2008 Plant Delights Nursery May Newsletter

Greetings from Plant Delights, we hope your spring has been as beautiful as ours…realizing, of course, that some of you in the colder climates are just starting the spring season. We have had wonderful rains and no temperatures in the 90’s yet…unlike the folks in Phoenix who have already seen 109 degrees F…geez. It’s been a short week because of the Memorial Day holiday, but despite overdoing it in the garden last weekend, I’m ready to start again. It’s only Friday, but I can already feel a weekend of binge planting coming on…how about you?

New crops and sold out items are continually becoming ready. For the latest additions just added to the website, click here. Remember some are only available in limited quantities, so if you see something that strikes your fancy, don’t hesitate too long.

Many gardeners are still dealing with the drought of last summer and hostas are some of the plants most affected. We’ve had many folks asking why their hostas are so much smaller than in previous years, and the answer is probably drought. While hostas are very tolerant of short-term droughts, long-term droughts are another matter. As the hosta clumps age, the center of the clump begins to die out. This, combined with the umbrella-shape of many hostas, causes them to naturally shed water. The only remaining living parts are new buds which break on the outer edges of the clump. These newly formed plants become naturally smaller and smaller. When water is scarce, this problem is further exacerbated. The solution is to dig up hostas that have gone backward and choose 3-5 healthy divisions. Bareroot these removing dead root pieces, and replant them into a new hole. The unviable parts of the original clump can be discarded. It is always helpful to add more compost when replanting the new divisions and if possible, find a spot that holds more moisture. We have hostas thriving in a bog with pitcher plants, so anything short of growing them as an aquatic in the winter is fine.

At our Spring Open House, visitors were dazzled by our 2-year old clumps of Paeonia ‘Bartzella’, which were in full-flower with 11 huge bright yellow flowers. If you haven’t tried this yet, put one on your wish list. There are a couple of nurseries selling smaller tissue-cultured plants, which are probably many years from flowering, but these are an option if you can’t afford our huge flowering-sized plants. P. ‘Bartzella’ is but one of a series of intersectional peonies (herbaceous peonies crossed with tree peonies). Keep watching as more and more of these gems become available.

Another of the plant groups we have really enjoyed are the hardy orchids. If you’re just getting started, bletillas are a great place to begin. Although they prefer moist to boggy soils, they are thoroughly drought tolerant. If you feel comfortable with bletillas, the next genera to try is calanthe. These early spring-blooming orchids are quite easy to grow and very tolerant of low-light situations. Once you master calanthes, cypripediums are next on the list. Cypripediums or lady slippers are easy when grown in the right situation: moist, well-drained soils and cool climates. When we started trialing these, everyone told us they would not tolerate our hot humid summers. After several years of trialing them, we have had very good success.

The summer-flowering salvias are just starting to strut their stuff. These include the wonderful but underappreciated US native Salvia farinacea, which flowers non-stop from now until fall and is obscenely drought tolerant. Another favorite of mine is Salvia gregii from Texas and across the border in Mexico. Last year, we introduced the Stampede series, but as we mentioned in the catalog, the breeder was unwilling to share the parentage so we could adequately predict hardiness. Salvia gregii has a huge range and an accompanying difference in winter hardiness. This unwillingness to share plant background information is unfortunately common with annual breeders, who really don’t give a damn if a plant is winter hardy or not.

From further south in Argentina, the blue-flowering Salvia guaranitica makes a stunning sage with flowers that start now in NC and continue through fall. Salvia guaranitica produces swollen water storage organs on their roots which aid in survival during dry periods. Keep in mind that most cultivars of Salvia guaranitica develop into a large spreading clump when grown in anything resembling ideal conditions. Of the hybrid salvias, my favorite for this time of year is Salvia ‘Silke’s Dream’. This robust grower (S. darcyi x microphylla) makes a 5′ wide x 2′ tall clump, topped from now until fall with spikes of peachy-red. We also offer a similar cross called S. ‘Scarlet Spires’, which strangely failed to overwinter when planted side by side with S. ‘Silke’s Dream’. The two should have identical in hardiness, so I’m not sure what is amiss, but we’d love to hear your results.

In the aroid world, many of the amorphophallus flowers are still popping through the ground. Amorphophallus dunnii, when planted in mass is simply superb in flower and without the odor usually associated with the genus. Flowering now is the macabre Amorphophallus henryi with its shiny purple flower and over-endowed spadix. We are well past the early arisaema season, but the later species are in full glory. This includes A. fargesii with its cobra-like flower heads and huge tropical-looking foliage; the small A. saxatile with the lemon-scented white flowers; the mid-season forms of Arisaema consanguineum with their elegant long drip-tip foliage; A. tortuosum with its flower perched atop 4′ tall cobra-skin stalks; and the elegant Arisaema candidissimum in both pink and white-flowered forms.

There is one arisaema relative that boasts continuous flowering and it is the genus pinellia. While we love all of the pinellias, they do spread from seed, and some, such as P. ternata, spread obscenely fast by bulbils which form on the stem. The plant we can unquestionably recommend for any garden is the hybrid, Pinellia ‘Polly Spout’, discovered by plantsman Dick Weaver. This sterile hybrid starts flowering in May and continues non-stop through September. This is a delightful and easy-to-grow plant that should become a mainstay in all woodland gardens.

Another plant great for woodland gardens are the woodland Martagon lilies. These lilies are hybrids using one or more of five woodland species including L. martagon (Europe) , L. hansonii (Asia), L. tsingtauense (Asia), L. medeoloides (Asia), and L. distichum (Asia). The results are early-emerging whorled-leaf lilies that flower now (NC) with pendent flowers whose range includes white, yellow, pink, orange, and red. Martagon lilies are never going to be widely available or as cheap as Asiatic lilies, due to their much slower rate of growth and propagation. From scales or tissue culture, it takes us 4-5 years to produce a flowering-sized plant. When we started experimenting with Martagon lilies, most folks told us they would not survive due to our summers, but thankfully, we never shared this information with our lilies. We are very pleased to be able to add more and more of these special lilies to our offerings.

One final plant before I end that I think deserves much more recognition than it gets is Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’. I like the species itself, but this selection from our friends at Sunny Border Nursery in Connecticut is simply superb every single year. P. ‘Karley Rose’ makes a nice tidy clump and has never offered us a single seedling in the garden. The elegant purple-tinted plumes begin to arise now and can be enjoyed through most of the summer. If I were to design a grass, I would be hard-pressed to improve on this plant. We’re sold out now, but hope to have another crop ready soon.

Our biggest snafu of the year is with Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’. Since these grow so fast in containers, we schedule staggered late winter shipments from the tissue culture lab that produces these for us. This winter, the colocasia crashed (died) in the lab and had to be restarted. Unfortunately, we didn’t find out until it was too late to do anything but wait, which took longer than expected. Production is back on track and we should have plants ready to ship within the next 4 weeks. We will ship all backorders for this plant, unless we hear differently. We take full responsibility for the screw-up and cannot apologize enough. Thank you so much for your patience and understanding.

People news in the gardening world is headlined by the move of Bill Cullina from the New England Wildflower Society to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Bill has written a number of truly fabulous and informational gardening books and has become one of the stars on the horticultural lecture circuit. If you are a fan or would like to be, you can find out more at http://williamcullina.com

Also in plant-people news, we regretfully report the May 14 passing of Geoffrey Charlesworth at age 87. Geoffrey was preceeded in death by his partner of nearly 60 years, Norman Singer. Geoffrey arrived in the US from England where he had a career teaching math at Hofstra University. In 1968, Norman and Geoffrey purchased a 5-acre property in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, which would become home to their amazing garden. I was fortunate to visit them in 1999 and was thrilled to find what I feel was one of the finest private garden/plant collections in the country. Geoffrey also wrote two highly renown gardening books, The Opinionated Gardener in 1987 (rated by Horticulture Magazine in 2004 as #3 on its top 100 gardening books) and A Gardener Obsessed in 1994. The latter referred to Geoffrey’s obsession of sowing at least 1,000 new rare plants every year from seed. A celebration of his life will be planned within a few months. Donations in Geoffrey’s memory may be made to the Berkshire Botanical Garden, PO Box 826, Stockbridge, MA 01262 (details provided by Pamela Johnson).

We also regretfully report that Dr. Dave Beattie, Professor of Ornamental Horticulture at Penn State University, has passed away after an extended illness. Beattie was widely known for his extensive work with the genus astilbe. In addition to his teaching and writing, Dave was very active in the Perennial Plant Association and in 2000 he founded the Penn State Center for Green Roof Research. http://www.greenroofs.org/boston/index.php?page=beattiewin

We reported earlier about the passing of Mike and Bonnie Dirr’s daughter Susy, and at this time, the Dirrs are in the process of relocating back to Athens, GA. Mike and Bonnie are advertising Suzy’s Chapel Hill, NC home for sale, so if you are looking for a home in that area, let me know and I’ll forward your note. The home is a cottage style with 1700 square feet including three bedrooms, two full baths, a 2-car garage, a 200-square foot screened and winterized porch, and according to Mike, “a half-acre lot with the best garden in Governor’s Village.” I’ll bet with Mike as the landscaper, it’s pretty cool.

This spring has been busy on many fronts, as we were fortunate to have been able to purchase a 3.6 acre tract adjoining the nursery from the family of our late neighbor, Eddie Souto. Eddie was a wonderful man who immigrated as a child from Portugal and went on to become a successful local businessman. Eddie, 57, passed away last October after a 10-year battle with cancer. He is survived by his sons David, of Raleigh, and Todd, of Illinois. Part of the land will be used for field production and research on non-economic crops while the rest will be made into The Eddie Souto Memorial Garden, which will be open to the public even when the gardens around the house are closed.

In the news since we last talked, I completely forgot to mention World Naked Gardening Day, which we all missed on May 3. I’m sure you’ll all want to bookmark the page so you can celebrate next year. I wonder if you are allowed to wear chaps if you garden with agaves and cactus? http://www.wngd.org

Several years ago, we mentioned the artistic work of Clark Sorensen, but he has expanded his line and is certainly worth a second mention. If you’ve got a male gardener in your household who is hard to buy for, there is nothing quite like Clark’s art. Check it out at http://www.clarkmade.com

Have you had trouble with voles, moles, or other subterranean varmits? If so, and you don’t like to use chemicals, then we’ve got the solution for you. Yes, it’s the Rodenator to the rescue! http://www.rodenator.com If you enjoyed the movies Caddyshack or The Terminator, then you’ve got to watch the testosterone-filled video on the website. http://www.rodenator.com/videos.htm Warning: This should not be viewed by squeamish children or members of PETA…enjoy!

As always, we thank you for your continued support and patronage.

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

Thanks and enjoy