2008 Plant Delights Nursery September Newsletter

Greetings from soggy NC, where we have had over 13″ of rain during the last couple of weeks and are badly in need of a drying out period…sort of like our friends in much of the Gulf Coast region. Overall, it’s been a great summer here weather-wise, as we cooled off nicely after the first week of August. After last year’s record dry summer, 2008 has been a welcome change.

I’m sure we’re all far too familiar with the effects felt by the economic downturn, and our industry is no exception. While the nursery industry typically does well even in an economic downturn, the combination of tumbling stock prices, high fuel prices, and an overextended housing mortgage market has played havoc with virtually everyone involved in this industry. We’ re all fastened in tight, hoping we can last until the tumultuous ride ends and then hope we still have a seat left. We sincerely thank all of you that have placed an order in 2008. If you haven’t visited your favorite garden center or nursery in a while, we sure hope you will do so as your finances allow…hey really need you now.

Speaking of visiting, we hope to see many of you at our fall open house, which runs from September 12-14 and 19-21…from 8am-5pm on Friday and Saturday and 1pm-5pm on Sunday. We were disappointed more folks didn’t show up in summer, but we assume you were all waiting for the weather to cool, which it has done nicely.

In nursery news, another giant bit the dust last week, when Hines Nurseries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Hines has asked the bankruptcy court to seek a bidder for all Hines’s assets which will allow it to continue to operate as a nursery for now. If you haven’t heard of Hines Nurseries, they were the largest nursery in the US only a few years ago. Hines has undergone a series of transformations since the 1970’s, from being owned by Weyerhaeuser, to being employee owned, to being publicly owned, to being venture capitol-owned. Over the last couple of decades, Hines grew at a rapid pace by gobbling up other large growers throughout the US. This rapid growth strategy, the decision to put most of their eggs in the price-sensitive, pay-by-scan mass-market basket, and the tragic decision to become a public company via stock offerings, kept Hines teetering on the brink of disaster for the last several years. Despite recently selling off many of their most valuable nursery properties across the country, a couple of years of bad weather and the economic slowdown proved to be the tipping point in driving Hines and their 500 million dollar debt into Chapter 11. This sad chapter is another reminder that in our industry, big isn’t always better. I hope all of the unsecured creditors including Conard-Pyle Nursery, Syngenta Seeds, and Ball Horticultural Company are able to survive this huge financial blow. Far too often the domino effect on creditors is as bad as it is for the company which files Chapter 11.

Those of us in the plant industry were also surprised recently to learn Branch-Smith Publishing Company of Texas, which publishes several of the top green industry magazines including Nursery Management & Production, Greenhouse Management & Production, Garden Center Magazine, and Garden Center Products & Supplies…has sold it’s publications to GIE Media Inc. It remains unclear if the new owners have plans for these wonderful publications.

Last month, I’m sure everyone heard about the family attacked in China during the Olympics. The victim, Todd Bachman, was the CEO of Bachman’s Nursery in Minnesota, which is widely considered one of the top garden centers in America. Todd is survived by his wife Barbara, who was also attacked, but survived. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Bachman family as they continue to deal with this tragedy. You can read more about the Bachman family at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/08/09/olympics_stabbing/

Only a couple of weeks remain before the JC Raulston Arboretum’s, ‘Surround Yourself with Shady Characters’ symposium. The list of internationally-recognized speakers is truly superb, so this is not a symposium to be missed. For symposium attendees, PDN will serve bagels and coffee on Friday, September 26 from 9-10am, and the gardens and nursery will be open from 8am-4pm for viewing and shopping.

In other important upcoming events, we hope you will participate in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days, benefitting the JC Raulston Arboretum. The dates are Saturday, September 20 from 9am-5pm and Sunday, September 21, from 12pm-5pm. Since that is a Plant Delights Nursery Fall Open House weekend as well, we hope you’ll spend the entire day visiting some of the great gardens of the region. The cost to visit is $5 per garden, which obviously is not applicable here at PDN, but we will gladly accept the same fee and send the donation along to the Garden Conservancy. You can read more about the area gardens which are participating at http://www.opendaysprogram.org

I’m just back from a three week botanizing trip to Taiwan. If you’d like to read more about what we saw and vicariously travel along, my daily expedition notes with photos is being loaded on the website.

I am privileged to have been invited to speak at the inaugural meeting of the Southeast Horticultural Society, to be held on November 13, in Atlanta, GA. The Southeast Horticultural Society will be the southeastern equivalent of the large horticultural societies of the northeast. I hope to see you at the meeting and wish this new group the best of luck in getting off the ground.

Last month I mentioned the wonderful lycoris season we were having, thanks to adequate summer moisture. Despite being gone for three weeks, the lycoris parade still continues. The September-flowering clones of Lycoris radiata are just finishing, as are the wonderful L. aurea and L. caldwellii. Even within a species such as the common Lycoris radiata, there is a huge variation. We have clones of L. radiata that flower every year in June, other clones in August, and the most common clone flowers in September. As I botanize around the southeast US, it’s not uncommon to stumble on clumps of the Chinese native lycoris, usually near community dump sites, where they were discarded, but stubbornly refuse to die. I really hope everyone, including those brown-thumb gardeners will give lycoris a try. Keep in mind when dividing your clumps that replanting promptly is key to keeping consistent flowering. Years ago, I dug thousands from our first Raleigh garden and moved them to the NC State Fairgrounds where I was employed. Because I allowed them to dry in boxes before planting, it took 14 years until they all burst into flower.

As the nights begin to cool, many plants have a fall resurgence of flowering. One group that particularly benefits from September weather is Salvia gregii, which come in a range of colors from white to yellow, to red, to purple. These woody semi-shrub like salvias prefer good drainage, a pH above 6.0, plenty of sun and air circulation. There are other great fall-flowering salvias including one of my favorites, Salvia madrensis. Typical S. madrensis has huge winged stems to 7′ tall, which are topped with terminal spikes of light yellow flowers in October. Our selection, S. ‘Red Neck Girl’, has dark red-purple stems and flowers that usually start at least two weeks earlier. Salvia puberula is another fall-bloomer with fuzzy pink flowers that resemble the Energizer Bunny┬«, while the related S. darcyi, S. ‘Silke.s Dream., and S. ‘Scarlet Spires’ are all just starting to flower with 4′ tall spikes of peachy-red. For the woodland garden, the shade-loving Salvia koyamae and S. nipponica are also in full flower.

September is also the month many of the lesser grown gesneriads (African violet relatives) spring to life. While many of the hardy sinningias have been flowering for months, this is the time Gloxinia ‘Evita’ erupts into flower and steals star status from everyone else in the garden. Additionally, the hardy achimenes are in full bloom now. Another group that just explodes in the fall are the abutilons. The dangling bells of these hibiscus relatives come in a range of colors from pinks to oranges. We have selected our offerings from our extensive winter hardiness trials. If you need something larger, don’t forget the cestrums, which have been in flower since late spring and still haven’t slowed down.

I hope many of you are enjoying your Aloysia virgata you purchased this spring. This die back perennial in Zone 7 is a plant I simply will not be without in my garden. It starts to flower in August and reaches a fever pitch in September with hundreds of spikes of white flowers on 8-10′ tall branches…did I mention they smell like vanilla extract? I’m writing this with my chair parked underneath our delicious specimen. I love fragrant flowers and this is a great time of year for fragrance in the garden. Whether it is one of the many fragrant hedychiums or the nocturnally-fragrant brugmansias, the evening garden is a sheer delight.

Again, we thank you for your continued support and hope to see you soon!

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

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

Thanks and enjoy

-tony