2010 Plant Delights Nursery May Newsletter

Dear PDN’ers:

Greetings from Plant Delights to gardeners around the world. I’d like to begin by thanking everyone for their patience during the busiest part of the spring shipping season, and for your understanding about our large plant losses due to the fertilizer problem that I mentioned last month. Nothing makes us more upset than reserving a plant for someone’s order and then having that plant die in the interim before shipping. Obviously, that was a bigger problem this year than ever before, but we are catching up on working through those problems. Again, thanks for your understanding.

I’m not the biggest fan of all of the modern technology that often invades every aspect of our lives, but in many cases the proper use of technology really does improve our quality of life. I’m referring in particular to laptop computers (excuse me, I-Pad users). You can say laptops aren’t really new, but as with everything time is relative, especially to those of us who remember 1970s computers which were larger than our current house. I couldn’t really imagine life without a laptop…being able to instantly take and send plant images from the worlds most remote jungle or desert, being able to have a companion that can remember which plants I already have so I won’t buy them twice, and most of all, being able to write while sitting in the garden.

In a former life, I wrote a weekly garden column for 12 years, until it cut into my gardening time too much. It wasn’t that I grew less fond of writing, and it certainly wasn’t that I’d run out of things to say, but those of us with educational titles like ADD after our names have trouble sitting indoors for long periods. So, as I write tonight, I’m sitting on our patio as the sun drops toward the horizon, enjoying the 65 degree temperature, a light breeze, partly sunny skies, and the intoxicating sound of our nearby waterfall…enough to make one forget that you’re trying to keep a business running.

Our cat Zirconia is by my side, actually, walking across the keyboard at this particular minute, so if I paws and my writing becomes coherent…wait, make that incoherent, it’s his fault. I’ve learned it’s not the innocent act he would have me believe since I caught him twice before trying to access kitty porn on my laptop…bad Zirconia!

Gardens are so peaceful in the early evening…a wonderful time to relax and enjoy your gardening handiwork. I recently spoke at the wonderful Riverbanks Botanic Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, and was delighted to see that they open the gardens for one evening each week because, as the staff explained, the sun is less intense and the color saturation of the plants is so much nicer. Bingo…that’s it…an explanation for why our garden always looks so much better in the early evening.

Sitting in a garden allows you to see things you normally miss, especially the small details that are easy to overlook when you are moving. In my case, I just noticed the cones forming on the Keteleeria (missed those earlier), the flowering of the Sedum emarginatum (which I’ve overlooked for years), the Trachycarpus fortunei that failed yet again to set seed, and the giant unfurling fronds on the bracken fern that I collected in North Vietnam (no comments from the gallery, please).

From where I sit, one of my favorite combinations is of Lonicera nitida ‘Twiggy’ flanked by Athyrium ‘Ghost’, then fronted with Sedum ‘Lajos’. I’m not smart enough to know why it looks good, but it really does. Agaves such as A. ‘Blue Steel’, alongside a skirt of Geranium sanguineum and Salvia chamaedryoides are just delightful. Good gardens are about the juxtaposition of textures and forms, and so little about flowers. Although most of us start gardening because of flowers, we hopefully begin to appreciate textures and forms as our plant knowledge increases. It’s so peaceful in the garden, but alas, I’m starting to sound sappy, so on with the newsletter.

At our last Open House, one of our customers who is moving to the area from Louisiana inquired about purchasing a “mature” garden (hopefully 1-2 acres) within 30 minutes of the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. If you know of such a garden for sale in this area, let me know and I’ll pass along the information.

The May weather has been nuts in several parts of the country. During Spring Open House, much of central and western Tennessee was subject to horrific flooding, with the rainfall measured by feet instead of inches. On May 1 and 2, the area around Nashville, Tennessee was hit by a 500-year record flood. Even the famed Opryland Hotel, where I’ve been fortunate enough to stay, was evacuated and closed due to the flooding. I can only imagine what it would be like to have 10′ of water in the hotel lobby. I surely empathize with the crews and area homeowners who now face a massive cleanup.

A few days later on May 10, a huge rash of tornados hit parts of Oklahoma, leaving a shambles of buildings and gardens in its wake. I know folks in this region seem to have tornados quite often, but I can’t imagine you’d ever get used to them. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by these disasters.

Three more strikes to the reeling mail order nursery industry this month to regretfully report. The bad news started on May 6, when Ellen Hornig of Seneca Hill Nursery in New York closed the doors of her small, but wonderful mail order nursery. Ellen has been stretched thin for a while now, running the nursery while taking care of her husband, Doug, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. We’d like to publicly thank Ellen for her contributions to the gardening world through her wonderfully eclectic mix of plants. Ellen has a fascinating garden, which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and she plans to continue growing plants. It is my hope that she will also remain actively involved in the plant world.

Following Ellen out the door is Barry Yinger’s Asiatica Nursery in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, which will close its doors in mid-summer. The wake has officially begun and will continue until last rites are administered on July 30, so if you’re in the area, drop by (call first) and pay both your plant invoice and respects. Barry has been involved in the nursery industry for years, first with Hines Wholesale Nursery before starting his own mail order nursery in 1996. We wish Barry the best of luck in his next adventure and would like to publicly thank him for his enormous, often behind the scenes, contribution to the world of horticulture. Barry is also accepting job offers, hopefully in the botanic garden world, so pass those our way.

In yet a third mail order nursery tragedy, we regretfully report the untimely death of Robert (Bob) Popham, co-founder of New Jersey’s Fairweather Gardens on May 9. Bob, 63, was recovering from a broken ankle when a blood clot apparently formed, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. Bob and his partner of 42 years, Robert Hoffman, published the first Fairweather Gardens mail order catalog in 1992 (the same year we published ours). Over the ensuing years, we were fortunate to have visited each other’s garden/nursery. The two Bobs had created a wonderful nursery that became an important and well-run resource for great plants…primarily woodies. It is our hope that Bob Hoffman will be able to continue with the nursery, but losing a lifetime partner makes it hard to make quick business decisions. If you have a pending order with Fairweather, I’m sure Bob will appreciate your patience and understanding. You can express your condolences at mail@fairweathergardens.com

Folks often think we are joking when we say that a mail order nursery has a life expectancy of 10-15 years…I only wish we were joking. Obviously, hobby businesses that don’t have to actually generate income don’t count in that figure. What looks from the outside to be an obscenely profitable, easy venture is anything but…there are plenty of former nursery owners that can testify to that.

In some better news, especially if you are a woody plant breeder, our friends at Ball Seed have asked me to pass word along that they are looking for a woody plant breeder in their California operation. This could be a great opportunity for the right person. To learn more, check out the criteria at www.ballhort.com.

In May, we held our first plant photography workshop to great reviews of the instructor Josh Taylor of www.archiphotoworkshops.com. Consequently, we have added another class for fall, this one “focusing” on photographing close-ups of fall colors, textures, and patterns. The date is Saturday, September 18, from 8am until 4pm during our Open House. Participants will learn and apply close-up techniques for creating striking images. The focus of the workshop is on compositional elements, close-up techniques, and lighting. The workshop includes a classroom orientation, an illustrated handout, and shooting sessions with the instructor. Instruction will cover how to do close-ups with a basic lens through advanced techniques using macro lenses and micro/ring lights. Also, some Photoshop™ / Photoshop Elements™ techniques will be introduced. Photographers of all levels are welcome. Registration is $150, and we expect this class to sell out again, so don’t delay in signing up.

Speaking of Photoshop™, you no doubt remember me railing against obvious fake images in garden catalogs, which have worsened since the advent of Photoshop™ and similar programs. One of our readers sent in this link to a blatant example in a bulb catalog. Check out the similarity of the lilies except for the color. Would this generate trust of the vendor? I think not!

In the latest bizarre gardening news, check out this article on a container fire at the link below. It seems that dead potted plants are now spontaneously combusting and burning down houses…I’m not making this up. An Internet search yielded two other such incidents. Either the firemen have been inhaling something other than house smoke or someone really wants to make us believe in global warming.


In a final bit of good news, although not exactly gardening related, congratulations to my cousin, Elliott Avent, head baseball coach at my alma mater, NC State University, for becoming the winningest baseball coach in the history of the university…go Wolfpack!

As always, thank you for your support, especially during these tough economic times.

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

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Thanks and enjoy


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