How-To Ideas

The Trials and Tribulations of Ordering Plants

Plant nursery

As I write this column, I’m in the middle of ordering plants from various mail-order catalogues, a yearly ritual for me that tugs at my heartstrings. You see, I want it all despite the fact my garden is full. In winter it looks barren, badly in need of plants, a sight that urges me to over order plants I feel I need.

Mail Order Plant Nurseries

I get lots of plant catalogues but almost always narrow down my choices to nurseries that are in the North and South Carolina area. Simply put, plants raised in Minnesota nurseries don’t seem to fare as well in my garden as those plants raised in the Carolinas.

As I garden throughout the year, I mark down those plants that have particularly pleased me in the Notes app on my computer. Then, before tackling the catalogues, I print out the list—and scratch my head in wonderment.

For example, on my list is Danae racemosa. What on earth is Danae racemosa? Why do I want it? The picture in the catalogue doesn’t resemble anything I have ever seen before.

It’s a curious plant in that this is the only species in the genus, its leaves aren’t really leaves but are flattened stems despite the fact the “leaves” bear a huge resemblance to leaves, and its flowers are so small that one barely notices them. It requires patience to grow it as it only begins to start producing stems (i.e. “leaves”) in its second year. The good news is that it survives in dry shade, a condition few plants relish.

Another plant I have on my list is Echinacea ‘Delicious Candy’. Now I am the only gardener in the whole wide world that cannot grow echinacea. Once I had a lovely clump of Echinacea purpurea that kept on flopping so I eventually took it out, an act that started the Echinacea curse. From then on, echinaceas rebelled in my garden until I found E. ‘Delicious Candy’. I loved this echinacea that apparently had never heard of the Echinacea curse and it evidently loved me.

Of course, I put it on my list but when I went to order some more specimens, the nursery no longer carried it. How could this happen? Didn’t they realize that this echinacea performed for me? How could they do this to me?

It turned out that Gaura ‘Pink Cloud’ was one of those delightful see-through plants that I enjoyed so I happily put three more on my list to buy. However Salvia greggii ‘Big Pink’ stumped me. Did I have it in the garden last year? I haven’t a clue.

Another plant on my list is Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’. I well remember this plant and for two months it is delightful before falling into a deep slumber for three seasons. True, they last longer than Virginia bluebells—but do I really want more plants that don’t hang around for very long?

Athyrium ‘Ghost’ however was a delightful surprise. I have no idea whether it resides in my garden—but it should. A hybrid cross between the Japanese painted fern and the Southern lady fern, this is a beautiful addition to the shade garden.

The result of all this wallowing in just one catalogue created a long list priced at 435 dollars, which even in my excessive mood was a bit too dear for me. Consequently, I began cutting: Out went Danae racemosa, I cut back on the number of Athyrium from five to two, and the salvia came out. Naturally, along the way I had added euphorbias, a delectable aster, and hardy begonias.

I pared my list down to a more respectable amount, feeling rather pleased with myself. Of course the next day I had to call the nursery to add Danae racemosa. How could I give up on a plant whose leaves are actually flattened stems?

After joining the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners in 2003, Kit Flynn now has emeritus status. She also writes gardening articles for the Durham County Extension Master Gardener newsletter, an online magazine “Senior Correspondent,” and “The Absentee Gardeners” column for “The Blowing Rocket” with Lise Jenkins.

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