduit and marketing program to get new plants from breeders to independent garden centers.

Carolina Nurseries was hit hard like everyone else during the economic downturn, but the nail in the proverbial coffin was their inability to maintain their financing due to the tightening credit market. Carolina Nursery had been a long-time customer of Wachovia, which as we know, went belly-up in the mortgage crisis meltdown due to risky loans. Although Carolina Nursery president J. Guy had actually been a long-term Wachovia board member, the “new” Wachovia (aka Wells Fargo) found that Carolina’s square peg no longer fit into Wells Fargo’s new round hole. I can relate, since we had the same experience with the original Wachovia when they merged with First Union in 2001. Fortunately, we were small enough to fire Wachovia and find a small town bank who understood and appreciated our business. As a friend reminded me, the Wachovia of the last decade wasn’t really Wachovia, but actually First Union in drag. It is unclear at this time what will happen after the plant auction at Carolina Nurseries this week, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t count J. Guy out after only one knockout. We’ve got our fingers crossed for a Freddy-Krueger like reappearance.

In related news, financial issues have put several botanic gardens and private gardens on the market this month including The Berry Botanic Garden in Portland, Oregon, the Harland Hand Garden in El Cerrito, California, and the 3 acre Western Hills Nursery and Garden in Occidental, California. I never made it to The Berry Botanical Garden, but have visited the other two and can’t say enough good things about them. Harland Hand was an amazing plantsman and designer, and the garden sits high atop a hill that overlooks the San Francisco Bay. You can find out more at www.harlandhandgarden.com. I have written in the past about Western Hills, which we thought was safe after a couple purchased it in 2007, but that didn’t work out since the garden and nursery went into foreclosure early this year. You can find out more at www.westernhillsnursery.com. If you know of anyone who might be interested in either of these properties, contact the Garden Conservancy at info@gardenconservancy.org.

I had mentioned in an earlier newsletter about the excellent bloom on many of the perennials this year due to the abnormally large number of chilling hours this winter. One benefit that I didn’t realize until recently was the increased height of our lilies. I have never been able to get many of our lilies to reach their “advertised” heights … until this year. Lilies that normally only reached 3-4′ are now 6-7′ tall with amazing flower heads.

On the opposite end of the winter spectrum were unexpected losses of some colocasias and bananas. Although our winter temperatures in 2008 (7-9° F) were much colder than 2009 temperatures (16° F), the ground was frozen for 6+ weeks this winter as we stayed below freezing for more than a week at a time. Despite mulching the colocasia clumps with small shredded leaf mulch “volcanos”, we still lost elephant ears that we shouldn”t have, including Colocasia ‘Mojito’, C. ‘Diamond Head’, and C. gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’ (which we view as marginal in our zone). Even hardy bananas such as Musa velutina didn’t re-emerge until mid-June. I’m betting that without the excess winter moisture, we wouldn’t have seen as many winter losses, so I’m considering covering the leaves with a fabric in the future to reduce the winter moisture from reaching the dormant corms.

Plants that have really impressed me this year are some of the new echinaceas, which just get better with age. The one that truly boggles my mind so far is Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’. The flowers emerge orange and initially appear ho-hum, but then they quickly “fill out” while morphing into a dark scarlet red that is simply unreal. I have them planted alongside my driveway, and everyday I pass them, I can’t help but say “wow” … what an amazing breakthrough. Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ has also developed into an amazingly large clump, but the habit is much more open, making it better to blend into a perennial border with complementing colors and contrasting forms. Echinacea ‘Milkshake’ is another cultivar that never ceases to amaze me with its huge cones of double white … again, a clump that keeps getting better each year. If you haven’t tried some of these amazing new echinaceas, what are you waiting for?

The key to establishing echinaceas is to plant them before fall and be sure the planting bed is well-drained in the winter. I also recommend that you remove the flowers until the plant is well established. Tissue cultured clonal echinaceas tend to go to flower much more quickly than they should, often before developing a dense crown. By removing the developing flowers, the energy is sent back into crown development, which results in better survivability and a sturdier plant. I know removing the first flowers is tough, but get the bud vases ready.

Another plant that I gain a new respect for every year is the hardy gladiolus. I will admit to having never grown a gladiolus a decade ago, not caring much for the over-the-top annual funeral-spray glads. Fast forward a decade, and a trip to South Africa to see them in the wild, and I have a whole new respect for the genus. Despite the fact that all Holland-produced glads are now bred against being winter hardy, many of the old hybrids and species selections remain.

Having now grown a number of gladiolus species, I am particularly impressed with selections and hybrids of Gladiolus dalenii. G. dalenii seems to impart the best traits of spike form and hardiness into its offspring. Some selections such as G. ‘Boone’, which we hope to offer in spring, are reportedly hardy to Zone 5. While we list most of our gladiolus offerings as Zone 7b, that’s only because we don’t know how much winter cold they will tolerate. In a baptisia that we dug and sent to a friend in Minnesota, there were a few hiding corms of Gladiolus papilio. We were all surprised when they not only returned, but naturalized there at temperatures near -30° F, without the benefit of snow. Unfortunately, this was not an attractive form of the species, but it does show the incredible hardiness potential of the genus. A few years ago, some of our gladiolus clumps got so large that they finally produced enough stems for me to cut for indoor arrangements. Again, I was impressed at how nice they were as cut flowers, so if you’re looking for a few brownie points, especially if your spouse thinks you spend too much on plants, gladiolus are your answer.

We’ve spent the last few years bulking up some exceptional selections that will start appearing next year, along with raising some of our own gladiolus from seed. We discovered that if you grow gladiolus cultivars near each other, they are quite promiscuous and will cross pollinate. We’re in the process of making final selections, but there are some real gems in the pipeline. I hope you will give the hardy glads a try in your garden and, please, let us know your results if you are in an area that drops below 0° F in the winter.

In the Top 25 contest this month there weren’t many major moves. Canna ‘Phaison’ moves from 10th to 7th place while Begonia ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ moved from 16th to 13th, and Colocasia ‘Mojito’ jumped from 26th to 20th. Salvia chamaedryoides moved into 26th place from just outside the top 30. Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ slid up from 8th to 5th place, Echinacea ‘Green Envy’ moved from 20th to 14th, but the biggest movers were Dianthus ‘Heart Attack’, Agastache ‘Cotton Candy’, Adiantum venustum, and Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’ all of which moved from outside the top 30 to 7th, 15th, 21st, and 22nd place respectively.

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Again, we thank you so very much for your support and kind notes. Please send all replies to office@plantdelights.com.

Thanks and enjoy