2012 Plant Delights Nursery May Newsletter

Spring in our part of North Carolina has been truly amazing this year. It helped that spring started in January and has continued into late May. Finally, I know what it feels like to live in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve actually had relatively good rains so far, so growth in the garden is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years. Hopefully the impending rains from the remnants of tropical storm Beryl will soak the lower southeast coast, where drought conditions have been quite bad.

I’m sitting on the deck today, looking at our amazing clump of the wonderful gold-leaf Hydrangea ‘Lemon Daddy’ which is just about to burst into full flower. I’m always looking for gold-leaf plants to help brighten the dark spots in the garden. I’ve been posting pictures of the different stages of its growth on our Facebook page, which we hope you have enjoyed. http://www.plantdelights.com/Hydrangea/products/211/

It’s been century plant central here this spring, with nine agave flower spikes ready to burst into flower (Agave protoamericana – 3, Agave striata, Agave striata v. falcata, Agave palmeri, Agave victoriae-reginae, Agave ‘Ansom’ (nickelsii x scabra), and Agave ‘Stormy Seize’ (scabra x ferox). As promised, I’ll let you know via Facebook when peak agave bloom arrives and we’ll arrange a time when visitors can drop by and see them in full bloom. We’ve already starting making crosses since one of our customers was kind enough to share pollen from his flowering Agave ovatifolia, which we’ve already applied to our Agave striata as well as to Manfreda undulata…that should result in something truly weird.

Hardy gladiolus flowering season has also just begun and it’s hard to keep the flowers cut fast enough in our stock blocks. The first glads to start this year were the lovely Gladiolus ‘Purple Prince’, followed by Gladiolus ‘Robeson Red’, and now Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’. We’ve been playing around with some gladiolus breeding the last few years and our first crop of seedlings will be flowering next week…always exciting to see what results you get. We’ll post photos of some of our best seedlings on Facebook, so let us know what you think. http://www.plantdelights.com/Gladiolus/products/189/

Speaking of plants and gardens, we’re looking to fill an assistant garden curator position, so if you know anyone with a good work ethic, an eye for detail, an academic plant background and a passion for plants, tell ‘em to email our business manager, Heather Brameyer at heather@plantdelights.com. We’re also searching for a seasonal nursery worker to help with watering, so let us hear from you.

Kudos are in order for our friend, Dr. Allan Armitage, who was recently awarded the prestigious Liberty Hyde Bailey Award from the American Horticulture Society. The Bailey Award is the society’s top award, given annually to an individual who has made significant lifetime achievements in at least three of these horticultural fields; teaching, research, communications, plant exploration, administration, art, business, and leadership. Congratulations my friend…well deserved!

Speaking of awards on a much lesser scale, I got a note from the President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society last week, letting me know that I was selected to receive their Jackson Dawson Medal for plant exploration and breeding. In order to actually receive the award, however, I would have to fly to Boston and attend their awards banquet at my expense or the award would be re-gifted to someone else. This is the same Massachusetts Horticultural Society that in 2008 stiffed me for my speaking honorarium and most of my out of pocket expenses because of their financial mismanagement. This recent offer sure seems to me like a group looking to fill their dinner with horticultural celebrities in order to attract donors as opposed to truly recognizing individuals for their accomplishments. I obviously declined their kind offer. Having known many wonderful folks who formerly worked at Mass Hort, I find it sad that they still haven’t experienced a significant period of reflective enlightenment.

Speaking of reflective enlightenment…six years after closing the beloved Heronswood Nursery in Kingston, Washington, George Ball has decided auction off the property which housed the original nursery, and the home and garden of founders Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones. Ball paid $5.5 million for the original property plus an adjacent land parcel, which brings the land total to 15 acres. The asking price has been as high as $11 million, but no one bit, so now the land, three houses, an office, and the entire gardens will go on the auction block with silent bids starting at $749,000. Bids are due by 2 p.m. June 15 to Sheldon Good & Co., a auction division of New York’s Racebrook investment firm. The Heronswood name and business are also for sale separately. Racebrook will hold on-site inspections for prospective buyers by appointment on May 18, May 26, June 1 and June 9. For more information, visit http://www.HeronswoodAuction.com or call 800-962-0931.

I was very sad to receive an email last week from the producers of The Martha Stewart Show, telling me the show has been cancelled by the Hallmark Channel. I’d like to openly thank Martha and all the great production staff who were so great to work with during my several appearances. I wish everyone the best of luck in their new ventures including Martha’s new cooking show on PBS.

Other news that caught most of us in the botanical garden world off guard was the sudden departure of Mt. Cuba Center director Rick Lewandowski after a 13-year tenure at the helm. The Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware is in the process of a public transformation in the model of other nearby Dupont family estates such as Longwood Gardens. Under Rick’s tenure, the gardens had continued to develop and his botanical treks through the Piedmont region brought an extensive number of wonderful new collections to the garden. Mt. Cuba is currently searching for a new director and Rick is searching for his next great horticultural adventure. Best of luck to both.

Speaking of artsy things, one of our customers, David Fishman, is an avid photographer, and is now trying to commercialize some of his artistic plant images. I think you’ll find his work quite fascinating. http://www.fishmanbotanicalportraits.com/index.php

In the “I’m from the government and I’m here to sniff you” file this month comes more interesting news. Yes, you read it right…with the increasing costs of hiring government workers and subsequently paying them retirement, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is now using dogs to find Emerald Ash Borers and trees infected with these damaging insects. While the first crop of bug-busting canines are still in training, they are expected to be on the job full-time by July. Their assigned tasks will include sniffing mulch piles, landfills, and commercial vehicles.

In case you missed it, the US Department of Agriculture is already using dogs to find the equally destructive Asian longhorn beetles. The USDA, however, is also looking for volunteer beetle spotters, so here’s a great chance to keep your kids busy and out of your hair. You can find more here…just don’t let the live beetle freak you out. http://www.beetlebusters.info. You can find out more about the partner organization, Working Dogs for Conservation at http://www.workingdogsforconservation.org/

In another bit of very interesting scientific research, it was recently discovered that rubber mulches are not really as good as the marketers of these products would have had us believe. Duh! To help rid the world of scrap tires, ground tire rubber mulch has recently been touted for uses from playgrounds to athletic fields to putting greens. Now that rubber mulches have been used for several years, it has become clear that many of the initial claims of its superiority are being debunked. In terms of effectiveness as weed control, rubber mulch rated near the bottom of the list of mulches, but in terms of flammability, rubber mulch tops the list…not really a good thing. As for permanency, rubber mulch also fails. According to the research, rubber eating bacteria, which will actually consume rubber mulch, are initially kept at bay by toxins used in tire production (2-mercaptobenzothiazol for rubber vulcanization and polyaromatic hydrocarbons for tire softening). White and brown-rot fungus effectively neutralize the toxins, which then allows the bacteria to decompose the rubber. Ok, so this sounds good…right? Wrong! This decomposition means that all of the toxins in the tires, including very high levels of heavy metals like zinc are leached into the soil. I have warned people for years about high zinc levels which often occur when water runoff from roads drains into your landscape. Many plants, especially aquatic plants, are especially susceptible to zinc. The bottom line is simple…stick with organic, non-toxic mulches.

Finally, from the “you can’t make this stuff up” file comes the May 11 incident of a medical marijuana grower who was shopping at a Clarkston, Washington Walmart. The grower was purchasing mulch for his crop and reached to move a twig on the mulch pile, only to discover too late that the twig was actually a thoroughly pissed-off rattlesnake…oops! The snake was subsequently beaten to death for being under the influence and the marijuana grower was treated with six bags of snake anti-venom for shopping in such an alert and coherent state. Want to bet there was some serious self-medicating after the victim returned home? WalMart has apologized, but did note that the snake was “Made in America”.

Enjoy, and until the next newsletter, we’ll keep in touch on Facebook!