Curcuma longa ‘Snowdrift’ is looking fabulous in the garden now, suffering no damage from our recent cold winter. The is such a great plant for the woodland garden to add a tropical touch. Remember it doesn’t emerge before mid-to-late June.
Greetings and Happy Spring!
The Perfect Storm
As we mentioned in an earlier email, we experienced the perfect storm of events which impacted our order processing and shipping operations this spring. The combination of delayed ordering due to the long winter, a nearly universal demand for plants to be shipped in May, and the poorly-designed e-commerce system we purchased in December have created an operational and shipping nightmare. The entire company is working in crisis mode and we are burning the midnight oil to fulfill orders and work through the issues.
We know these delays are unacceptable to you and they are unacceptable to us as business owners. We appreciate your patience and your notes of support as we work to ship the orders that were delayed.
Despite seeming like spring has only just begun, we’re actually only a few weeks from the official start of summer. Rains have been steady so far this year, although our recent May rain of 5.17 inches was a bit more than we would have preferred for a single weather event. Fingers crossed for a great gardening summer in most parts of the country, although our thoughts are with those in the already drought stricken areas like California, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Spring open garden and nursery days were well attended and it was wonderful meeting so many folks, including visitors from as far away as California. It’s always great to put faces with the names that we’ve previously met only on social media. Because our growing season was two weeks later than normal, visitors were able to see different plants than they normally see in spring, including peak bloom on many of the early peonies. At least it was dry during open garden and nursery, which is always a relief.
Weathering the Winter in JLBG
In the last couple of weeks, the agaves here at Juniper Level B.G. have awoken from their winter slumber with seven species so far sending up flower spikes. It looks like we’ll be breaking out the tall ladders for some high-wire sexual liaisons before long. We didn’t get great seed set on last year’s century plant breeding, but the highlights of the successful crosses were hybrids of Agave victoriae-reginae and Agave americana ssp. protamericana which we expect will turn out to be quite interesting. Although only six months old, we can already tell they’re truly unique.
We continue to watch as plants in the garden recover from the severe winter. Most of the cycads (sago palms) we cut back have resprouted, with a few still to begin. So far, the only sure loss from that group was a several year old Dioon merolae. Most of our palms came through the winter okay, except for those in an out-lying low part of the garden, where damage to windmill palms was quite severe.
Many of the butia, or jelly palms, we thought survived have now declined to a brown pile of branches. We’re not giving up quite yet, as one Butia x Jubaea that we thought was a goner when the spear pulled (a term for the newly emerging leaves rotting so that they easily pull out of the top) has just begun to reflush.
Bananas have been slow to return for many customers, including the very hardy Musa basjoo. It seems that gardeners in colder zones who mulched their bananas have plants which are growing now. Perhaps this past winter will put a damper on the mail order nurseries who continue to list plants like Musa basjoo as hardy to Zone 4 and 5, (-20 to -30 degrees F), which is pure insanity.
We are grateful Tony had the opportunity to speak recently at the relatively new Paul J. Ciener Botanic Garden in Kernersville, NC. This small botanic garden is truly delightful, and the staff, including former JLBG curator Adrienne Roethling, have done a great job in the first phase of their development. We hope you’ll drop by if you’re heading through NC on Interstate 40.
Tony also spoke in Memphis last month, and then he headed into the Ozarks for some botanizing in northwest Arkansas. He had an amazing several days that resulted in finds like a stoloniferous form of Viola pedata, several trilliums he’d never seen before, and a new clematis species that’s still waiting to be named. We’ve posted some photos from the trip on our blog.
We both love to share our plant passion with you on the PDN blog and our social media sites. We originally posted only on Facebook, then Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, so we created a PDN Blog as our main social media platform. Tony uses the blog to share his perspectives with you about the plant and gardening world as he sees it. The PDN blog, in turn, propagates his posts to Facebook, Google+, and Twitter and allows him to get back out in the garden and greenhouses where he finds meaningful content to share with you!
Anita manages the Juniper Level Botanic Garden website and the JLBG page at Facebook, along with the PDN and JLBG pages at Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thus far, the only issue we seem to have with social media is when the blog sends our posts to other social media sites, FB and Google+ remove the links to the plants, as well as some of the post. We have no ability to control or change this, and FB’s customer service is as responsive as asking a flat tire to change itself. Hopefully, one day we’ll discover a way to work around this challenge.
Suspending Web Ordering for Inventory June 17-18
Please note we will be closed to take plant inventory in the greenhouses on the above dates. This will require us to empty all shopping carts and suspend website ordering from 12:01am EDT on June 17 through 6:00pm EDT on June 18 in order to obtain accurate inventory numbers. We apologize for any inconvenience during inventory in June and October each year.
Taxonomy and Nomenclature
Longtime readers know Tony’s fascination with plant taxonomy and nomenclature. He always assumed plant naming and renaming had to do with science and taxonomy, but it seems that politics and nationalism are also at play. A recent example is the genus acacia, a member of the Mimosa family. It was determined in 2005 from DNA analysis that acacias from Africa and acacias from Australia were genetically different enough that they were not actually the same genus. Since the original type specimen, named by Linnaeus in 1773, was from Africa, the acacias in Australia were changed to racosperma.
What should have been cut and dried got hijacked when Australia protested, arguing that since they had so many more acacias than Africa (960 vs. 160), it would be too disruptive to change the Australian plants so Australia should get to keep the genus acacia, and a new type specimen (a replacement for the original African standard) should be declared as being from Australia. Follow me here…this would require the original African acacias to be renamed.
As it turned out, even the African acacias weren’t really all the same genus either, so they would then need to be divided anyway. This probably wouldn’t have garnered much in the way of horticultural headlines were it not for the fact that acacias are iconic cultural trees for both cultures. The result was a six-year heavyweight taxonomic and political rumble, the likes of which had never been seen before in the botanical world.
In 2005, the International Botanical Congress voted to officially give the name acacia to Australia. Africa vehemently protested, and accused the committee of stealing African Intellectual Property rights. In 2011, the International Botanical Congress, in a split decision, re-affirmed leaving Australia with the rights to acacia, and handing a still-steaming African delegation two new genera, vachellia (69 species) and senegalia (73 species), which taxonomist are still sorting out to this day. And you though taxonomy was boring!
In a recent discovery, scientists found bumblebees use electrical signals to determine which flowers have more nectar, allowing them to forage for pollen more efficiently. Bees build up positive electrical charges as they fly, which helps the pollen stick to them as they land on the flowers. Scientist found that this electrical charge is transferred to the flowers when they land to feed. Subsequent bees pick up on this electrical charge, telling the bee which flowers have already been foraged so they don’t waste their energy where little pollen will likely remain. This use of electrical signals had previously been documented in sharks, but not in insects. This fascinating research was first published in the February 21, 2013 issue of Nature magazine.
Industry mergers are back in the news this month as the 1,000,000 square foot Kentucky wholesaler Color Point (74th largest in the US) has signed a letter of intent to purchase the 3,500,000 million square foot Mid-American Growers of Illinois, which ranks number 13. Interestingly, both nurseries are owned by siblings…the two youngest sons of the famed Van Wingerden greenhouse family, who made their fortunes supplying plants to the mass market box stores.
In sad news from the gardening world, UK plantsman Adrian Bloom of Blooms of Bressingham shared the news that his wife of 48 years, Rosemary, has been diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer, falling ill after returning from a Swiss skiing trip in March. Adrian underwent prostate cancer treatment back in 2011. Please join us in sending thoughts and prayers to the Bloom family.
2014 Summer Open Nursery and Garden Days
Mark your calendar for July Summer Open Nursery and Garden Days. We’ll have the cooling mister running full blast to keep you cool while you shop for colorful and fragrant perennials for your summer garden. And of course, the greenhouses will be full of many cool plants, including echinaceas, salvias, phlox, cannas, dahlias, crinum lilies, and lots of unique ferns. JLBG is especially lush and green during the summer so come and walk the shady paths of the Woodland Garden, or cool off at the Grotto Waterfall Garden and Mystic Falls Garden. It’s always great to see you and meet you in person and to reunite with our long-time customers and friends.
Days: July 11-13 and July 18-20 Rain or Shine!
Times: Fridays and Saturdays 8a-5p, Sundays 1-5p
Southeast Palm Society at PDN/JLNG on August 9th
Just a reminder that we will be hosting the summer meeting of the Southeast Palm Society at Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanic Garden on Saturday August 9, 2014. You are welcome to attend but you will need to register in advance by July 1, 2014. You will find the details here.
Soothing Stress in the Garden
As crazy as things have been in the nursery, the botanic garden here at Juniper Level provides a paradoxically exciting calmness. As a stress reliever, as well as a passion, we spend as much evening and weekend time as possible in the gardens viewing the amazing plants and plant combinations through the lens of our cameras. We each see the garden differently, so Anita shares her photos on the JLBG Facebook page and her Google+ profile, and Tony shares his photos on the PDN blog.
In addition to the sensory beauty and serenity of gardens large or small, researchers worldwide have documented the positive and calming benefits to the human nervous system of spending time in the garden. So relax, refresh, and restore your natural state of balance and calm by spending time in your favorite garden spot.
Until next time, happy gardening!
-tony and anita
Our 2011 shipping season is winding down and officially ends next Monday, December 5th. If you’ve been putting off ordering those last plants for fall planting, please don’t delay. Any orders received after December 5th will be shipped when we resume shipping on February 13th, 2012. That being said, we always try to work with folks who encounter horticulture emergencies between December and February as winter weather allows.
After years of searching, we are now working with a new experimental “green wrap” 100% recyclable packing, that will allow us to move away from more conventional packaging materials to a paper-based product. While these products have a higher cost than the packing we have used in the past, initial reports indicate good results in keeping plants safe during transit. Additionally, these packing materials have received a certification from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). This SFI certification assures that the fibers used to make GreenWrap Packaging materials are derived solely from sustainably managed forests. Find out more at http://www.sfiprogram.org/. If you’ve received a shipment of plants this fall, we’d welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the media-hyped Black Friday, I celebrated Green-Thumb Saturday out in the garden. We were fortunate to have great weather, which allowed me to get up close with all the wonderful plants that look great in fall. I’ll be posting more fall images from the garden to our Facebook page.
If you garden from Zone 7 south, I hope you are growing the wonderful ruscus and danae. These strange evergreen plants, which hail from woodlands in England southeast to the Mediterranean, are truly stars of the fall garden. Ruscus and danae are both members of the lowly Ruscaceae family…a family trying to find hold onto its identity, despite a horticultural tug of war that has taxonomists making a grab for both genera. Depending on who you believe, danae and ruscus should be included in Convallariaceae, Nolinaceae, Asparagaceae and Dracaenaceae. Geez…can we just not leave well enough alone?
If you’ve ever grown either of these great plants, you’ll know they aren’t like anything else. First, they don’t have leaves…only cladodes (leaf wannabes) attached to the upright green stems. Their flowers are insignificant, but both genera are adorned now with lovely reddish/orange fruit. Ruscus has sharp cladodes, while the cladodes of danae are soft and unarmed. Both genera have tremendous potential as cut specimens in arrangements, although you’ll need welding gloves to handle the ruscus. Danae on the other hand, which is usually imported from Italy for the cut flower market, can fetch up to $5 per stem for florists.
The genus ruscus consists of only a few species, but in cultivation, it is Ruscus aculeatus that dominates the market. In the wild, Ruscus aculeatus can reach 4-5′ tall and is typically a monecious plant…one plant is male, while another is female. Over the years, a few selections have been made for their gardening prowess. Ruscus aculeatus ‘Wheelers’ is a 4-5′ tall hermaphroditic form, meaning that it produces both male and female flowers and consequently produces fruit without a partner. Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Christmas Berry’ are very similar forms, both maturing around 18″ tall. These are also hermaphroditic forms and are truly stunning this time of year.
For us, ruscus has proven to be one of the best plants we grow for dry shade, tolerating insanely bad conditions. In our trials, we also have ruscus surviving in our full sun rock garden, but it isn’t extraordinarily happy there. The commercial downside to ruscus and danae is that they take 6-7 years to produce a saleable size plant, including 2 years to produce their first leaf. Consequently, no sane nurseryman would ever think about producing them.
We’ve recently caught a typo in our on-line catalog that lists Agave parryi v. truncata as Zone 3-9. The correct zone should be Zone 7-9. We apologize for the error and if you purchased this based on this error, please contact us for a credit at email@example.com.
The weather this fall has played havoc with gardeners in the Northeast US during an early season snowstorm on October 30. Because leaves had not yet fallen from deciduous trees, the damage was exacerbated as trees collapsed under the weight, wiping out power lines on their way down. The NY Botanic Garden was one of many horticultural treasures devastated by the loss of over 2,200 trees including many of the historic magnolias. Our thoughts go out to many nurseries and greenhouses in the region who were also devastated by losing power for 7-10 days.
Around the same time, many of our gardening friends in Thailand were being devastated by the unprecedented flooding around Bangkok. The media coverage in the US was scant for the level of destruction that occurred. Not only are some of the worlds most famous plant collectors in this part of Thailand, but an amazing amount of US plant production depends on liners from Thailand. For example one of the new introductions for 2011 was Ophiopogon ‘Black Beard’, a plant where virtually all of the stock is started in labs in Thailand. So the flooding has obviously caused a huge interruption in the worlds supply of each plant so affected. On November 3rd, we posted some truly amazing photos of the flood on our facebook page in the Wall Photos Album.
One of the world’s top variegated plant collectors is a Bangkok nurseryman named Pramote Rojruangsang…aka. Mr. Jiew. During the worst of the flooding in mid November, Mr. Jiew’s entire nursery was under 6′ of water and he estimates that he has lost 95% of his plants, including a lifetime of plant breeding work. I wrote about Mr. Jiew and his amazing collection of plants after my Thailand visit in 2005. Photos from that visit are posted on our Thailand/ North Vietnam Plant Exploration.
Another Thailand plant-friend of ours, Annop Ongsakul, lives further south in Thailand and avoided the flooding. Annop is a plant breeder (we carry one of his curcuma hybrids) and plant explorer who we also met during our 2005 trip to Thailand. Annop is also the namesake of the Amorphophallus ongsakulii that he discovered in Thailand along with our friend and Raleigh, NC plantsman Alan Galloway. Annop was recently featured in a recent Bangkok Post article…congratulations!
Congratulations are also in order to our friend Bill Cullina, who was just appointed Executive Director of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on November 10th. Bill first joined the garden as Director of Horticulture in 2008 after a decade at the New England Wildflower Society. If you haven’t had the chance to hear one of Bill’s wonderful talks, I hope you’ve at least enjoyed reading one of his excellent books. Bill has had quite a month as he was also selected as the winner of the prestigious 2012 Scott Medal…one of the country’s top horticulture awards. Well deserved…Congratulations!
In other horticultural world changes, another friend, Ellen Hornig of the former Seneca Hill Nursery is packing up and moving. Ellen closed her nursery last year after a wonderful run, and due to family illness is packing up and moving from upstate Oswego, New York to Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Consequently, you’ve got a chance to buy Ellen’s former home and garden. Below is Ellen’s description of the property:
The property consists of a 4 BR, 2.5 bath 1914 American foursquare on 8+ acres. Included are the one remaining greenhouse (28′ x 48′) roughly 2 acres of gardens, a row of mature blueberry bushes, lots of rare and beautiful trees and plants, a large dug pond with koi, goldfish, bullfrogs, green frogs, and breeding toads in season, an old garage for storage, a newer 2.5 car garage with heat, insulation and a finished interior. We have city utilities (natural gas and water) and a septic system. The price ($169,900) reflects the value of the buildings and land on the local market. You get roughly $100K worth of gardens, plus the greenhouse, at no additional cost (the rest of the greenhouses have been removed). Click here for more information.
The gardening world lost a huge figure recently with the passing of Frank Cabot (age 86) from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis on November 19th. It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about Franks contributions. Frank was a Harvard graduate, who after serving in the military during WWII, spent his first career as a New York City venture capitalist. However, his love of gardening consumed the remainder of his life. He became active in a number of gardening groups including the New York Botanical Garden, Wave Hill, and the North American Rock Garden Society. Frank created his own world class garden named Stonecrop in nearby Cold Spring, New York. In 1989, Frank founded the Garden Conservancy, a group dedicated to the preservation of exceptional gardens. Frank’s later years were spent renovating his parents garden Quatre Vents in Quebec. Franks’ book, The Greater Perfection, received the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries 2003 Literature Award. Frank was also the recipient of many horticulture awards including the prestigious Veitch Medal from the Royal Horticulture Society. Frank is survived by his wife of 62 years, Ann and three children, Colin of New Hampshire, Currie of Colorado, and Marianne of Kentucky. Contributions may be made to The Garden Conservancy, PO Box 219 or the Quatre Vents Foundation, PO Box 222, both at Cold Spring, New York 10516, or to the charity of your choice.
Time to get back to writing catalog descriptions for all the great new plants for 2012. We’ll continue to post a few teaser pictures on our facebook page until the new plants go live on the website December 31st. Don’t forgot to check out these new plant photos and gardening tidbits on Facebook.
Thanks again for your continued support and happy holidays from all of us at Plant Delights Nursery and we wish you a great fall gardening season!
We hope you’ve all received your 2011 catalogs by now. If not, it’s probably been confiscated by a postal carrier who also has a penchant for gardening, so give us a holler and we’ll send another. We were very honored to be named one of the seven “Best Mail-Order Plant Sources” by Garden Design Magazine in their December 2010 issue.
We hope you’ve also had time to check out the new version of our Plant Delights website, which includes a number of new items and features. Until you’ve worked on a website this large (27,000 pages indexed by Google), you can’t imagine the time involved. We mentioned last August that we had switched websites, but the new site didn’t live up to our expectations, so for the new year we switched out both our entire nursery database and website systems.
I’m not going to begin to tell you that we’ve worked out all the bugs, so please bear with us as we solve problems that we don’t yet realize are problems. What the new website will allow is faster turnaround of changes and hopefully better Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so more folks in cyberspace can find us.
Because we also have more in-house control of the site, we’ve been able to add several new features. One of these is a “wish list”, where you can tell us which and how many you want of sold out items. If your wish list includes plants that we can produce quickly, then we will. We’ve also added the capability to find plants by categories on the homepage, such as Deer Resistant Plants, Hummingbird Favorites, or Ornamental Grasses.
We’ve recently added several new plant articles including ones on arisaema, curcuma, cyclamen, hedychium, and tricyrtis.
In the plant exploration section, we’ve added images to several of our older expeditions for the first time, including China, Korea, Mexico, and Argentina. We’ve also changed the images in the later galleries to hot links, which should make it easier to follow and know which photos belong where.
We continue to add new plants to the on-line catalog as they become ready including some new ones this week. Most of these plants are available in very limited supply, so if you see something that strikes your fancy, don’t delay. Some of these plants are first time offerings including the hard-to-find Arisaema dahaiense. New plants are listed here.
If you’d like to enter our Top 25 contest for the $250 gift certificate, remember that only 3 weeks remain before our entry deadline of February 15.
I’m traveling around the country this spring and this week I’m in the Big Apple to speak at the Metro Hort’s Plant-O-Rama series for horticultural professionals at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The details are below, so if you’re in the area, be sure to drop by.
While I’m in NY, I’ll also be appearing on another segment of the Martha Stewart Show, which will air live at 10am on Wednesday January 26 on the Hallmark Channel. If you’re so inclined, be sure to tune in and watch our segment on ferns.
If you enjoy traveling to visit great gardens, there are a few spaces remaining for the upcoming JC Raulston Arboretum’s tour to England from June 11-20. The tour, led by Assistant Director Mark Weathington, includes Kew Gardens, RHS Garden Wisley, the Chelsea Physic Garden, Beth Chatto’s Garden, Roy Lancaster’s home garden and The Sir Harold Hillier Arboretum (led by Roy Lancaster). The tour will also include some special private gardens and nurseries, so don’t miss this incredible opportunity. For more information go to the JCRA website or email Mark directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Speaking of tours, we have a number of bus groups who visit PDN every year, while we hear from others who would like to join a bus tour, but don’t have enough folks to fill the bus. If this is the case, let us know once you have finalized your dates and we’ll help publicize your tour here in our monthly e-newsletter.
In the garden this month, we’re starting to see signs of life despite still being in the midst of a winter that has included a number of healthy winter storms. The flower buds on Helleborus x hybridus are beginning to swell, but no color is showing quite yet. Many folks like to cut the old foliage from their lenten roses, but the key is good timing. If you cut the foliage too early, you lose the protection that the foliage provides for the developing flower buds while exposing the plants to more sun, which speeds up flowering…not always a good thing in midwinter. Our rule of thumb is that we remove all of the previous year’s foliage only when we see the first sign of color in the flower buds. This year, it looks like that’s going to be in mid-February.
Unlike Helleborus x hybrids, Helleborus niger is already in flower and its hybrids, including H. x ericsmithii, H. x ballardiae, and H. x nigercors, are showing flower color and can be cleaned up now. While these hellebore hybrids were once quite rare, recent breeding breakthroughs and tissue culture advances have made these wonderful plants much more readily available.
There has recently been a big uproar in the nation’s capital over a plan by the US National Arboretum to remove a section of the Glen Dale azalea display. Azaleas lovers across the country have launched an email campaign to prevent the arboretum staff from removing the azaleas. While I like azaleas as much as anyone, I have a different take on the issue. The azaleas in question are breeding rejects from the USDA program which produced the Glen Dale Series. The breeding work of the late Arboretum director, Ben Morrison, produced the release of 454 azalea cultivars. Do we really need more azaleas from a program that has yielded 454 named varieties? When most breeding programs are concluded, the culls (rejects) are typically discarded. For some reason, these culls were never discarded, and over the years folks have become emotionally attached to these plants and consequently are now protesting the plan to discard them. The land at the US National Arboretum is some of the most expensive land in the country and is not the place to maintain a collection of cull azaleas…no matter how nice they look for a couple of weeks in spring. My suggestion to concerned members of the Rhododendron Society and the general public is that they raise private money and pay for the plants to be moved to a nearby park, which has more space and is in an area which is not focused on genetically important collections. Perhaps then, the USNA can replant a complete, labeled collection of the named Glen Dale hybrids along with other important hybrids that can serve as a real reference collection instead of the mass of unlabeled, unnamed plants that exist there now.
Congratulations are in order to Dr. Harold Pellett, the retired University of Minnesota professor and executive director of the Landscape Plant Development Center (LPDC) in Minnesota. Harold is the 2011 recipient of the prestigious Scott Medal, awarded by Pennsylvania’s Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College. Harold’s work is responsible for several plant introductions for the northern and midwest regions including Physocarpus ‘Center Glow’, Pyrus ‘Silver Ball’, Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’, and Clematis ‘Center Star’ (we’re ignoring those illegal trademark names that LPDC uses).
We are saddened this month to report the death of a couple of horticultural stalwarts. On January 9, we lost our good friend Clif Russell, 79, of Churchville, PA. Clif and his wife Norma spent much of their life as missionaries in Peru, but returned to the US in the mid 1970s, and in 1981 started a wholesale perennial nursery, Russell Gardens Wholesale. For those who had the good fortune to visit, Clif’s nursery was a treasure trove of rare and unusual plants. Like many of us, his passion for plants and obsessive nature often overrode his business decisions. Many of the cool plants found in nurseries and gardens throughout the Northeast started their lives at Russell’s. Clif is survived by his wife, Norma, and five children: Clifton Jr., Jay Timothy, Andrew, Alan, and Kent.
January 12 saw the passing of horticultural icon, Fred Case, 83, of Saginaw, Michigan. Fred was a high school science teacher who retired from the classroom but never stopped teaching. Fred was an active conservationist known worldwide for his books, including “Orchids of the Western Great Lakes Region” (1964), “Wildflowers of the Northeastern States” (1978), “Wildflowers of the Western Great Lakes Region” (1999), and “Trilliums” (1997). Even in his twilight years, Fred continued to tromp through the woods, studying the native flora. Fred was awarded the Edgar Wherryi Award from the North American Rock Garden Society in 1974 and the Scott Medal in 2004. Fred was preceded in death by his wife Roberta (Boots) Case in 1998, but survived by a son and daughter-in-law, David B. and Sheri Leaman Case. We were fortunate to have visited the nursery a couple of times and always found it an incredible learning experience.
Thanks for taking time to read our newsletter and we hope you will enjoy the new catalog and website.
Greetings from PDN! Thanks to everyone who visited our Summer Open House, especially those from the distant locales of New York, Michigan, Florida, Brazil, and even Algeria. It was very cool to chat with one of our brave soldiers, who was home on break from Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base. He was particularly interested to learn that we grow a couple of Afghan native plants, including the bizarre Ficus afghanistanica.
There are probably quite a few other plants that we could grow from Afghanistan, although the prospects of botanizing there look grim for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, Bagram Air Force Base sits just below 5,000′ elevation, and is the same latitude as Greenville, South Carolina, so the prospects of a climate match is quite good.
We’re still experiencing some shipping delays due to seemingly incessant heat, so we thank you for your patience. Since we are dealing with live plants and we want them to arrive at your garden that way, we are simply unable to ship when the temperatures exceed much more than 90 degrees F. If our yearly averages hold, we are overdue for some cooler days soon.
We’ve spent much of the last month working on our fall catalog, deciding which plants to offer and which plants didn’t make the cut. We are very excited with our new offerings which you will see when our catalog goes in the mail in another week. Among our many exciting new introductions are five new rain lilies from Indonesia breeder Fadjar Marta. Fadjar continues to expand what we thought was impossible in the genus zephyranthes with these first new releases since 2007. You can see images of our entire rain lily collection including those slated for Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 introduction by clicking here.
In other plant news, let’s talk about Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’, which we first listed in 2009. Well, as we say in the nursery business…woof, woof, woof. Yes, the name “Poodle” should have clued us in, but indeed, it turned out to be a real dog. While we first trial almost all of the new plants that we offer, there are a small number that we will occasionally list from trusted breeders, or from where we regularly monitor certain breeding programs. On a very rare occasion we find that a stray dog has made it into the nursery and such was the case with Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’. After two years in our garden, only one flower out of several hundred turned out to be the nice double that was pictured by the breeder. The rest resembled the insanely ugly Echinacea ‘Doppelganger’, which must be in its parentage. Anyway, we have discarded our remaining stock and are offering credits to anyone who purchased this from us…just contact our office at email@example.com. We apologize for letting this one get past us.
Here at PDN, we’ve celebrated a milestone recently, as our database indicates that we have now passed the 20,000 mark for killing plants. 20,194 dead accessions (different plants) is actually our current total, so don’t even think about complaining that you have a brown thumb. Our dead/alive plant rate now stands around 50%, but since our goal is trialing, experimenting, and learning the possible parameters under which each plant will grow, these numbers are actually a good thing. Granted, if you look at the numbers from our cost for purchasing all of those plants, perhaps one might not consider this a success, but this is what allows us to offer better and often different cultural information than what you might normally read. I’m constantly reminded of the late Dr. J.C. Raulston’s quote, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.” No truer words were ever spoken. I wonder if the Guinness Book of World Records has a category that we fit into?
So, why do plants die? Obviously, there are many causes, and sometimes isolating the specific reason isn’t as easy as we would like. When confronted with a dead plant, especially one planted within the last couple of years, the first step is to inspect the root system. Just like humans, plant autopsies must be done as soon as possible after death to get meaningful results. If you tug on the dead stem, you will find one of three things…no root system remaining, a root system that has never emerged from the original root ball/container shape, or roots which have spread nicely into the surrounding soil.
If you encounter no roots, then the roots were probably either eaten by a vole (thumb sized tunnel will be found nearby) or the roots rotted, which often indicates a poorly drained soil or soil borne disease. If the roots are still in the form of the original container, your plant dried up and died due to poor planting practices. Plants in containers are grown primarily in pine bark, and during the growing season in a nursery they are typically watered at least twice every day…anything less and the plant dies. By not breaking up the root ball and removing most of the potting soil, the roots assume they are still in the pot. It is virtually impossible to apply enough water to keep the root ball moist once it has been planted. If you are able to water enough to keep the root ball moist, the surrounding ground will most likely then be too wet.
When the roots on dead plants have grown out into the surrounding soil, it is more difficult to diagnose the cause, due to the large number of potential problems. These include adaptability in your climate, improper growing conditions, toxins in the surrounding soil, diseases, and propagation issues (i.e. on cutting propagated perennials, not having a growth bud below the soil surface).
At Plant Delights we try to determine the hardiness zone limits, so we kill quite a few plants simply because they aren’t winter or heat hardy in our climate. That being said, you can’t automatically assume that a plant isn’t hardy in a particular climate just because it dies once or even twice. Often, we kill the same plant several times until we get it in exactly the right location. Sometimes it’s just a matter of moving the plant a few feet away for it to be successful. Dr. Raulston once mentioned in a lecture that it was impossible to grow Romneya coulteri (California Poppy) in our climate. We took up the challenge and killed 15 plants over a 20 year period before we succeeded in getting it established. We could have easily given up after the first couple of times and assumed like everyone else that it simply didn’t like our climate.
Many plants were very late to emerge this summer, including many of our curcumas, bananas, and elephant ears. Our Colocasia ‘Illustris’ didn’t emerge until late July and some of our bananas didn’t resprout until mid-July. Obviously, the length of time the ground was frozen this winter had a great effect on many of our “hardy tropicals”. I was recently comparing colocasia survival notes with our neighbor and noted aroid expert Alan Galloway, bemoaning the fact that several of our colocasia, most notably Colocasia ‘Mojito’ and Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’, had died in what was a relatively mild winter…except for the long duration of frozen ground. Alan, who lives less than a mile away, had good survival on all of the plants we lost. He explained that the had noticed for years that elephant ear tubers work their way up through the soil, and after three years the tubers rise to the soil surface where they are most likely to be killed. He plants all his elephant ears 6-8″ deep, and in the fall re-checks the tubers after the first frost, replanting any shallow tubers. This is the obvious explanation why we would sometimes lose well-established colocasias during a seemingly mild winter. We are therefore changing our planting recommendations for elephant ears.
As a nursery, dying plants also create a problem when dealing with narcissistic gardeners, who by their nature, must blame their lack of success on someone else. We dealt with a particularly unintelligent gardener last year who, between constantly repeating his gardening credentials, insisted that it was our fault that several of his plants which came from us died…all after growing fine for an entire season. This lack of common sense kept the gardener from looking for what might have actually gone wrong. Several years ago we had another gardener who purchased plants at an Open House day and proceeded to leave them in her closed car while she stopped to shop on the way home…on a day when the temperature topped 100 degrees F. Sadly, this customer was also unwilling to take any responsibility for her lack of common sense and demanded that it was our fault. Thank goodness it wasn’t children that she left in the car.
While plants may not always die immediately, they often grow for a few years and then decline in health. Evaluating your garden conditions is the best place to start when your plants fail to thrive. Factors in their decline include changes in root competition, the amount of overhead light, soil nutrient balance, soil moisture, and the balance of fungi/bacteria in the soil. Many gardeners miss subtle changes such as these, which happen slowly over time. I recommend testing your soil every 2-3 years to keep an eye on soil nutrition. Remember that some short-lived plants prefer a soil that has a higher bacterial/fungal content. When soil is disturbed/tilled, the balance of bacteria as compared to fungi increases, since fungi resent soil disturbance. Conversely, the longer a soil stays undisturbed, the higher the fungi content becomes as compared to the bacterial population which favors longer lived plants. Other plants simply like to be divided every few years…great examples are farfugiums, daylilies, and Japanese iris. Because of these factors, we’ve been spending quite a bit of time this summer moving plants that were no longer performing as they should.
When moving plants in the summer, the key to success is good irrigation after the plants are transplanted. Obviously, soil moisture is important, but equally so is keeping some moisture on the foliage until the plants are re-established. For this purpose, I like to use sprinkler hoses. Compared to a drip hose, which leaks water under low pressure, sprinkler hoses spray tiny, short, fine streams of water at a slightly higher pressure, creating a modified misting effect. Sprinkler hoses can be used right side up or upside down, depending on the desired effect. Unfortunately, most of the sprinkler hoses available are cheap, very poor quality hoses such as what you will often find at the big box stores, where the price point is far more important than quality. My experience echoed the online reviews I found, describing cheap hoses which rarely lasted more than 1-2 waterings before becoming worthless when the holes blew out, resulting in no watering at the far end of the hose and a flood at the front end. My search led me to Flexon™ brand sprinkler hoses, which have performed wonderfully.
After transplanting a bed of plants, which we did in 100 degree F temperatures, we hooked a battery-powered timer to the faucet along with a string of sprinkler hoses. Most waterings are only 1-2 minutes long, but are repeated several times per day to keep the foliage moist while the plants re-root. Longer waterings to keep the soil from drying might be needed only once or twice per week.
We recently got a note from Wall Street Journal garden writer Anne Marie Chaker, who is working on a story about zone-denial gardening. She’s looking for hard-core gardeners who love to push the limits on what is possible in their zones. If you fit the bill and would like to be part of the story, please contact Anne Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org
In yet another massive collapse in the horticultural industry, Skinner Nursery has now joined the all-to-long list of nurseries taken down by the recent faltering economy. Skinner Nurseries began its life in 1973 as a wholesale nursery in Jacksonville, Florida started by real estate developer Byrant B. Skinner Sr. In the late 1990s the company began expanding as a plant distribution center, quickly becoming one of the largest in the country, with 22 locations (2007) in seven southeast states. The original wholesale division, now encompassing 1300 acres in Florida, was renamed Flagler Wholesale Nursery and was run by brothers Russell and Bryant Skinner.
In 2005, Skinner Nurseries ranked No. 4 on The Jacksonville Business Journal’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies list. Company revenues increased from $12.4 million in 2000 to $110 million by 2007. Prestigious landscape projects included the J.C. Penney headquarters in Texas, the Merrill Lynch Southeast headquarters in Florida, the Jacksonville, Florida Municipal Stadium; the PGA World Golf Village and Hall of Fame in Florida, and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The company had done so well financially that they even got into stock car racing sponsorship (FASCAR) in 2007. Despite the slowing economy, Skinner was determined (obviously too much so) to expand and open new distribution centers until 2008, when the “nursery-friendly” folks at Wachovia slashed their line of credit. While a few of the Skinner Nursery sites were sold to other nurseries, most were just shuttered. As is usual in these cases, there is a ripple down effect to suppliers who never got paid. Since Skinner Nurseries never filed for bankruptcy protection, it is unclear if enough funds remain to pay all of the vendors…we certainly hope so. As of press time, it appears that the stock at Flagler Wholesale Nursery could also be headed for auction. Surely the bankers learned something after the Carolina Nurseries auction debacle…you can’t auction plants into an already saturated market at anything but giveaway prices.
In other sad gardening news, Diana Nicholls, 65, longtime owner of Nicholls Gardens in Gainesville, Virginia, (not to be confused with Nichols Garden Nursery), passed away suddenly on June 1, due to anaphylactic shock caused by an insect sting. Nicholls Gardens was a mail-order nursery specializing in iris, peony, and hosta. Our condolences go out to Diana’s extended family.