Open House Recap!

Woohoo! We did it! The open house was a success. We should note, however, that when one tries something entirely new, one goes into it with no certain expectations. This leads us to define a little further what we mean by success. First though we want to thank all of you who came, for doing so; and those of you who couldn’t come, for at least being interested enough to offer well-wishes and support. Hey if no one had showed up, we wouldn’t call it a success!

First let’s get a few “what didn’t work” notes out of the way. The weather might have been better. It poured rain Friday morning fortunately letting up just about the time we opened, but it was still a drizzle-fest much of the day and the sun never showed. (We should mention that we have had about four times our normal July precipitation this year in Sequim! It’s been weird.) Finally late Saturday afternoon the sun showed up, which of course would have been the best time to take some pictures, had I not been too busy to remember to do so. Then Sunday was back to morning drizzle but the afternoon was dry and cloudy.

Another major issue was traffic, since it was Lavender Festival weekend in Sequim. This turned out to be a worse problem than I expected. We used to live in Poulsbo and would come up for the Lavender Festival so we knew that traffic was often heavy at certain times on that weekend. Apparently things have gotten much worse. We heard that the police were stopping everyone at Sunshine Lavender Farm causing a miles-long slow backup. We also had a report of super-long waits to get on the ferry. To those of you who offered feedback about how bad things were, and when not to travel, we thank you; as we will be able to make some better specific travel recommendations for next year. (BTW, if you have more feedback, post it here – it’s valuable!) We do think it is important to be open that weekend to try to tempt people who are in town for the lavender mayhem. We also apologize; since, though some of these traffic issues are obviously beyond our control, our warning posted on the “open house” bit of our web page was certainly not dire enough.

So, all that stuff out of the way, it was just a real treat for us to see so many people here at once who were here and looking around the greenhouses, excited to shop for plants! We had a good mix of people from locals who saw the sign or knew us from the Sequim Garden Show, to people who heard about us at Hortlandia, to a couple of garden clubs and other random friends. Mark and Lila of Fairmeadow Nursery showed up on Sunday which was really a nice surprise. We easily sold enough plants to make our efforts all seem worthwhile, and partially fund some fall projects such as a new propagation house and display beds.

Just for fun we will share with you that our preparations for this event were down to the wire. With so much else to stay on top of it seemed to take forever to finish building greenhouse #3. Finally we got that done about two weeks before the open house: then there was the task of getting greenhouse #2 set in order, which had formerly been jam-packed with stock to the point where it was impossible to step anywhere without crushing a plant. This turned out to be a huge job with a few loose ends to still tie up. We also moved our entire “forest” of empty pots that had been right in the middle of the nursery behind greenhouse #1 and out of sight. So if the Friday morning crowd caught us slightly less completely prepared than we might have been, we hope they will pardon us: I was up very late Thursday night painting the nursery signs, moving plants, and trying to complete set-up! (Who said nothing good ever happens after midnight? Ha ha.)

If you missed the open house, despair not. For now that we know we can do it, we have decided to do another one! It will be September 1 – 3. I will post more about this later, but in general, we think that settling into a routine of 2 – 3 (4?) open house events per year would be a nice goal to shoot for. This one is specifically scheduled to accommodate Labor day traffic, which isn’t nearly as bad as lavender traffic, though ferry waiting can be an issue at certain times. Just remember that if our open house dates don’t work for you, you are always very welcome to schedule an appointment!

As I said, I didn’t manage to get a lot of photos with people in them, or with the sun shining, but here goes:

“Table” loaded with exciting Grevilleas and spikey things (that’s the scientific name)

This should tempt you to go in, right??

Inside newly completed greenhouse #3

Display of larger manzanitas… I figure if these don’t sell this fall, they’ll be more irresistible the bigger they get.

Here’s where we pretended to do some cashiering when it wasn’t drizzling too hard.

This Protea grandiceps decided to bloom just in time for the open house!

Here I am showing Mark some of my exciting Arctostaphylos and Penstemon collections from last fall (remember those?)

OK, so this is cheating. A couple days after the open house, a bunch of people who regretted missing it showed up and bought stuff. It was great since everything was still set up!

Garden Show Dreaming

So, the 2012 Northwest Flower and Garden Show came and went last weekend. At first I was going to pass on commenting, since there are plenty of other voices out there chattering away about this year’s show, mostly expressing disappointment: some nicely, and some less so! And we would all agree it gets a bit obnoxious to read criticism after criticism all the time. Another thing I’m noticing is that many other people (my “plant friends”) have the ability to make scathing criticisms sound nice and diplomatic, much more so than do I; reducing the chance that anything I present as criticism could be seen as anything other than obnoxious, even if meant to be constructive. So that would be one reason to stick by the idea of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”

Then I had the idea that I might write something nice about what I liked about the show, giving criticism a pass; since there were, in fact, a few things that I liked and even found inspiring. A lot of people didn’t think the gardens were much to look at this year (if they could see them – a frequent comment was that lighting was inadequate), but I noted some very interesting water features that were pretty cool. The childrens play area continued to be good; at least my kid liked it. The section reserved for various plant societies, gardens and arboreta was good, even if a couple societies I would have liked to see represented were missing – the Cascade Cactus and Succulent Society, for one. And that is not necessarily the fault of anyone running the show, I suppose.

I also liked (conceptually, at least) the little cards that were distributed at the ticket booth to incentivize showgoers to participate in a survey to provide feedback about the show. While one could be a bit annoyed by the tactic of baiting people with offers for coupons from various booths (which were so scattered that it would take considerable effort to visit each one deliberately) to get them to participate in the survey, at least they deserve credit for doing something to try to feel out what people want out of the show to guide its future. But, to make it sound like the whole show was just fabulous in every respect would be kind of phony – and I think few readers who attended the show would find my commentary to be believable.

So here’s my idea to try to remain focused on being constructive and providing solutions. I’m going to spend just a little time fantasizing, shall we say, about what I would like the show to be. I’ll present my thoughts in the form of advice or suggestions for improvement that might be implemented by show operators, while acknowledging at certain points how I compare these ideas with the current situation (in which case, sounding critical cannot be avoided). Hopefully I’ll avoid the usual “The ____ was too ____. Wah wah wah.” style of complaining. However, I should emphasize from the outset that this is not necessarily intended to represent what everyone wants: it is just what I would like to see. I don’t pretend everyone else gets the same things out of the show that I do – nor should they, as we all appreciate different aspects of gardening, and for different reasons. So this is an entirely fantastical post, in which I invite the reader to share in all, some, or none of my sentiments. But here are some ideas that, if put into action, would make the Garden Show really, really awesome according to the standards of Ian.

I’ll start with the plant market, since it has so much potential. The plant market should be much larger, and should be the place in the Northwest – heck, this side of the Mississippi – to find the rarest and most exciting plants in the trade. Gardeners should be looking forward to their one chance every year to get hold of all the coolest, newest, and most obscure goodies for their gardens. (Heck, this idea by itself might even sell more tickets, if successful!) To that end, the show administrators should actively pursue the best, most prestigious, and most unique nurseries for the plant market. The nurseries should be tempted with an offer they can’t refuse! As it is, they seem to be leaving things largely to fate; and, between the economic downturn and society’s changing interests, fate has not treated the nursery business well the last few years. The plant market used to be pretty good; but still, I think, short of its potential 10 to 15 years ago. Every year a couple more nurseries drop out; and now, well, I’m sorry to say the plant market is a shadow of its former self both in terms of size and diversity of offerings. I appreciate, though, that the plant market is still in a prominent location in the show, rather than tucked away in a corner.

Next, I would be excited to see the show to do more to distinguish itself from “home shows.” This is actually related to the previous idea, since much of the space that ought to/used to be the plant market is now occupied by vendors of replacement windows and gutter systems. Dear show owners: people can find this stuff anywhere. There are home improvement shows all the time. The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is the second biggest in the country: how about differentiating to demonstrate that it is also the best? I would propose as a solution some sort of sliding scale where the most desirable nursery vendors pay less for a booth space and home improvement type vendors pay more and get last priority. Also related to this, artist and all other product vendors should be directly related to gardening. Vendors of scarves and jewelery, again, can be found at a variety of shows; and represent an opportunity for the show to differentiate by pursuing vendors with more clearly garden-related products to replace them.

Now, to the gardens. I feel that half the problem with the gardens are the themes chosen each year that the designers have to work with. This year’s theme was “A Floral Symphony.” Last year’s theme had something to do with stories or books, I can’t rightly remember. So here’s my idea. It’s true that most anything in life – music, books, attire, what-have-you – can be related to gardening. I would like to propose that these pre-selected themes be based on topics that are inseparable from gardening. I think this requirement would keep things a little more down to earth and less fantastical. Because what I’m seeing is that the gardens don’t always look realistic to people; and it is not always simply because of practical concerns (expense, maintenance): I think sometimes a “weird factor,” if you will, appears when a theme is chosen that results in certain elements being included in the gardens that overshadow the strong points. Gardens need to look like something someone would actually do. And in many places, they do: the question is, how to make it better? Hence my suggestion that gardens ought to reflect a garden-based theme. I don’t really have any specific examples in mind. It’s just a starting point to help the gardens hopefully inspire a broader range of showgoers.

Here’s another idea. I would like to suggest the addition of a large area where specimens of individual plants can be showcased and judged: sort of like they do at the county fair, only with much higher standards for coolness and acclaim. (Perhaps a few more of those gutter system vendors could be eliminated to make space for this – ha ha.) We have a place for showcasing container displays; which is great. We have a place for showcasing artwork. Why not a place for showcasing plants? These plants could be judged and the best given awards just as the other categories present at the show. This could also be a way to generate interest in particular new or rare items of great horticultural merit that deserve broader attention. I think a display of, say, 100 – 150 individually presented cool plants, that were truly unique and interesting; would be a lot of fun to look at, even if not all of them happened to pique my interest personally. Hopefully most of these plants would be produced by smaller and edgier growers and not just the big guys, so some method of regulating that to make it fair for everyone would have to be developed.

Finally, I would like to say that I have no serious complaints about the speakers line-up. I would just like to offer one minor suggestion, which would be that at least one seminar per day should be about exploring for plants in the wild. This is because I think people benefit from seeing the connection between gardening and nature in a way that goes beyond “landscaping for wildlife” and such: gardeners can never have too much awareness of the wild origins and habitat preferences of their garden plants, or the story behind their introduction and cultivated history. These talks usually draw pretty good crowds anyhow, at least the few that I have attended.

So, you folks organizing the show do all that, and then I’ll be really excited to come every year! I’ll even be a vendor with my own booth! Really! And I’ll talk it up to everyone. So, really now, what’s not to like about my ideas? Does anyone have more inspiring ideas to offer? What would get you excited to see the Northwest Flower and Garden Show? Not that anyone important is actually going to read this, but hey, let’s put it out there just for fun.

Once nice water feature.

Another nice water feature. The funny thing is I didn’t really notice that bird until I went back and looked at my pictures. What does that say about me, I’m not sure?

This cool rotating metal thingammy (not sure what to call it really) was probably the most oohed and aahed at thing in the gardens. I liked it too. The water feature behind it was also pretty cool. On the other hand, I’m not exactly inspired to go out and buy a rusty guitar sculpture for my garden.

The WSNLA Treasure Island booth looked good once again although we did not participate in it this year.

They did offer a few of our plants though, which appear to have mostly sold, so that was nice.

This Hardy Plant Society of Washington display of purple and black leaved plants was way cool. Just one problem, almost nothing in the display is hardy. As much as I loved this display I thought that fact was a bit ironic.

The North American Rock Garden Society display looked great and I enjoyed chatting with the fellow who staffed the booth. I will probably join this society soon; it’s very reasonably priced.

I leave you with this lovely poster from the Plant Amnesty booth: proof that not everything has to be inspiring to be worth seeing!

Christmas greetings!

Here at the Desert Northwest we would like to wish anyone who manages to read this, a very warm and pleasurable Christmas. We know that a lot of people find the holidays to be a stressful time of the year or just plain don’t care for Christmas. But we feel there is no harm in wishing positive things for you anyways. Can it hurt? So there you go.

Today is also special because it marks the five year anniversary of this blog. Wow – it does not seem that I have been blogging for five years! When I started this, blogging was just becoming big – now it seems everyone has a blog. There are so many blogs out there one can hardly keep track and (dare I say) way too many “garden bloggers” recycling the same old boring information. We will take that as a challenge to keep this blog interesting into the future!

The picture above is a little bit special. I don’t much care for the hustle and bustle and mass-commercialization of the holiday season. I’m also not really a fan of “Christmas music” and Santa Claus. The best holiday season I ever had was the one where I took off on December 2 on a huge botanical expedition to the Southwest and returned to the Northwest on Christmas Eve. So basically I missed the whole thing. On that trip I took this picture of Arctostaphylos patula in southern Utah. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the pic but I thought the leaves and bark made a nice contrast with the snow. You can click to expand it and use it as wallpaper! A little something from us.

Have a great holiday and we’ll see you in 2012!

Potentially World-Changing Group of Horticulture Professionals Decides Instead to Devolve into Irrelevant High School Social Clique

The Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries Facebook group that I had been promoting has taken what I consider to be a step backwards. But it’s not all bad news. Let me explain.

First the good news. The group has not fragmented in a significant way, it appears. I still like the people in the group, and almost no one seems to be leaving, including me.

A dispute has arisen over who is to be admitted to the group. Growers who don’t operate a retail site have traditionally been excluded according to the original group standards, except for one who was asked to join in the early stages of the group. So this fellow finally got kicked out, but then everyone wanted him to come back, because they like his input. Then he was saved by the bell when the group quickly decided to let him back in. But any other growers who want to be let in the group will be voted in or not on a case by case basis, and many in the group have already decided they won’t be voting for any more growers except this one since they like him and his contributions to the group. How’s that for consistent and fair!?

So here’s the problem. Why is just one grower in the group? Why is the group setting itself up to vote on admitting individuals based on whether we know and/or like them? That’s not a professional organization; it’s a social club. A professional organization decides upon consistent standards for who is to be admitted and sticks with those standards. If a change needs to be made, a procedure ought to be in place for voting on the standards, but not on individual people!

To further illustrate this point, someone in the the more inclusive offshoot group Retail Independent Garden Centers, Vendors and Media, having found out about this whole situation through that group, posted (and I’m not making this up), “So, this page is like the overflow room for the party the cool kids got invited to?” Yeah actually it would appear that pretty much sums it up. If the group had consistent standards they would have some way of producing a sensible reply to this. But apparently they don’t, and this post went unanswered.

Group administrators have since deleted most of these discussions for the sake of moving on. That doesn’t bother me in itself since it seems once again that these actions are based on what people in the group want. This blog post, then, serves as a semi-permanent record of what happened.

Now to the other side of this discussion: the thing to be remembered is that for some people the group actually is more of a social club. For some, it’s no big deal to vote on individuals, and if we start getting too “black and white” with the rules, the group becomes less fun. This one grower can be grandfathered in because he was there from the start and why kick him out?

OK, so I can appreciate the opposing perspective. The reason I don’t favor it is a fundamental disagreement on what the group is to me, what it is for, and what it is (or was?) potentially capable of.

I certainly appreciate that not everyone is in the group for the same reasons. Some are there to discuss business matters, while others enjoy the more social aspect to the group. Others are there just to learn, and that is a big part of why I am there as well. But at a deeper level, many of these horticulture professionals appear to be reasonably content with the state of the industry as it is, or else see problems with the industry but undervalue the group as a potential vehicle to correct them; while others (including me) think that nothing short of an industry-wide revolution is needed and had hoped this group would be the one to catalyze it.

So if I wanted something different, I guess I should just start my own gol-durned group with a different focus. After all it’s not like I’m always stuck in second gear. It’s just that no one told me life was going to be this way.

So here’s my solution. I am going to start a group called “Horticulture Professionals who I Personally Happen to Think are Cool.” Hey, there’s nothing like honesty. Our mission: to continue rehashing this issue until we get tired of talking about it and think of something else to discuss instead, like discussing all the ways in which we are superior to everyone else, or which one of us is more popular.

Plant murderer: guilty as charged!

It’s true: I’ve killed many plants. If you think you have killed a lot of plants, I am sure you have nothing on me. And sometimes I feel kind of bad about it. Thinking back on certain plants I used to grow, and shouldn’t have killed is a bit emotionally draining – and more so when I may not have a chance to grow that plant again, or at least not for a long time.

I’m not talking about plants that I have given a fair chance to succeed, yet they failed. For example, Chusquea valdiviensis did great in my garden for years, and grew to a huge size, until the big freeze of December 2009 took it out. Well, no worries – I took good care of it for as long as it needed, I mean, it got 60′ tall – and now we know it just isn’t that hardy.

No, I’m much more likely to feel bad about killing plants that I did not care for as well as I would have liked. My number one cause of plant death is things not getting moved into the greenhouse early enough, often for lack of space because I have been accumulating more plants over the summer than will fit in my greenhouse(s). Or, something comes up and I can’t build it as fast as I want to – or I simply over-extend myself while failing to prioritize – this is definitely one of my natural tendencies.

My #2 cause of plant death is drying up. Yeah I know, plants need water – even drought tolerant plants, when they are growing in pots. Occasionally things dry up in the summertime when I don’t manage to keep them under a sprinkler. But I have also lost many plants to drying up in the winter, because I have had them so crowded together, under tables, etc. that I can’t reach or see them. Drying up is definitely related to overcrowding for me.

But in any case, the problem usually comes down to some form of sheer neglect. Here are some examples.

Once I left on a hot day for a day trip to go shop at one of my favorite nurseries. I thought I had watered everything pretty well before I left but when I returned, my one seedling of Pittosporum dallii was dead because it had dried up after sitting out in the sun all day. This is one of the rarest Pittosporums, from a small area high in the mountains of New Zealand. It ought to be very cold hardy, and it has been reported as impossible to grow from cuttings, and the seeds may take 12 months to germinate (which I think mine did!). I have never seen it offered since I killed this one.

Grevillea ‘Poorinda Golden Lyre’ is, I think, one of the most appealing older Grevillea cultivars, with beautiful yellow flowers like little bells, and interested round-tipped leaves. I have learned recently that it is nearly extinct in cultivation, making me wish even more that I haven’t killed them all one by one, mostly from leaving them out in pots through temperatures that were a little too cold. I’m also bummed that I killed all my forms of G. aquifolium, among others.

A friend gave me a nice specimen of x Chiranthofremontia lenzii, which I killed when I left it out through 22 degrees by accident (though I kind of thought it might handle 22 degrees). Fortunately I may be able to replace it sometime when I go to California again. I also killed a collection of Fremontodendron californicum from the coldest place it grows in the wild. I just looked one day and there it was, dead. Darn.

In 2001 (?) Maurice Wilkins, head gardener at Arduaine Gardens, Argyll, Scotland, sent me the last of his seeds of Schefflera impressa that had bloomed and set seed for him in 1998. Just one seed germinated and I took great care of it for a long time. Then in 2004 I potted it up and some fungal disease quickly attacked it, and it died. Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for that one, but still….

I’ve had plenty of chances with the rare, and quite hardy, Eucalyptus chapmaniana since I first got a small seed packet of it. I’ve sold, traded, and given away many of them. In one instance I potted a bunch of them up and left them on the top shelf of the greenhouse on a hot day, then went for a hike in the mountains – oops, not many of them survived that. A couple specimens eventually got planted out but were overcrowded. The deer kept scraping my last one to the ground, leaving it too small to endure the last couple of hard winters. Now I have no more seed of it, and no way to get any.

I used to have some cool Leucadendron hybrids such as ‘Rising Sun’, ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ and ‘Flame Tip’ – not hardy, but fun to grow and propagate. (I’ve still managed to keep ‘Maui Sunset’ and ‘Safari Sunset’ going.) These froze, dried up, the cuttings I took froze or dried up, or some combination of the above. I had plenty of chances to take better care of them.

Treeferns. Don’t even get me started. I may have been doomed to fail with treeferns from the moment I dumped a million sporelings all over the ground and got them all mixed up with each other, many of them lost forever. Dicksonia squarrosa, I froze three times. I might have put my last one in the greenhouse if I knew how cold it would get just one night. Dicksonia fibrosa, a nice trunked one that I had for years, froze. Cyathea australis, dried up. Cyathea dregei, lost under the snow during a big freeze, and died – oops. Cyathea tomentosissima, I’m not sure what happened to it. Actually, it could still be out there under a table in the greenhouse, but I haven’t seen it in a long time.

I used to have 99 kinds of bamboo. Every year I kill a few more. Now I don’t mind losing a few since bamboos are not really meant for Sequim. The problem is I have no idea which ones I am killing. In fact, I don’t even want to go near them. I haven’t fertilized my collection in two years, or potted them up in four. And bamboos are heavy feeders! I’ve just put off even dealing with them for that long, because I have so many other things to attend to. I’m hoping some of the more special ones may have survived – maybe I’ll finally have a chance to make an assessment soon before the spring season really gets going.

Ceroxylon is a genus of beautiful high altitude palms from the Andes that thrive in cool weather, and some seem to be rather frost hardy. Seeds used to be about $15 – 25 for 100 of them. Now that I have killed all of mine, except a single specimen, seeds tend to be more like $140 – $220 per 100, and less available than before. I’m not paying that much!

I could go on… Gunnera insignis… a special form of G. manicata… special forms of Butia… Cycads… palms… cacti… you name it.

Now it’s not all bad news. Fortunately, I have forgotten most of the plants I have killed. Forgetting is a great way to not feel bad about killing specific plants. If “all the plants I’ve killed” remains sort of ambiguous, it seems more like this big grey shadow that haunts me rather than a bunch of individual souls. And hey, some of those plants are things I’m really not interested in growing now – too tender, too impractical, or just too not-my-sort-of-plant anymore.

And perhaps I even have a few legitimate reasons not to feel bad. No matter how many plants I kill, I still seem to accumulate more new plants than I kill (mostly through propagation) – hence the problem of fitting them all into the greenhouse every year. And hey, they’re just plants. Call me politically incorrect but somehow I’d feel worse if I were killing life forms more similar to my own. Third, in sharing this experience, perhaps I can help readers not to feel so bad about killing a plant even if it was through sheer neglect.

Should I feel bad about killing plants? I’m not sure if I can really help it. That’s just how I am. But the best therapy is to keep propagating and growing more of them! Should I balance this with trying not to over-extend myself and repeat this cycle? Maybe… that’s the hard part though.

Now I’m wondering, what’s dying out there in the greenhouse while I’m sitting here typing this?

Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’, May 2008. R. I. P.

The Plants

I just thought I’d post this classic book cover as a literary expression of the story of me trying to maintain a nursery.

Actually, I read this book in high school.  Despite the alluring cover and description, the book was lacking literary quality, which was disappointing.  I wonder if the Olympia High School library still has it.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas Everyone! I know not a lot of you are thinking too much about plants right now. I would say they make great gifts, but you should have thought of that during the fall shipping season, LOL.

Anyways… I hope all of you have great holidays. Thanks for your business and continued interest in my nursery!

This picture comes to me from a good friend Gus in Spain, of GIT Forestry, an avid eucalypt expert. I don’t think he will mind!

Feliz Navidad