2011 Plant Delights Nursery December Newsletter

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of our extended PDN family. As we wrap up the year and get the new catalog ready to go in the mail and online (Dec 31), we want to remind everyone that this is the last week to buy Plant Delights gift certificates as Christmas presents for your gardening friends and family. You can order our gift certificates online and we’ll get them right in the mail or give us a call at 919.772.4794.

We’d like to congratulate the 2011 Winner of the Top 25 contest, Amy Hill of Archdale, North Carolina. Amy is our first NC winner in several years and takes home a $250 Plant Delights gift certificate for the best score in predicting the top 25 best sellers for 2011. If you’d like enter the contest for 2012, all you have to do is go the contest page on our website, fill in your form and badda bing, badda boom…you’re done.  To get started, see which plants topped the sales list last year.

December was a sad month for the horticulture world with the passing of our friend, Bob Stewart of Michigan’s Arrowhead Alpines mail order nursery, who lost a long battle with colon cancer. Bob and his wife Brigitta started their nursery in 1991 and quickly became the “go to” source for rare and unusual alpine plants and much more. I find most mail order nursery owners to be fascinating conversationalists, and none more so than Bob (primarily to the overwhelming prevalence of ADD in the group). Conversations with Bob might start with primulas and before you knew it, Bob had shifted to the inner most details of nuclear fusion. While Bob and I shared a passion for plants, we diverged on our feelings about Master Gardeners. While we both agreed that the name “Master Gardeners” was probably not the best choice, Bob held Master Gardeners in great disdain. Bob’s tolerance of those promoting themselves as knowledgeable while not understanding much more than the basics of horticulture, was not particularly high. This gruff persona that emanated strongly through his catalog writing, however, was a stark contrast to the passionate and personable Bob you would met in person. Bob is survived by his wife Brigitta, who will continue to run the nursery, and his son Ender, whose passion for computers equals Bob’s passion for plants. Our friend, Allen Bush, wrote a wonderful article about Bob only a few months before his death. Allen captured Bob so well, I encourage you to read his article. We’ll all miss you but never forget you, my friend.

Another dear friend who lost a very sudden battle with cancer this month was Wolfgang Oehme, 82, of Oehme and Van Sweeden Landscape Architects. Wolfgang came to the US as a young man and wound up leaving a huge mark on the American landscape. In addition to designing gardens around the world, Wolfgang was a true trendsetter in the world of landscape architecture. His concept of the New American Garden took the world by storm in the 1970s, with the use of large drifts of plants in a naturalistic style. Wolfgang, or “Wolfi” as he was known to his friends, was renowned for a few signature plants whose use he championed in virtually all of his designs. This short list included Miscanthus sinensis, Fargesia clumping bamboo, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Perovskia atriplicifolia, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Panicum virgatum, and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.

Even with his amazing body of work, it was his quirky behavior that made people love Wolfi. I’ve never know anyone else to tout their work as much as Wolfi, but he did so with such a child-like excitement that it didn’t come off as bragging. I had the pleasure (make that unique experience) of staying in Wolfi’s home a few times over the years…yielding experiences I’ll never forget. Many people might think that Wolfi’s fetish for nude swimming in his back yard pool, hidden from the neighbors only by a few large clumps of miscanthus, would be unusual but for Wolfi, that fell into the range of normal behavior. After late dinners, Wolfi would drive me around Baltimore County looking at his designs, often stopping his car in the middle of four lanes of traffic to get out to inspect or even weed a particularly nice planting of perennials. Shining a flashlight in Baltimore County clients yards after midnight to see 20-year-old clumps of fargesias didn’t seem strange at all to Wolfi, while all I could do was think of where to buy a bulletproof vest. Then there were the nights at the Towson County courthouse…

As we strolled around the courthouse, well after midnight, Wolfi would suddenly decide that a planting of coreopsis needed to be moved to a new location, so we would pull the plants from their amended beds barehanded and move them to another bed where Wolfi thought they fit better. Wolfi was oblivious to the police cars speeding back and forth along the streets just feet away from our exploits. I, on the other hand, was keenly aware of everyone around us and how we seemed to be invisible…like being with the Keyser Soze of horticulture. It soon became obvious that this was part of Wolfi’s nightly routine.

As the story goes, the landscape design contract for the courthouse was outsourced to an azalea-loving landscape architect in Texas, which caused Wolfi great consternation. Instead of complaining, Wolfi called the architect and had them rework their plan based on his choice of plants. Wolfi then adopted the completed garden, sans any authority, and made it his own playground. Eventually the county government realized his interest and put him in charge of their landscape advisory committee.

Wolfgang will be long remembered through his books, Bold Romantic Gardens (1990), and the German language Zwischen Gartengrasern (2008). Wolfgang worked for a variety of clients in downtown Washington DC and even designed Oprah Winfrey’s garden in Chicago. Wolfi’s work has been featured in an array of books, most recently, Ornamental Grasses: Wolfgang Oehme and the New American Garden by Stefan Leppert (2009). I could go on with more Wolfi stories, but I’ll suffice to say that Wolfgang Oehme was a true genius who ate, slept, and breathed plants, and whose influence on our landscapes will live on for generations to come…so long, my friend.

The horticulture world lost yet another larger-than-life figure recently with the passing of Dr. John A. A. Thomson on November 28, just 5 days after his 100th birthday. Many of you will recognize the name from the hokey SUPERthrive® advertisements. Dr. Thomson, a PhD biochemist, invented SUPERthrive® in 1939 and subsequently marketed it though his company, the Vitamin Institute. I never met Dr. Thomson in person, but can only imagine he must have been an interesting fellow.

Thomson’s ads always seemed a bit over the top, not to mention overly egotistical. The in-your-face claims, combined with his 1940s ad style just seemed out of touch with the modern day. One of my favorite claims was that Super Thrive was used during WWII to transplant mature trees to camouflage the troops. Although I’ve received a number of samples, I never got around to giving them a try…how about you? Join us on our Facebook page and share your SUPERthrive® stories. It will be interesting to see if the marketing changes with Dr. Thomson’s passing. Dr. Thomson was recognized for his contributions to horticulture by receiving The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lawn & Garden Marketing & Distribution Association in 2006, and The Sustainable Environmental Education’s Environmental Awareness Award in 2009.

On a more regional note, one of the top plantsmen in the Memphis, Tennessee region, Plato Touliatos, passed away of cardiac arrest after a two year battle with prostate cancer. Plato Touliatos was much more than the owner of Trees by Touliatos/Nature Center and Arboretum for 50 years…he was a plantsman, businessman, and philosopher whose life was spent teaching people about the natural world. In 2009, Plato and his wife Sarah were inducted into the Tennessee Nursery and Landscape Association Hall of Fame…well deserved! Every time I found myself in Memphis, Plato was always at the top of my list of people to visit…you will be sorely missed, my friend.

Finally, the strangest of the plantsmen to pass away this month has to be North Korea’s Kim Jong Il…yes, you heard me right. The story goes back several years, when the late Dutch plant breeder Kees Sahin, who was friend of Kim’s dad, was visiting North Korea with Japanese plant breeder Motoderu Kamo. Kamo gave the elder Kim one his begonia hybrids, which was subsequently named Begonia ‘Kimjongilia’ for Kim Jong Il’s 46th birthday. Kim was so taken with the begonia, that he declared begonias the National Flower of North Korea. After supplying Kim with more begonia genetics, Kim Jong Il began what would become the largest begonia breeding project in the world. According to Kees, Kim would fly over his begonia fields in his helicopter and make his final selections from the air. At the time of Kim Jung Il’s death, there were sprawling greenhouse complexes all across North Korea, all for the purpose of housing Kim’s massive begonia collection. For international begonia shows, Kim would fly his prize begonia hybrids to the show with one person holding each begonia in the back of a cargo plane, to keep from damaging the plants. Also, according to Kees, Kim’s head begonia breeder became so renowned internationally, that Kim had him killed for upstaging the Dear Leader. As Dave Barry liked to say…I am not making this up!

I don’t know how many of you watch golf tournaments, but if you were watching the Chevron World Challenge a few weeks ago and enjoying the futility as golfers tried to cope with the high winds as they played in Southern California, those same winds were causing horrific devastation to the nearby horticulture community. On November 30, these severe tornado-like winds swept through Pasadena, California and left a devastated Huntington Botanic Garden in their wake. Although the garden buildings fared okay, the gardens lost an estimated 150 significant trees and other plants. According to reports, the Jungle garden is even more of a jungle and the subtropical hill, the North Vista, and the Camellia garden were heavily damaged. The Desert Garden fared reasonably well, with only significant damage toward the north end where limbs and plant debris abound. You can imagine what it’s like to clean up leaf and limb debris in a densely planted cactus garden…on second thought…I bet you can’t.  Curator Gary Lyons has asked for volunteers to help with the clean up. You can email him or the volunteer coordinator Mikki Heydorff.

In a final bit of news that you’ll need to know before starting to plan your spring garden, the color of the year for 2012 is Tangerine Tango. Yes, The Pantone Color Institute, the purveyors of all things color, have named Tangerine Tango as the color of the year for 2012. Folks from garden designers to fashion designers to paint manufacturers use Pantone’s color predictions in their designs. According to the folks at Pantone, “There’s a lot of homework that goes into it. But it’s also, what is it that people are needing? There are a lot of concerns out there and serious issues we are facing. Color, from a psychological standpoint, can be uplifting. We arrived at this particular orange because it’s hopeful and optimistic and also has sophistication.” I don’t know about you, but it sounds like the Pantone folks take themselves way too seriously!

Once again, we can’t thank you enough for your patronage during 2011! We’ve enjoyed our new foray on Facebook where we can share our plant passion with you as well as seeing and hearing about your successes. We hope to meet more of you on Facebook during the upcoming year as we continue to share photos of our favorite plants and gardening tips We’ll chat again in 2012! Thanks!


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