I don’t know about you, but I’ve about enjoyed this winter long enough...and winter megastorm Nemo missed us. While we’ve only had a low temperature of 18 degrees F in Raleigh, very mild by our norms, it has been consistently cool, which is great for the plants but not so much for those of us with thin blood...I mean chlorophyll.
Out in the garden, our early trilliums are about 2-3 weeks behind normal, which is actually a good thing when it comes to avoiding those pesky late spring frosts. Despite the cool, some plants just can’t wait. Our silly clumps of Arisaema ringens are already trying to poke their heads through the soil far too early.When this happens, adding a few inches of mulch to help keep the soil cool will help delay their emergence. Podophyllum pleianthum, a Chinese mayapple, also always emerges too early. Fortunately, it seems to be quite tolerant of getting burned back to the ground time after time.
We’ve had a great hellebore show in the garden this winter which, thanks to the cool weather, will continue for a while. Since most hybrid hellebores seed around the parent clump, you’ll need to consciously decide when you have enough seedlings. When that point arises, the spent flowers can be circumcised as an effective means of population control. Six to sixteen weeks (depending on the temperature) is the typical gestation period for hellebores, so mark your calendar so you don’t forget when snipping time arrives. As we’ve discussed on Facebook, we’ve found that when you plant hellebores about 15' apart in the garden, they come relatively true to type...double whites produce more double whites, etc. Anything closer than that produces a combination of the parental colors and forms, which can be both good and bad depending on the traits of each neighbor. If you are looking for hellebores that don’t seed in the garden, you should explore the Helleborus niger hybrids: Helleborus x ballardiae, Helleborus x ericsmithii, and Helleborus x nigercors (nigersmithii). These are all sterile moms and will not produce viable seed. Check out our full selection of Hellebores here.
Speaking of hellebores, this is our final Winter Open House weekend for 2013 with lots of great hellebores remaining. I just counted, and we still have over 300 doubles in flower along with over 160 incredible single yellows. These are some of the finest hellebores we’ve ever had for Open House, so drop by if you can. Anything that doesn’t go out the door this weekend will go on the web next week. We’ve posted some killer hellebore photos on our Facebook page, so check 'em out. Please remember you DO NOT have to join or register with Facebook to visit our Facebook page or see the photos...only if you want an email to know when we post more. We think you’ll find our Facebook page worthwhile if you like plants.
While there are many things to love about the end of winter, the one thing I don’t look forward to is the annual rite of tree-topping...the only fad that’s spreading around the country faster than body art. Tree topping, aka butchering, especially of crape myrtles, is truly one of the most bizarre rituals to ever affect the gardening community. I’ve almost concluded that alien mind control must be at work here, causing Homo sapiens males with power tools and no critical thinking skills to bizarrely butcher any tree in their yard they think might possibly look like a crape myrtle. Other than releasing extra testosterone and making your carbon footprint the size of Sasquatch, there is absolutely no logical reason to top trees. Tree topping does not keep the tree shorter and it does not make it flower better. It does, however, make your tree decrepitly ugly, weak-branched, and more susceptible to disease while putting on display your low gardening IQ to all your neighbors. Please, mow your grass an extra time or two, but leave the trees alone.
An interesting new trend is emerging in botanical circles that has already caused a divisive fracture in the taxonomic community. The trend is one of naming new plants after the highest bidder, as has been done for years with buildings and sporting events. One taxonomy camp argues that the money is needed to support their work, while the other camp wants genus and species names reserved for locations where the plants were found, people who were associated with finding the plants, or to simply name the plants after things they resemble.
Most recently, a worldwide naming auction was held for a new species of Hesperantha (iris family) that was discovered in 2011 by Odette Curtis in the Lowland Renosterveld management region of South Africa. The auction for the Overberg Lowlands Conservation Trust was managed by Fauna & Flora International on the Giving Lots on-line auction site. The winning bid was $47,000 USD, although the winner has not been publicly identified. Not only will the winner get to name the species, but they will receive a painting and bronze cast of their new namesake...no mention of a herbarium sheet.
In other interesting news from the science community, Indian researchers have discovered an additional way in which carnivorous plants attract their insect prey...they glow. Yes, in addition to fragrance, color, and nectar, Dionaea (Venus fly-traps), Sarracenia, and Nepenthes (tropical pitcher plants) actually emit a UV spectrum blue glow in and around the entrance to the pitchers that resembles airport landing lights. The blue glow evidently attracts insects out trolling for a good time in the same way blue Christmas lights attract rednecks.
In a related note, have you heard of plant neurobiology? My spell checker certainly hasn’t. Plant neurobiology is the study of how plants communicate, feel, and react. Those of a certain age may remember the 1973 book, The Secret Life of Plants, which got many folks of our generation thinking about a rarely discussed subject. Well, now folks interested in the subject will have a place to congregate at the first ever plant neurobiology convention this summer. If this floats your proverbial boat, check out the agenda here.
Another great event is coming up next week...the 2013 Salvia Summit to be held at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in California. Although I had the Salvia Summit on my schedule for over a year, I’ll regretfully have to miss the summit due to unforeseen circumstances at the nursery. I truly hope many of you who love salvias will be able to attend and hear the incredible list of great speakers.
Closer to Plant Delights, we are pleased to welcome England’s famed garden writer, Dr.Noel Kingsbury to Raleigh next week. This will mark Noel’s first visit to the region, where he will be speaking to the Friends of the JC Raulston Arboretum on Thursday, March 7, at 7:30pm on The Politics of the Garden. Noel will follow this up with an all day workshop discussing long term plant performance on Saturday, March 9, from 9:00am to 3:00pm, at the Brickhaven building adjacent to the JC Raulston Arboretum. The workshop will teach gardeners how to look at the garden from a long-term perspective in terms of sustainability as well as aesthetics.
The workshop cost is $80.00 for JCRA members and $95.00 for nonmembers. Space is limited to the first 25 participants. To register, contact Chris Glenn at (919) 513-7005 or email@example.com
On the heels of Noel’s talk comes Magnolia Mayhem, a mini-symposium also at the JC Raulston Arboretum on Saturday, March 23, from 8:00am until 2:00pm. Speakers include Kevin Parris, magnolia breeder extraordinaire and director of the Spartanburg Community College Arboretum, and Aaron Schettler, magnolia collector and director of grounds at Raleigh’s Meredith College. The talks will be followed by a Mark Weatherington tour of the JC Raulston Arboretum magnolia collection, then a tour of the adjacent magnolia collection. If that’s not enough, a pre-convention tour on Friday, March 22, will include Camellia Forest Nursery, the Charles R. Keith Arboretum, and plantsman Tom Krenitsky’s private garden. Details are available here.
If you’re in town for the event and have time, we’d be delighted to have you visit us as well...just call (919)772-4794 and set up an appointment (weekends not available).
Last month, I mentioned the demise of the well-respected mail order firm, High Country Gardens, in New Mexico. Well, in late February, a white knight rode into town and swooped them up, and last week reopened their website for business. It seems that American Meadows of Vermont has a friendly financier who thought this was a good investment, so as of last week, HCG is back in business under the leadership of its founder, David Salman. We wish HCG the best in ramping back up production of the plants that made HCG a favorite of gardeners in the high desert. In 2008, American Meadows itself was sold by founders Ray and Chy Allen to long-time employee Mike Lizotte and his business partner, Ethan Platt (formerly of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters). We wish Mike and Ethan good luck with their new long-distance venture.
Other horticulture stalwarts continue to struggle with the latest bad news coming from the 100-year-old, 400-acre, Briggs Nursery of Elma, Washington. Briggs has been struggling for years due to a combination of original family members cashing out, a move to a new location, a very high debt load ($5 million), and a failure to modernize their plant offerings. Most homeowners have probably never heard of Briggs, but their state-of-the-art tissue culture lab produces the lion’s share of the rhododendrons and blueberries produced in the US. Did I mention that Briggs propagated and sold huge numbers of the Pink Champagne Blueberry (not to be confused with Pink Lemonade, which is fine) last year, only to then receive a "oops, we sent you the wrong plant" notice from the US government?
Briggs has been sold several times in recent years, most notably to the abysmal failure, International Garden Products. A year ago, J. Guy of the defunct Carolina Nurseries was brought in to try and modernize the nursery in hopes of saving what was left of Briggs. Unfortunately, the lack of capital and the unwillingness of Briggs' bank to take any further risks resulted in the bank asking for the nursery to be placed in court receivership, which occurred in late January. The courts will now determine the best way to proceed with Briggs, whether that be new financing, selling the nursery, or closing the business. As you can imagine, several suitors from a variety of industries are already in the hunt. Unfortunately, as one prospective purchaser described to me, the spate of past sales has left the assets of Briggs in quite disarray. Fingers crossed we don’t lose this valuable resource.
Another name I never expected to hear in the same sentence with foreclosure is Kerry Herndon of Kerry’s Nursery in Florida...formerly Kerry’s Bromeliads. Kerry’s, founded in 1970, has expanded enormously both via growth and acquisition, and is now one of the largest growers in the country (ranked #21) with 2.8 million square feet of production. Kerry is a rock star of the horticulture world, with people following his every word as it relates to business management both in his "no limits" talks and trade magazine columns.
Kerry’s specializes in orchids and bromeliads (over 7 million plants in production) which are sold primarily through the big box stores like Home Depot, Publix, Kroger, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s. Florida Federal Land Bank Association recently filed a foreclosure lawsuit over the nursery’s $12 million debt, although Kerry remains optimistic a settlement can be reached that allows them to remain open. The supply of orchids and bromeliads available to home gardeners would take a huge hit if Kerry’s closes, so fingers crossed for a good resolution in the courts.
In still more disappointing news, the 185,000 subscriber strong, Garden Design Magazine has reached the end of the road. The stunning, high quality idea magazine for designers got the axe after the previous publisher, World Publications, sold out to Bonnier Corporation who found the magazine too small for their market.
Finally, the horticulture book world lost a giant recently with the passing of 86-year-old author, Jack Kramer. Jack will go down as the most prolific gardening writer of our time, authoring a staggering 161 gardening books...mostly about houseplants. A few of Jack’s many titles include; Bromeliads for Home and Garden (2011), The Art of Flowers (2002), Women of Flowers (1996), Sunset’s How to Grow African Violets (1977), and Underwater Gardens (1974). Jack was also a former syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times before retiring to Naples, Florida in 1987. Here is a nice article about Jack.
Until next month, I’ll see you on Facebook where we learn and share together.