2010 Plant Delights Nursery September Newsletter

Dear PDN’ers:

Greetings from Plant Delights, where fall has officially arrived along with some welcome cooler temperatures. Despite recent obscenely hot weather in much of the country (the hottest summer on record in our region), most plants in the garden have still done amazingly well…as long as you could supply adequate moisture.

I don’t recall a recent season when plants from hot climates, such as agaves have grown so well. That being said, don’t rush out and plant them, this time of year…at least not north of Zone 8. I like to use mid-August as a outdoor planting cutoff for agaves in our region. If you purchase them after this date, up-pot and grow them as house plants during the winter. Since agaves grow to the size of the pot, an agave transplanted into a 2 or 3 quart pot should easily triple in size during the winter. A bright spot indoors near a window will be perfect to keep your plant until after the last spring frost.

One of the fascinating new plants that we offered this fall is the Chinese fig, Ficus gasparriniana var. laceratifolia. This cool plant, collected as seed in the wilds of China by friend Linda Guy, makes a compact shrub, topped from now until nearly Christmas with small but sweet, plum-red figs. This would make a great indoor Christmas potted plant in colder zones, as well as a fun plant for kids to enjoy.

I’ve just finished a stroll around the gardens, enjoying all the amazing plants that are still in flower as we wrap up September. I’ve been disappointed over the last few years that more folks haven’t tried Caryopteris divaricata ‘Blue Butterflies’. This is truly a wonderful garden perennial and a much more robust version of its smaller variegated cousin, Caryopteris ‘Snow Fairy’Caryopteris‘Blue Butterflies’ can easily reach 6-7′ tall for us, and is smothered in small curly blue flowers throughout the summer.

Despite our brutally hot summer, the heat tolerant fuchsias, such as F. ‘Sanihanf’are still in flower and looking great. This Japanese breeding breakthrough is truly one of the most amazing horticultural advances that I’ve seen in several decades. A bit of trivia is that fuchsias are named after the 16th century German botanist/physician Leonhart Fuchs.

Zingiber mioga and its cultivars are another fall favorite. These woodland gingers give the effect of a hedychium in the shade but with better winter hardiness. The difference between zingiber and its cousin, hedychium, are the flowers. They emerge flat on the ground, making the clump appear like someone strewed small yellow orchid flowers underneath the plants…very cool.

We can’t really talk fall, without mentioning the array of amazing hardy cyclamen. If you’re just starting out with hardy cyclamen, Cyclamen hederifolium is the easiest to grow. For us, it starts flowering in late July and picks up speed through the fall and winter.

Of course, we all know that solidagosare a standout in the fall garden. While there are certainly aggressively weedy native solidagos, please don’t let these keep you from trying some of the real stars of the genus, which light up the fall garden with their golden flowers. I’m sure you also know by now that goldenrods don’t cause hay fever…despite a well-funded smear campaign by the radical wing of the National Ragweed Association.

Finally, ornamental grasses are always a superb addition to the fall garden, with the genus of Miscanthus, Panicum, Arundo, and Muhlenbergiabeing the stars in late September. Not only are they great in the garden, but be sure to pick a handful of long-lasting plumes for a vase in the house, to which you can then add other fall bloomers.

These are just a fraction of the amazing array of plants for fall flowering…we hope you are enjoying some of these great gems in your own garden.

We’ve wrapped up our final Open House for 2010, although mail order shipping will continue through November. As always, we met some really neat folks at Fall Open House. One couple brought their mother to visit all the way from Hungary, and we enjoyed chatting with a number of visitors from California who found their way to NC. A highlight for me was a visit by Alfred Millard, the CEO of Behnke Nursery in Beltsville, Maryland…just north of Washington DC. Behnke’s has long been one of my favorite East Coast garden centers, and a place where I’ve picked up many great plants through the years. Alfred was our Behnke tour guide when we took a bus load of gardeners there, back in 1988. If you’re visiting the nation’s capital, be sure to make the short trek just north of town to check out Behnke’s.

In order to turn around the last few years of declining business, we have spent most of the year studying and working on search engine optimization (SEO). For those of you non-techies, SEO is how well the search engines such as Google like your website and consequently, how high your site ranks. As you can imagine, the key to having a successful Internet business is having folks be able to find you when searching for a product that you carry…in our case, perennials.

When you perform an Internet search, each search engine uses their own secret computer formulas called algorithms (despite claims to the contrary, these are not named after the same guy that invented the Internet). A website can rank high in a search engine in one of two ways: organic content or pay per click ads.

Organic content searches are those based on site content (the number of times relevant terms are used on your site) and the outside links to your website. Pay per clicks ads are when a business buys their way onto the first page of the search results for a particular product. For example, Nursery A may not fare well in a web search for perennials, since their site content is weak or they don’t have many “good links”, so they buy a search term. Well, you don’t actually buy the search term, you bid for the word. The more people who want a particular word, the higher the price. You might pay $.10 for the word “Amorphophallus”, but $2 for “perennials”. When you win the bid for a word, you get an business ad on the first search page for that word. Every time a visitor clicks one of your ads, you pay the bid price to the search engine, such as Google. These ads appear above and around the ten organic searches on the first page.

When we put together a list of the top 100 mail order nurseries in the country and ranked them by the amount of web traffic, SEO rank, and Pay per Click rank, we were surprised at what we found. For starters, 3 mail order nurseries ranked in the top 10,000 heaviest trafficked websites on the Internet and another 29 ranked in the top 100,000. FYI, PDN came in at #17 on the list. On the bottom end, 7 of the top 100 mail order nurseries were not in the top 1,000,000 sites for web traffic.

Of the top 100 mail order nurseries, 37 purchased pay per click ads, with the top 2 highest ranked nurseries spending over $1 million per year, while another 9 nurseries spent over $100,000 per year. Instead of purchasing pay per click ads, we have focused our efforts on providing good content. Unfortunately, as we discovered, content alone is not enough to generate good rankings. There are a number of other factors, primarily the number of good links.

Folks have been great at linking to our homepage, which now boasts over 15,000 links. When we recently reworked our website, we created a genus page for each type of plant that we offer. While this makes it easier for shopping, it made it more difficult for each genus of plant to rank well with the search engines, since we don’t yet have many links to the individual genus pages. This is where we need your help. If you have a website or access to a website, we would be most appreciative if you would consider putting a link to the page or pages of your favorite plant genera.

While all links are welcome, the more traffic that the linking site itself has, the better it helps. If you have access to a .edu or .gov website from which to link, these count the most. Any help you could provide would be truly appreciated!

We recently discovered that the “Contact Us” button on our new website was not working during the first month after its August launch. Although it showed that messages were sent, they never arrived. The problem is now corrected, but if you wrote us during that time and figured that you had been ignored, please forgive us and try again.

In news from the horticultural world, Heronswood founder, Dan Hinkley, received the prestigous Award of Merit by the Perennial Plant Association. The award is their highest honor and is given to an individual in recognition of outstanding contributions to the perennial industry. Congratulations!

In other news, Martha Stewart’s long-time gardener, Andrew Beckman is changing careers, as he leaves New York and heads to Oregon, where he will become Acquisitions Editor for Timber Press. His partner, Bob Hyland, will be closing their nursery, Loomis Creek, and will be looking for a new, less life-consuming adventure in Oregon. We wish them both the best as they head west.

In sad news, we lost another mail order nurseryman this week, when Jackson Muldoon, the founder of Transpacific Nursery in Oregon, died on September 8 at age 63. Jackson started the nursery in 1985 and had made several plant collecting trips to China. Although I never met Jackson in person, I did drop by his nursery several years ago during a jaunt though Oregon.

Another tragic loss for horticulture was the untimely death of legendary gardener and garden writer, Wayne Winterrowd, 68. Wayne passed away due to heart failure after suffering a heart attack on September 13. Wayne is survived by his long-term partner, Joe Eck, and a son, Fotios Bouzikos. Wayne was a Louisiana native, who taught school for 26 years, until he and partner Joe Eck formed their landscape design business, North Hill Associates in 1983. In 1995, Joe and Wayne also started their own successful gardening conference, inviting top speakers from around the world.

In addition to his regular magazine articles in Horticulture Magazine and beyond, Wayne and Joe both have written a number of books, including: Our Life in Gardens (2010), Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens (2004), A Year at North Hill : Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden (1996), Living Seasonally: The Kitchen Garden and the Table at North Hill (1999), Annuals for Connoisseurs (1992), and Roses: A Celebration, with Pamela Stagg (2003).

Their home garden was a 28-acre property in Vermont, which they purchased in 1977 and named North Hill. I had the pleasure of visiting their garden in 1999 and was truly blown away. I’m pretty jaded when it comes to gardens, but I can think of few gardens in the world whose combination of plantsmanship and design skills have left me so speechless…imagine a Northeast version of Dan Hinkley’s, Heronswood. In the past, Wayne and Joe had opened their gardens as a fundraiser for various groups, and hope Joe is able to continue this tradition. If you have the opportunity to visit, don’t miss it. You can find more information at www.northhillgarden.com.

Once again, we thank you for your support!

-tony