2013 Plant Delights Nursery January Newsletter

We’ve finally turned the page on 2012 which, as you all know, was a huge year of change.  Due to the search engine optimization work on our website that we’ve described previously, we saw a huge increase in business and ended 2012 with our second best year in our 25 year history.  Speaking of 25-years, we are forever indebted to our loyal customers for making that possible in an industry whose life expectancy is usually only 10-15 years.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet many wonderful folks as I travel around the country on the speaking circuit.  As the curtain fell on 2012, I gave my 725th talk since record keeping started in 1984.  Of those presentations, 389 have been in our home state of North Carolina, followed by Virginia 43, Georgia 24, South Carolina 23, Ohio 18, Pennsylvania 16, Massachusetts 15, Florida 14, and Maryland and New York with 14 each.

We hope by now you have received your 2013 Plant Delights Nursery catalog in the mail. If you’re wondering who all those folks are on the cover, you can find the identification key on our Facebook Page .

For 2013, we list over 110 exceptional new plants, which is the most in our 25 year history.  While we are still working on a major website redesign, we have continued to upgrade our existing website by adding plants into over 100 categories and subcategories such as Evergreen Perennials, Giant Plants, Salt-tolerant plants, and many more.  With our current listing of 1,740 different plants on the website, that translates into 174,000 individually coded plants.  Yes, my eyes still hurt, but we hope this will make the website much more useful for you.  http://www.plantdelights.com/

Many of us in the mail order nursery business feel a tight family bond with others in our industry, and we were shocked and devastated to learn of the closing of the wonderful High Country Gardens just a few weeks ago.  High Country Gardens was the brainchild of New Mexico native son, David Salman, and his wife Ava.  High Country Gardens actually started with a retail operation, Sante Fe Greenhouses, in 1984 and then expanded into mail order in 1993. Just prior to the recession in 2006, David had expanded, opening a retail outlet in Albuquerque, followed by yet another in 2008. At the same time, David built a 10-acre state-of-the-art growing facility just outside of Albuquerque in Bernadillo.  In 2010, the two Albuquerque stores were consolidated into a single larger facility.

The beauty of High Country Gardens was that David and Ava were able to create a drought-tolerant plant business market for high desert gardens that previously didn’t exist on a large scale. While David managed the plants and the business, his wife Ava oversaw the catalog production, website, and marketing efforts. While some of the plants we purchased through the years from David were better suited to New Mexico, we always found several choice gems that fared equally as well here in the humid Southeast US.

It’s sad to loose a compatriot, but even more so when it’s one who does things at such an extraordinary high level.  David is a 2008 recipient of the American Horticulture Society’s Great American Gardeners Award, and the HCG catalog won one gold award and four silver awards from Catalog Age magazine. David’s prolific writing has been featured in magazines such as Fine Gardening, Horticulture, The American Gardener and, of course, on his own website blog.

I first met David in person several years ago in New York, when we were both advising on the Martha Stewart Gardening product line, but I was already following the evolution of his business.  Looking back, I should have picked up on the obvious red flags that all was not well when the 2012 HCG catalog went online in January with a 50% off sale on everything.  Although many of HCG’s plants were sold in 2” pots, I never could quite figure out how David could sell his plants as cheaply as he did and stay in business.  In the end, this was a part of HCG’s undoing…combined with the recession, an epic drought in his region, an ill-timed expansion, and the usual suspect, a high debt load.

David tells me he hopes to start a smaller business that will allow him to be a full-time plant breeder and possibly a wholesale liner producer.  Fingers crossed that goal comes to fruition and we all have access again to the great plants that High Country Gardens was known for.  A great big PDN salute for a job well done as we await the next chapter.

I recently received a letter from Wendel Whisenhunt asking if we know anyone who might be interested in working for the Parks Department in Oklahoma City.  It seems the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is looking for a Horticulture and Gardens Manager.  This position will serve as the horticultural spokesperson for the city and will oversee specialty parks and grounds in Oklahoma City. This sounds like a great job for a plant person who is looking to make a difference…assuming you can deal well with wind. For more information, you can apply online at www.okc.gov/jobs.

Additionally, the Winghaven Foundation in Charlotte NC which runs the Winghaven Garden and the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden is looking for a new Executive Director.  The Director oversees the operation, staff, and fundraising efforts for both gardens.  Qualifications include ten years experience in historic preservation, fund raising, and garden and staff management. If you know of someone interested in such a position with these wonderful gardens, contact Doug Anderson, Search Consultant at dka@andersonexecsearch.com of 704.347.0090.

A huge congratulations to Peckerwood Gardens and Yucca Do Nursery founder, John Fairey, 82, on being selected as the winner of the 2013 Scott Medal. The Scott Medal is one of the most prestigious Awards in the horticultural field, awarded each year by the Swarthmore College selection committee.  John also taught Landscape Architecture at Texas A&M for 48 years while building his award-winning garden, now adopted by the Garden Conservancy for preservation.  I was fortunate to have visited Peckerwood many times since then early 1990s and travelled with John on a plant collection trip to Mexico in 1994, during which he had a heart attack high in the mountains.  Fortunately, we were able to get him to a hospital in Monterrey, where he recovered and obviously has continued full speed since that time.

Congratulations also to young plantsman extraordinaire, Kelly Norris, who was recently hired as the new Horticulture Manager of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. A new non-profit foundation is taking over an old city facility including a 1979 built geodesic dome.  The plan calls for fourteen acres of new gardens starting this year.  We wish Kelly the best of luck in his new adventure.

Get well wishes go out to award-winning garden photographer Saxon Holt, who according to his email had a “an unfortunate encounter with gravity” when he fell off a ladder, resulting in multiple fractures and bruises to ribs, shoulder and head. The most debilitating was a skull fracture that has left him with a paralyzed facial nerve.  Saxon has been told he will recover, but slowly.  Here is a link to some of the books and magazines on which Saxon has worked…I’ll bet you’ll recognize several.

Just after the last newsletter went out, we learned of the passing of palm guru, Richard (Dick) Douglas, of Walnut Creek in northern California. (We currently offer Dick’s hardy Chamaedorea hybrid). Although I never had the opportunity to visit Dick’s garden, hardy palm enthusiasts claim it to be the finest collection of mature hardy palms in the country.  Dick’s breeding efforts have given many of us opportunities to grow palms in cooler parts of the country.  Here are some photos of Dick’s garden.

In more bad news from the nursery world, Commerce Corporation, a massive Maryland-based distributor of supplies and products to garden centers, seems poised to close after being unable to find a buyer.  Evidently the company notified its 280 employees that the company was closing while simultaneously telling the news media that it was not closing. A number of popular garden center brands had already been sensing the financial collapse and pulling their products, hastening the impending collapse.  If you can’t find your favorite brands at your favorite garden center this spring, this might be the reason.

Commerce Corporation was started by four Lessans brothers in 1923, and is now run by his grandson, Richard Lessans.  Starting in 1982, the company had expanded by purchasing other similar companies in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington DC, and New England.  Commerce continued to expand, opening a 4-acre distribution center in Cleveland, Ohio, a new distribution center in Ontario, California, and expanding its footprint in Michigan.

The story of Commerce’s demise has taken on soap opera-like qualities with the surprise firing of its President, Malcomb Cork, followed by a suit accusing him of not repaying a nearly half million dollar shareholder loan from the company.  Cork is countersuing for breach of his employment contract.  Meanwhile, 280 people will be looking for new jobs, although competition has already begun to cherry pick some of Commerce’s top staff.  It looks like the lawyers are going to be the only ones coming out of this in good shape.

It’s that time of year when the self-appointed arbiters of all things color, Pantone, selects the color of the year and for 2013, the winner is Emerald Green (PANTONE® 17-5641).  Pantone describes Emerald as bringing “a sense of clarity, renewal and rejuvenation, which is so important in today’s complex world. This powerful and universally appealing tone translates easily to both fashion and home interiors. Most often associated with brilliant, precious gemstones, the perception of Emerald is sophisticated and luxurious. Over the years, this luminous color has been the color of beauty and new life in many cultures and religions. It’s also the color of growth, renewal and prosperity – no other color conveys regeneration more than green.”  For those who plan their gardens around such declarations it’s time to get on the hunt for Emerald Green plants.

Until next month, we’ll see you on Facebook where we learn and share together.


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