2008 Plant Delights Nursery November Newsletter

Happy fall greetings from Plant Delights to all of you out there in gardening land! We hope you’re enjoying your fall garden as much as we are, unless of course, you’re in a region that has already seen the arrival of winter. Those reports of 4′ of snow in the Dakotas were amazing for this early in the fall. 2008 has been a dizzying year so far and as fast as things are changing, we don’t really know what to expect for 2009. Who would have dreamed that we would see $4-$5 per gallon gas and then a few months later watch the price tumble back to below $2 per gallon ($1.89 currently in our area)? Those high gas prices sucked up all my plant buying money and that wasn’t a good thing!

Here at PDN, we’re busy raking leaves after the recent temperatures in the 20’s F sent an avalanche of leaves from the overhead canopy tumbling to the ground. Remember that leaves are free compost with free delivery, so don’t throw them away. We rake and blow the leaves from the beds to a nearby path, then mow them with a bagging mower. The leaves are then either added to a compost pile or applied in shredded form back to the beds… just as long as you don’t smother smaller plants. If you are really into composting and organic gardening, or would like to be, I hope you’ll read Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. This wonderful book, published in 2006 by Timber Press, is one I highly recommend to help understand how the world of soils really work. You can easily find it by doing a Google search for the title.

There’s still some interesting plants strutting their stuff in the garden including one of my favorites, the fall-flowering Gladiolus ‘Halloweenie’. This amazing glad not only fills the garden with colors of fall, but is great for arrangements inside the home.

Another plant that has amazed us this year has been Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’. This is one of a series of fuchsias, bred in Japan for both heat and cold tolerance. Our plants have been in full flower in the garden since spring and are still spectacular in flower now. I had given up on fuchsias in our climate until these gems hit the market … truly amazing.

Last month, I mentioned the fall flowering salvias, and while some have finished, others continue strong despite our two freezes. Looking good in the garden now are the pink-flowered Salvia puberula ‘El Butano’, the blue-flowered S. ‘Blue Chiquita’ and S. ‘Van Remsen’, the purple and white S. leucantha, and the amazing Salvia dark blue-purple ‘Balsalmisp’. It’s hard to not get your money’s worth out of the perennial salvias.

In the orange and red color range, the abutilons still look fantastic and will for quite a while. These amazing hibiscus relatives love the fall nights and produce some of their best flowers of the season now. A US native abutilon relative, Malvaviscus drummondii is also in ablaze of glory now, despite flowering all summer long. Continuing in the same color theme, Cuphea micropetala is also in peak bloom with its spikes of small orange and yellow bicolor flowers.

The farfugiums are just wrapping up what has been a superb flowering season. If you don’t know these Asian woodlanders, they are usually grown for their ornamental foliage, but in the fall, they reveal their close resemblance to garden mums with attractive stalks of yellow daisies. Farfugiums grow best in slightly moist, rich soils, where they form stunning clumps … especially now.

One of the plants we don’t think about for flowers are the tree ivies, or fatsia. This genus of shrubby plants usually begins flowering only when they reach heights of 3′ tall. Our clumps of Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ are now approaching 7′ tall and are covered in amazing alien-like spikes of tiny white flowers … a great conversation piece.

I’ve spent all my time talking about plants in flower, but as we all know, it’s foliage that makes the garden work. One of the reasons I love gardening in the fall is the re-emergence of the arums. These unusual members of the aroid family have a dyslexic growing season. They emerge in fall, grow through the winter, flower and fruit in spring, and sleep during the summer. On second thought, maybe they’ve got it right. One of the growing tips we’ve learned over the years is that arums don’t like wet soils, and mature clumps need to be divided every 3-5 years to prevent the clumps from becoming too crowded. I lift the clumps either in late spring as they go dormant or now as they emerge. You will find several large rhizomes with small brown pea-shaped offsets along the rhizome. I like to remove the small offsets and replant the large pieces. The smaller pieces can be moved to a new location where they will be able to grow and prosper without competition from the larger pieces. If you do this before it gets too cold, they won’t miss a beat.

Finally, fall would not be complete without members of the Ruscaceae family. This bizarre family of plants doesn’t even have leaves, instead they are stuck living with prehistoric leaf-like structures called cladodes. Both ruscus and its sister genus danae (poet’s laurel), are adorned now with red and orange berries respectively. Unlike the spiny ruscus, danae has soft foliage and is a favorite of flower arrangers, but both can’t be beat for color in the fall garden.

We’re wrapping up our shipping season for 2008, and with the exception of a horticultural emergency, the last orders will go out the week of Dec. 1-5. We will resume shipping on Feb. 16, 2009. If you put off that fall order, consider this your last call before we close the horticultural bar.

This marks week 7 of spring catalog preparation, a process that spans 12 grueling weeks each fall. We start the process by examining the pool of potential plants that have merited catalog consideration including current offerings, past offerings, and potential new offerings. We then look at sales figures from the current year and decide which plants currently being offered will make the financial cut for the 2009 catalog, while forecasting potential sales for new plants whose performance has merited consideration. The final part of this selection process involves looking at past sales figures for plants we haven’t offered in a while for a number of reasons, which might be worthy of re-inclusion.

To keep the nursery viable, we know how much money each page of the printed catalog must generate, therefore the revenue generated by the plants on that page must equal our target number. Plants that historically have been below this sales mark or those with sales that we predict will be smaller than required are relegated to the on-line catalog only. The beauty of the on-line catalog is that it allows us to offer some very cool plants that we either have only in small numbers or those that we know will only sell in small numbers. After weeks of give and take, we narrow the prospects down to between 625 and 640 plants that will make the printed catalog.

The next step is to determine if we have enough plants of each of these that will be ready for sale. Unlike most large mail order nurseries that buy their plants from other growers, we grow almost all of our own, which allows us to better control availability, trueness to name, and quality.

The other critical factor determining which plants make the printed catalog is our ability to find a good image. For those of us that deal with new or little-known plants, this problem adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult process. PDN is one of the few mail-order nurseries our size that takes most of their own images. This is problematic, however, because it means we must first grow the plant, then be ready to drop everything when the plant is at peak growth and the light is just right to run outdoors to capture the perfect photo. Even with our best efforts, we usually wind up short about 20-30 images out of 1500 (catalog + on-line). We are truly indebted to those who allow us to use their images for these items.

We were both surprised and pleased to find PDN written about in the November 2008 issue of Garden Center Magazine. Garden Center Magazine is a trade publication available at no charge for anyone actively involved in garden product retailing.

In news from the horticultural world, Dr. Dennis Werner, director of the JC Raulston Arboretum, has stepped down from his position after only three years on the job. Denny will be returning to two of his loves, plant breeding and teaching. We are very disappointed with Denny’s decision, because having worked with arboretum directors around the country, we found Denny to be one of the best in the business. Not only is he a great leader of people, but he has a grand vision and the ability to turn that vision into reality. We are pleased to introduce Denny’s first two buddleia releases in the new catalog, which ranked #1 and #2 in public voting at the current worldwide buddleia trials at Wisley Gardens in the UK. We wish Denny continued success in his breeding efforts and hope NCSU moves swiftly to find a qualified replacement with the same leadership and visionary qualities for the JC Raulston Arboretum.

Our get-well soon wish this month goes out to Bob Stewart, co-owner of Arrowhead Alpines, who is fighting a tough battle with colon cancer. Arrowhead is always one of my favorite specialty nurseries to visit and Bob and his wife Brigitta are always great hosts. I hope you all will keep Bob in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time, and like all of us in the business, Bob says, ‘Don’t forget to order.’

Being in the mail order business, we get the opportunity to meet an array of fascinating people, if only over the phone. One such person was Millar (MM) Graff, a well-known gardener from New York. In fact, Millar sent us one of her favorite iris just over a year ago, which will be included in our upcoming catalog. Millar just passed away at age 97, but not before living a full life that included writing several books/pamphlets about NY’s Central and Prospect Parks including; Central Park — Prospect Park: A New Perspective – 1985; The Making of Prospect Park: Notes for a Projected Historical Study – 1982; and The Men Who Made Central Park – 1982. You can read more about Millar this artical in the NY Times.

We’re getting close to the end of the season when moves in the Top 25 are usually minor, but of note this month is a late charge by Lilium formosanum from 13th to 8th and Agave ‘Kara’s Stripes’, which moved from 18th to 14th. Next month, we’ll do a final tally and announce the winner of the $250 Plant Delights gift certificate.

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

Thanks and enjoy

-tony