Plant Delights December 2017 Newsletter

Sixty is the new Thirty

It doesn’t seem possible, but both Anita and I hit the big 60 this year.  During my youth, I entertained occasional thoughts about what old age would be like, and wondering if I’d actually make it.  Well, it’s here, I’m here, and whatever it was that I expected, I’m not sure this is it.

I was pretty lucky genetically…other than minor issues like flat feet, an over-curved spine, and bad knees. I realize now that I was fortunate that my prefrontal cortex was overly active early in life, resulting in a low risk tolerance. In other words, I was a real bore growing up.  Other contemporaries led much more exciting childhoods, but in doing so, affected their bodies, at a cost that wouldn’t be evident until much later.  As one whose idea of excitement was spending time alone in the woods, the closest I ever came to real danger was years later after I began overseas plant exploration travels.

When we built our new home last year, I wondered how much of the physical landscaping I’d be still able to do. What a lovely surprise to find the body still functioning remarkably well. To be able to start a new garden at age 60, with a similar vigor as 30 years of age is truly something I never dreamed possible, but it’s sure enjoyable. 

I’ve been very blessed to still be able to garden like a maniac, and to still be able to travel and explore the world for new plants.  As Toby Keith so eloquently put it, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”

News from PDN/JLBG

We’d like to introduce several new members of our PDN/JLBG team. Our former garden supervisor, Keith Lukowski has headed to graduate school, where he is studying public gardens…we wish him the best.  In Keith’s place, we are pleased to welcome Lauri Lawson, who spent most of the last 12 years as the face and backbone of Niche Gardens in Chapel Hill. Since our gardens continue to expand at a crazy rate, we created a second garden position for which we were able to lure back former staffer Thomas Thornton. Thomas has run his own landscape business while studying landscape architecture. We’re sure you’ll enjoy engaging with both Lauri and Thomas when you visit JLBG.
It’s also with great regret that we say goodbye to longtime nursery manager Mike Spafford, who after 15 years at PDN felt it was time to start his new life on the NC coast.  To replace Mike, if such is possible, we’d like to welcome Meghan Fidler, who comes to us after a stint managing Atlantic Avenue Garden Center in Raleigh, and prior to that as an anthropology instructor.  Meghan will be assisted by longtime PDN’er Dennis Carey, who moves from our IT/SEO specialist to our new Assistant Nursery Manager position, where he will oversee the growing and production duties. Dennis’s background in computers and an advance degree in horticulture will allow us to incorporate more technology and analytics in the growing process.  We are thrilled to welcome all these new faces as we plow headlong into the future.
Progress continues on our crevice garden project using recycled concrete. We were thrilled to be able to entice crevice garden master craftsman, Kenton Seth to travel from Colorado to be part of the project. This fall, he and our own crevice specialist, Jeremy Schmidt, installed the second of our three phase of our project along our exit drive.  There are lots of planting pockets for an array of interesting plants…as though we needed more.

Jeremy Schmidt (left) and Kenton Seth during Crevice Garden installation

Bulb taxonomy

This summer we were thrilled to have a visit from two of the country’s top bulb researchers.  Both Gerald Smith (retired from High Point University) and Ray Flagg (retired from Carolina Biological Supply) are extensively published taxonomists who, in retirement, continue to work on the taxonomy of Mexican rain lilies.  We spent quite a bit of time going through our extensive rain lily collections and discussing issues of taxonomic confusion.  If anyone has wild collected rain lilies with collection data from Mexico, we’d love to put you in touch with Gerald and Ray.  They were particularly interested in one of our Mexican rain lilies, which they felt could be a new species.

Gerald Smith (left) and Ray Flagg

Meetings at PDN/JLBG

Plant Delights and Juniper Level Botanic Garden are pleased to be a part of a number of specialty plant group conventions.
In early summer 2017, we were pleased to host the American Peony Society, who took time to tour the gardens, enjoy lunch, and even some plant shopping.  We always meet such fascinating people and learn so much.
In November, we hosted the North American Rock Garden Society for their annual meeting. It was great to welcome rock gardeners from around the world, and learn about more potential plants for our new crevice garden.

American Peony Society meeting at JLBG

Upcoming Meetings for 2018

For 2018, we welcome three more National/International plant meetings to PDN/JLBG.
March 23-25 – We welcome the International Magnolia Society, a group of keen plantsmen/women who share a passion for anything magnolia. Great speakers and tours are on the agenda.
Jun 14-17 – We welcome the American Conifer Society, a group of conifer enthusiasts ranging from hobbyist to professionals. If you enjoy conifers, this is meeting not to be missed.
July 30-August 3 – We are pleased to welcome the Perennial Plant Association, a group of professionals from around the world who are involved with perennials, including designers, writers, marketers, growers, and retailers.
We hope you’ll join us for as many of these special meetings as possible. The opportunity to meet and chat with the movers and shakers of the plant world is quite special.

PPA group at Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms in 2017

Industry News

Another red flag for the nursery industry was recently raised for mega-producer Costa Farms, who sold a majority stake of their nursery to the financial holding firm, the Markel Ventures Corporation. The only part of the Costa business that will remain unsold is the cannabis division…what does that tell us about profit difference between ornamental grass and recreational grass?

I’ve lost track of how many times, we’ve written about these merger/ventures, which never work out….repeat…NEVER.  When each one is announced, its press release touts why their deal to acquire more capital is different from all the rest, yet, within a few years, each one ends in the same fate…bankruptcy or fire sale.  

Why is this so, you ask?  The nursery industry is a cyclical industry, whose ability to make money is directly tied to both the housing economy and the weather.  Even farming, which is considered extremely volatile as an investment, is only tied to weather and very little to the general economy.  

Also, excess capital of this sort is needed when a nursery tries to expand too fast in order to be everything to everybody….think Color Spot, Hines, and most recently Zelenka/Berry Nurseries. So, let’s see…Costa Farms purchased Delray Plants (March 2017), Layman Wholesale Nurseries (2012), and Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses, Inc. (Spring 2014). Costa Farms also purchased the facilities of an orchid and bromeliad producer in Homestead, FL, in 2015, moving its Desert Gems cacti and succulent production to those greenhouses.

Costa Farms currently have about 4,000 acres in production including 19 million square feet of climate controlled greenhouses.  These facilities have revenues of $500 million annually on sales of 150 million plants. Did I mention that they employee 5,000 workers, both in and outside of the US?  If you read plant tags, you’ve undoubtedly purchased their plants through Lowes, The Home Depot, Walmart, Ikea, and other outlets.

In 2016, that was enough to win International Grower of the Year at the IPM International trade show in Essen, Germany, so as a company, they seem to be doing a great job, and we wish them the best, but we’ll be watching the red flag. 


If I’d kept up better with our newsletter writing, I’d have mentioned this earlier, but belated congratulations to NCSU plant breeder Dr. Tom Ranney.  At the International Plantarium Show in the Netherlands, four of Tom’s creations, all in the Proven Winners (PW) program, won top awards.  They are Deutzia ‘Yuki Cherry Blossom’, Deutzia ‘Yuki Snowflake’, Hydrangea ‘Invincibelle Ruby’ and Hydrangea ‘Invincibelle Blush’.  Tom’s work continues to amaze the best plants people around the world. 


Our condolences to the family of Ruth Bancroft, founder of California’s Ruth Bancroft Garden. Ruth passed away at age 109, after a recent stroke.  I’ve had the pleasure of spending of bit of time with Ruth in her garden, and our gardens at JLBG are the recipient of her generosity.  Ruth’s garden was the first garden preserved by the Garden Conservancy. What an amazing life!
We were also sad to hear of the passing of Ohio nurseryman Jim Zampini, 85.  Jim was an amazing plantsman, with a history of introducing over 200 new plants to the market.  Unfortunately, most were introduced with nonsensical name ending in –zam, and marketed under incorrectly trademarked names. A few better known plants include Prunus ‘Snow Fountain’ and Thuja ‘Bowling Ball’, and Berberis ‘Bonanza Gold’ (we aren’t using the nonsensical fake cultivar names).  I had the pleasure of visiting Jim at his Lake County Nursery, back in its heyday, and it was quite the operation.  The nursery continues to be run by Jim’s sons.

On an international scale, Cally Gardens of Scotland owner and plant explorer Michael Wickenden, 61, passed away during a plant trek in Myanmar (Burma) last fall.  Michael became ill and passed away before he was able to reach a hospital for treatment for a suspected case of dengue fever.  Michael was a brilliant plantsman, photographer, and advocate for the free-sharing of plant germplasm…one of the good guys.  He will be sorely missed.

Connect with Us!

Until next month, connect and follow us and the cats on Facebook, Pinterest, InstagramTony’s blog, and Anita’s blog. We encourage you to sign up to follow our regular posts. Our upcoming Open Nursery and Gardens dates are posted on the Plant Delights website. Visit to learn more about Juniper Level Botanic Garden. Keep up with Tony’s speaking schedule here.

Your partners in Conservation through Gardening!  
-tony and everyone at PDN & JLBG

7 thoughts on “Plant Delights December 2017 Newsletter”

  1. Emily Faye Honeycutt

    Always enjoy hearing you speak and what you write. Loved your talks at the Christmas Parties. Have always felt very lucky to have met you and Michele. So happy to see you found someone like Anita. You both are two very young 60 year olds. Hope things will continue to go good for you.

  2. Dear Tony
    How can Deutzia ‘Yuki Cherry Blossom ‘ be the name of a plant ‘ Yuki Cherry Blossom ‘ is in variety format whereas its a mere Trademark
    The actual variety name is NCDX2 and is nowhere to be seen I realise that its difficult to fight all this malpractice by others but what I see above is the genericism of a trademark No indication that its a trademark
    I dont want to be confronting because I admire your work greatly

    1. Just found these posts hiding…sorry for the slow reply. Cultivar names are nouns made of real words, so NCDX2 doesn’t fit that criteria. Trademarks cannot be legally used for the name of any product, so, when a plant is introduced with a nonsensical name, the only choice we have is to use the illegally used trademark name as the legal cultivar name.

      1. David Goodfellow

        While the International Code for nomenclature of cultivars does say, ‘Epithets composed of arbitrary sequences of letters and/or numbers are better avoided’, this is not a prohibition, and it simply is ignored. To be fair, most of these cultivars names are not ‘nonsense’, but often contain elements of the breeders name, or some such coding. They are, and remain, the ONLY valid cultivar name for the plant in question, no matter how much we may hate them. Trademark names or other trade names can, and of course are, used to name a specific product – Coca Cola? The ‘benefit’ of a the present system (which I abhor) is that it allows a breeder to obtain a patent – good for 20 years – with a name that no-one is going to use. A trademark has no end-date, so it’s value rises with customer recognition, while the value of a trademark falls as the years go by. It gives the breeder/name owner endless access to royalties, rather than just 20 years worth.
        So while both of us may hate it, there is no choice, when naming a plant correctly, but to use the given cultivar name, which is indeed the only legal cultivar name, and then use a trademark symbol beside the name under which you are actually selling it. At least that keeps the public aware of how corporations have captured our access to plants, since growing older, un-patented and un-trademarked named plant is less lucrative, and largely avoided, even though many are far superior to the endless supply of rubbish dumped in garden centers every year. But, I am afraid these cultivar names are entirely legal. Your confusion on this just shows how well corporate nurseries have captured the system.

  3. Stumbled on this after reading your outstanding attitude to the issue of plant patents and trademarks. I knew Michael Wickenden when he and I were young beginner plantsmen in Somerset in the 70s, and he inspired me to go to Kew Gardens. I ended up teaching horticulture in Canada. Sadly we lost touch, and the news of his death touched me deeply. As you say, a great loss of a truly independent spirit.

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