A Completely Hortlandish Weekend

Well I recently had a really splendid weekend. Actually by now, it was two weekends ago, but what can I say? – I’m slow. This was my first time vending in – for that matter, attending – HORTLANDIA, which is the newly coined name for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s big spring plant sale. Following are some of my splendid experiences and reflections from this most enjoyable trip.

I begin by noting that I think it more than a bit odd how seemingly half the plant nerds in attendance were from the Seattle area. Like we can’t have our own awesome plant sale experience, so we have to schmooze off Oregon. It’s possible that this is a sad reflection of the current state of affairs in the Seattle horticulture scene, although as soon as I say anything like that, some will think such a statement to be unsubstantiated or just plain obnoxious. Which may be true. But one could make the case that the Portland area (and beyond, in Oregon) really has more and better nurseries right now than the Seattle area, as far as the availability and promotion of widely varied, rare, and cutting-edgy stuff; and that is why this sale draws serious gardeners and plantsmen from far and wide. I even met a few folks who flew (say that ten times quickly) in from California for this event!

Upon arriving in Portland on Friday afternoon, my first stop was Garden Fever, a small, urban “nursery” in an older neighborhood not far from the center of the city. Now if I start saying a lot of nice things about this place, it may sound like am being totally hypocritical since, in a previous post, I snarked at businesses that call themselves nurseries without actually producing any of their own plants. However, while this place does not grow any of their own plants, I still was most impressed with everything, from the range of product offered, to the presentation, to the quality and the price. This is a great “plant store” and demonstrates that either business model can be done poorly or (in this case) well.

Then it was time to set up for the sale. I had all day to set up, which was nice because I could take my time and didn’t have to be in a hurried frenzy to get everything organized and looking sharp, like I usually am in these things. I even took a couple of long breaks to look around at what everyone else was doing and what plants they brought to the sale. Then I got invitated to dinner with really prestigious, exciting hortish people, whose names shall mostly be withheld in the interest of not sounding like I’m trying to make myself seem like I must be really special based on who I associate with, and because I am not very good at remembering them anyway. That was a lot of fun, and I wasn’t very hungry but my dinner was enough to last for two days worth of breakfast after I saved it in my motel refrigerator.

Then on Saturday began the sale. First of all there was an entire hour and twenty minutes (or so) for vendors and volunteers to shop from the displays. That was pretty cool, because all too often in plant sales like this, I want to get out and look around and shop a little bit for myself; but it is a challenge to get away from my booth to do so, since I really ought to be there to talk plants with people if I expect anyone to buy our stuff (which is all good, of course – not a complaint). It was great to have so much leisure time to browse and shop, and yes, I did select a few things to take home, but overall I was remarkably well behaved (since, of course, the point is to sell stuff, not buy it). During this time someone bought both of the large Banksia serrata plants I brought – oops (thought I to myself), I could have sold more of those! I have plenty more back home.

Then at 10:00 the doors opened to the public. I was warned to expect a major onslaught of plant-snatching gardeners, but it did not happen – the first half hour was very slow and I was a bit perplexed (though I heard rumors of a traffic backup on the freeway; that might have explained it). But things did pick up after that, and the first day of the sale went really well. As this was my first Portland area sale, most people in attendance had not heard of the Desert Northwest, so name recognition did not work in my favor; but everyone was really friendly and enthusiastic, and not shy about buying plants!

After the doors closed at 4:00 I went back to the motel to relax for a bit. Well, actually, I about collapsed and ended up taking a two hour nap which was rather difficult to wake up from. Following this was a little get together with more hortfolk at the esteemed Mr. Sean’s house. It was pretty low key, which I tend to like, and I’ll admit to having spent quite a lot of time there looking through books, including John Grimshaw’s most excellent NEW TREES and Alex George’s now-somewhat-outdated-but-still-good The Banksia Book. In the basement was a vast library of books about plants rivaling that of the Elizabeth C. Miller Library in size and with far more interesting subject matter. I could have spent a few months in there, but that might lead to various problems such as people wondering where I am.

The second day of the sale was less exciting than the first – probably because potential shoppers were out and about enjoying what was the warmest day of the year to date (it actually felt so warm I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself, if I weren’t busy with the sale!). But after it was all over and the plants were loaded up, I stopped off at Cistus Nursery, where everyone was busy trying to put away some of the plants that didn’t sell. And what a task that was: I learned that the more plants you bring and the bigger your nursery is, the longer it takes to put them all back. I guess I’ll stop feeling all sorry about how much of an annoying chore it is when I do it by myself! Although my brain was fried from so much plant talk, I still enjoyed poking around the nursery with our own Seattle area plantsman Mr. Riz and some other plant people I just met. There is always loads of exciting stuff in the pipeline at Cistus, and it was a great way to top off the weekend.

Then last weekend, of course, was the Bloedel Reserve Premier Plant Sale and Open House, which I meant to advertise here before it started, but simply couldn’t get around to it. Did I mention before that preparing for these sales is a lot of work? And especially this one, since we brought so much stuff! The sale was great though, of course, and we topped off the “Awesomest Plant Sale Ever” of last year with even better sales figures (though attendance, I heard, was down: this is possibly also weather related, and perhaps because of the absence of Dan Hinkley, who spoke last year). I am not complaining about the work since it is all worth it – but man, was I beat after that! Consecutive nights of staying up prepping, tagging, pricing, inventorying and loading plants will do that to you. If you’re reading this, and you came out to support us, we thank you!

So, we will appear at one more sale this weekend, and this time it’s not terribly far from Seattle: the Rhododendron Species Foundation Spring Plant Sale. We have never done this sale before, but as I often say, I am game to try anything once – who knows, perhaps we will like it enough to come back every year. This is our last regional plant sale for a couple months – we will (yet again) not be at Florabundance – so we hope you will come out and see us! And it’s not too late to get your special requests in (availability HERE and HERE): you can even send them to us Friday and we’ll bring them on Saturday. The deadline would be about 9:00 pm Friday night.

Here’s a fine display of manzanitas at Garden Fever.

Very clean looking display of not-too-boring plants at Garden Fever.

An enticing table of succulents.

Xera Plants display. I may have bought a few things from here, but don’t tell anyone.

Lots of great supplies inside the store as well!

And wow, they actually have a good selection of books! Not a lot of garden centers do anymore.

Here’s what our Hortlandia booth looked like after set-up.

Pre-sale Banksia stalkers!

More displays… Far Reaches

Fancy Fronds

Cistus Nursery

Can you tell I really like these events?

Xera Plants

I mean really, how is anyone supposed to resist this stuff??

Hortlandia crowd after the doors opened. Wow, what a lot of people!

And I suppose a few shots of the Bloedel sale are in order, so we can remember that the sun actually came out that weekend (it’s pouring down rain as I type!).

Thanks for reading!


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgeinbandon,oregon
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 18:15:34

    just off the top of your head, what were the most popular plants from your nursery at the sales? were there significant differences between what was bought in oregon and what the folks bought in washington?


  2. Mark and Gaz
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 01:22:44

    Hi Ian, glad the event went well and enjoyed reading your post and looking at your photos. Puts me in the mood to do more plant shopping and looking forward to the next fair!


  3. Loree / danger garden
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 08:37:23

    I am so glad Portland treated you well, hopefully that means you’ll be back next year? Also I am relieved that you were impressed with Garden Fever! Now I just need to figure out how to make it to the Bloedel sale next year…


  4. Desert Dweller
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 15:24:01

    I always enjoy the detail in your writing each post, which needs no photos. But the photos add even more, too. Looks like a great time. I wonder if some trips outside the Puget Sound region to appreciate its horticulture might help? I go crazy when stuck here too long…though I admit each trip to Phoenix makes it hard to return to “getting blood from the rocks here”.


  5. Ian
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 12:25:37

    Well, I’m getting slower all the time, but that’s the time of year – in general, I expect my blog output will slow down a bit for the next couple months as I remain very busy with the nursery/plants.

    George, my best selling plant in the Seattle area is easily Grevillea victoriae ‘Murray Valley Queen’. I sold $540 worth of it at the Bloedel Sale! It did pretty well in Portland too, but then so did a lot of other things. In Portland there was a minor rush for Banksia serrata and people sure grabbed up those Protea seedlings, but passed by any of the Leucadendrons. Arctostaphylos didn’t sell as well as I expected at either sale, but in the Portland sale I had quite a bit of competition in that area.

    Mark, yeah it put me in the mood to shop too! I’ll admit to buying at least four or five plants at each of these sales.

    Loree, sure, I’ll do Hortlandia again. There are a couple more nurseries in Seattle I should check out to see how they compare with Garden Fever. I know a few that look great but the plant selection is less interesting (or appropriate for our region IMHO).

    David, thus far, travelling outside the Puget Sound region has the opposite effect on my impressions of this area, because I come to feel like things are happening everywhere else except here. At the Rhododendron Species Sale last weekend I got an unprecedented amount of negative feedback from snarky sale-goers who just plain didn’t care for what I was doing/selling, and could have been nicer about it. This kind of bad attitude is just one more piece of the puzzle if you ask me. Sometimes people need to get out of their rut and try something new, and if they’re not interested, at least they can be cordial. Not to be all negative here, I also met some people who were really excited to find me, and the sale went reasonably well overall; so I’m not complaining, and I will probably do it again.


  6. georgeinbandon,oregon
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 13:00:13

    thanks for feedback on popular purchases. sad to hear about the snark at RSF—do you think this just comes from some kind of rhodie “purists” who only think that certain kinds of plants are appropriate to grow with (let alone be sold with) their pets or more of a general your plants don’t “fit” in PNW gardens???? (maybe they secretly fear that greveilleas might actually look nicer and grow better in certain areas than some rhododendrons???). boy, do i have lots of questions!!!


  7. Ian
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 00:21:37

    I really don’t know what motivates this sort of response to my plants. These people did not appear to be rhodie purists, but I’d bet most of the plants in their garden need to be watered all summer and would be hardy in Spokane!

    You know, it occurs to me, the Northwest Horticultural Society recently hosted a “Plant Nerd Night” which, I hear, was a huge success and enjoyed by all in attendance. I didn’t even really think about going since I knew I would be too busy at the time, which was probably wise in retrospect. Still, the success of this event and the great things I am hearing about it may draw my perception of the Seattle area horticulture scene into question! Perhaps if I had been there I would be singing a different tune – and I probably ought not to say too much more about it for the time being 🙂


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