General Update: The Good, The Sad and the Ugly

Hi Folks.  I know you haven’t heard from us in a while, so I thought I’d better post something to let you know we are still living and still operating a nursery which is in business.  (We won’t even talk about the web site.)  And if you keep reading you will see that the title of this post is no joke.

We are actually having a remarkably good year.  Apparently we have eliminated much of the competition while demand for cool plants still exists.  Ten years ago I attempted to sell some plants on the wholesale market and I had a heck of a time getting any nurseries to buy from me, so I gave up.  This year I thought it might be time to give wholesale another go.  In late winter I sent out a modest availability and within two weeks 70% of the plants listed were pre-ordered.

At the retail end, people keep coming out here and buying stuff despite having to guess what is available from the out-of-date web site.  At the Sequim Garden Show we exceeded our previous sales record by about 20% despite having only one booth instead of the usual two.  (A Dan Hinkley talk promoting some of my plants helped.)  We also brought plants to “Hortlandia”, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon sale in Portland, and did so well that I am still in shock.  We were up 95% over the previous record for that sale and grossed our second highest total ever for all events of this type that we have ever participated in.  (The second year of the now-defunct Bloedel Reserve sale holds this record, if you were wondering.)  The Rhododendron Species Foundation sale was up 90% from the previous high.  In short this season is going to be a tough act to follow.  We thank all of you who have come out to support us.

I never usually say this but I am getting a little nervous about running low on plants while having trouble finding the time to produce and pot up new stock.  This week I’m in the middle of taking apart the whole area in front of greenhouse 2 and 3, repairing the tables and cleaning it all up.  But I think things will fall into place and there will be plenty of new stuff by summer.  We are buying some important supplies for the nursery such as a compost tumbler to mix soil and fertilizer (I’ve been mixing it by hand all these years), and seeds of unusual rare stuff from various sources.  We were generously gifted a minivan earlier this spring, which was a big help to get more plants to the sales.  We have just bought a fancy tag printer.  That’s right, after 13 years we are finally going to have pre-printed tags with descriptions on them.  I have hand-written thousands of tags over the years so that will be an exciting change.

Shifting gears here, back in September, Laine McLaughlin, a friend and former employer, passed away.  Laine was the owner of Steamboat Island Nursery where I had worked in 1997, 1998 and 2002.  In the official sense it was my first “real” nursery job.  I had intended to write a longer post about Laine and the nursery in October and I regret not managing to do it.  In any case, I attended her memorial service at the end of October, which was held in a little meeting hall within walking distance of her nursery.  I still have a number of interesting plants from Laine including Ceanothus gloriosus ‘Emily Brown’ which has been passed down through a few different hands, and Eucalyptus urnigera x dalrympleana which I planted at my parents’ house in Olympia and later took the opportunity to propagate from cuttings after regrowth from frost damage in 2010.  Although the nursery closed several years ago when her partner Duane passed, Laine and her crew grew top-quality plants that were unusual and always got attention.  She was well-loved by the local horticulture community and is already missed.

And now for some terrible news, which is also old news by now, but I’d better report it.  Rod and Rachel Saunders, the British owners of a world-renowned South African seed Company, Silverhill Seeds; were kidnapped back in February by a remote cell of ISIS terrorists and apparently killed.  I say “apparently” because Rod’s remains have been found, but not Rachel’s.  Some have postulated that they were tied into their sleeping bags and thrown into a crocodile infested river, so Rachel’s remains may never be found.  This is horrific on several levels.  First of all what the heck is ISIS doing in South Africa?  I am no expert but this seems rather unrelated to South Africa’s other current policital/social challenges.  Almost like it might have happened anywhere.  More significant is the shock one feels over losing a friend(s) in a horrific manner.  Although I never met them in person, I have been ordering seed from Silverhill for over 20 years, long before we opened the nursery!  This included a lot of correspondence, in which Rachel helped me greatly with my plant selection when I was just doing this for a hobby.  And they were very close friends with a number of our mutual friends, who had met them in person.  So at this point, the shock is wearing off but the anger is not.  I am glad the suspects have been identified and captured and as old school as it sounds, I hope that justice is served.  I just placed a small order from Silverhill Seeds, and at this time it seems the business is continuing without Rod and Rachel.  But for how long, who can say?

I’m contemplating planting something special in their honor, which would have to be something I got from them and that will do well here in the long run.  Perhaps Leucosidea sericea.

That’s all for today.  Let us be hopeful that when I write the next blog post all the news will be positive!

Link to a news article about Rod and Rachel Saunders


Remains of Steamboat Island Nursery display garden in 2017, with Trachycarpus fortunei, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, and Chusquea culeou.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. george
    May 09, 2018 @ 20:19:27

    the senseless deaths of the Saunders is a terrible loss to gardeners and plant lovers everywhere and more importantly a horrible and evil act of undeserved violence upon peaceful and innocent people. may they rest in peace and may the plants and knowledge of nature they increased and shared be a great and enduring legacy.


  2. John Kugen
    May 11, 2018 @ 06:26:43

    It is sad to lose friends like these, I’m sorry. I didn’t know or even order anything from the Saunders catalog, but I knew Laine very well. She was a good business women and plantsmen. The few times a year, actually many times a year I saw her at either her nursery or at a plant sale, she would recognize me and call me by my first name. She was a kind and very generous person. Many times she would throw in a free plant in my order, or if I was looking for a hard to find plant she would find it. Roger and I on our way this spring to the RSF plant sale were wondering how she was doing. Now we know. Sad!


  3. Jay Higgins
    Oct 17, 2018 @ 22:19:06

    I happened to see this after trying to locate a picture of Laine online.
    I deeply appreciate you sharing the news of Laine. This place will always be remembered as where many learned a great deal, while also gaining a devoted friend, and close “sister” to so many. The “nursery” is now our “micro-farm” but, it was something Laine and I talked about doing for many years before we lost her so suddenly. She’s part of the change, and this special place.
    Also, I was shocked to learn of the kidnapping in S.A.. I also remember ordering many seeds and cooresponding for so much great advice…and the best responses/conversations. Laine had put me in touch with Silverhill many years ago…Rachel I remember in emails specifically. I am very sorry to hear this news.
    Congrats on the good year for your nursery. Hope those Eucalyptus seed are good you collected here?…I’d like to buy 2 or 3 when ready to plant in memory of both Laine and Duane where their ashes were spread on this property.
    Keep in touch. Jay


  4. Helen Saunders bigelow
    Apr 12, 2019 @ 09:47:09

    Interested to see your comments re. Rod and rachel. Rod is/was my cousin and he is sadly missed. The whole family is in shock, especially his nephews in Australia. I live in Portland, or. And also have a house on north Whidbey with my husband.
    Did you know that Rod’s name is attached to a new clematis? Its name is ‘greybeard’, named of course after Rod who hybridized this variety himself? I am going to try to get some. If you are interested I can let you know what I find out.


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