notes on some spring plant sales

Is that a water pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


I’ve been hearing from friends in the retail nursery business that the new water restrictions have them very worried. Indeed, I’ve been told retail sales for April were most discouraging.
Yet botanical garden plant sales this spring, which understandably bring out the most avid plant lovers, have been mobbed.
Undaunted, unbowed, we’re still in search of a new plant love, just like every spring before this momentous one, but keeping a closer eye on our latest infatuation’s potential drinking problem.
(At Fullerton Arboretum’s outdoor Green Scene, this year’s darling was Pimelia ferruginea, helpfully in full bloom. It seemed to be in everyone’s cart.)

But since the announcement, the confusion and dismay of the lawn-and-foundation-shrub crowd is palpable. There’s even panicked talk of deploying Astroturf.
A simple, reasonably easy-to-maintain, preferably inexpensive solution to the space between the sidewalk and front door is wanted now.
Local nurseries have a huge opportunity to lead the masses into a dry garden oasis, possibly by more focus on small display gardens instead of benches and benches of summer “color.”

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Now, this is a plant sale. San Francisco Botanical Garden plant sale 5/2/15. Shopping carts!

Along with Fullerton Arboretum’s Green Scene, I’ve attended the Huntington and the San Francisco Botanical Garden sales.
These photos are all from SF, a plant sale I’d never attended before. Was it worth the 6-hour drive? Absolutely, every minute of it.
(Plus, I got to stop in and give Mitch a hug for his birthday later in the week.)

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Prices were unbelievably low, the selection much more rarified than the plant sales in SoCal.
I lingered long and hard at the proteaceae table. That’s Grevillea juniperina ‘Molonglo’ in the foreground.

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Here was the Leucadendron argenteum I’ve been waiting for, but ultimately I passed. It’s a big beast.
I took a chance instead on a Protea neriifolia, which probably won’t get very big in my garden, if you take my meaning…

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A book table was a nice touch, but I didn’t spend too much time here (any!). The variety of plants was way too distracting.

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Some desirables were sitting not on sales tables anymore but in somebody else’s cart, like this bomarea. In somebody’s unattended cart.
That moral dilemma might be too much for some attendees. Fortunately, I was forearmed with the knowledge that life in Los Angeles for bomareas is a struggle for survival.
After a couple years, mine is still alive, but just barely. Sometimes it’s so hard to distinguish that fine line between still getting established and fading away entirely.

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Oh, there was plenty of juicy looking stuff, like Mukdenia rossii. Walk away, just walk away.

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Now we’re talking. There was a huge California native section too.

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Lemony flutterby poppies.

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And a big succulent selection, of course.. I think the only area SoCal has SF beat is in agaves. Not a big selection in SF.
But then that’s what the Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sales are for. I wish there had been time to stop by this trip, but there just wasn’t.

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I’ve been thinking of lavenders a lot too. Absolutely nowhere to put them at the moment.

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Plant sale haul at home. Protea neriifolia, Leucadendron laxum, Plectranthus zuluensis. The white dierama in bloom was too cheap to pass up.
(But I do apologize in advance for moving you to my garden, the renowned graveyard of dieramas.)
The dierama was planted near Eryngium pandanifolium and Rudbeckia maxima, both of which wouldn’t mind it moist but tolerate drier conditions when established.
(Rudbeckia maxima was found at the Green Scene plant sale.
I spotted the rudbeckia’s big silvery paddle leaves at a display garden at Fullerton Arboretum and tracked it down to their store, The Potting Shed.)

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And this marvelous creature came home from SF, too, a species watsonia.

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I’ve grown the garden hybrids of this South African bulb off and on, which bulk up fast and get bigger than phormiums.
I got a bit bored with the pink and white selections of those. This one’s color reminds me of Nerine sarniensis.

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With a pronounced seductive red flush on the stems and leaves.

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Coincidentally, I bumped into a Protea neriifolia in bloom that weekend at Flora Grubb Gardens.
FGG is where I found my Mother’s Day present, a new container for my Cussonia spicata, which literally busted through the old one.

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And a happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers of invention, gardens, kids and/or animals. May you find a new pot for your growing cussonia!
The skies have turned cloudy and, believe it or not, slightly rainy, so I’ve turned my attention to getting the vegetable garden sorted out, beans planted, tomatoes tied up, etc.

11 thoughts on “notes on some spring plant sales

  1. Oh, I Googled that Protea, and that is one cool flower. I’m just wondering, how likely is it that I might find one at a SoCal nursery? I’m going to be visiting L.A. in a couple of weeks, and I have one day set aside for visiting the Huntington and maybe a nursery. I’m trying to put together a short list of plants that I might be able to bring back on the train.

  2. A plant sale with shopping carts, I think I like the idea, as long as everyone plays nice (no running over toes). Looks like you made the trip with it, and I’m in lust with that watsonia.

  3. @Hoov, as I say, I have serious doubts I’ll ever see a bloom. We’ll see!
    @Alison in LA! Which nursery will you visit? I would love to bump into you at the Huntington if your schedule permits.
    @Loree, some of those shopping carts were completely loaded. I was in awe. Not everybody used them, and the area was spacious enough. It was one of those sales where my take-home basket changed multiples time, putting something back to fit in something else. Lots of nail-biting decisions. I think I spent $40 on everything, and that’s what proteas alone go for in LA for a one-gallon.

  4. I ended up on a whirlwind trip to Santa Barbara Botanical Garden yesterday, stopping at 3 (!!!) nurseries on the way home. Despite my self-imposed admonition not to plant anything new until fall, I came home with a trunk-load of plants so, if I’m any indication, the retail sellers don’t need to freak out yet. Interestingly, only one of the nurseries (Sperling) seemed to be making a concerted effort to address the drought anxiety of shoppers – they’ve put “low water” stickers out on appropriate plants throughout their grounds.

  5. Way to go, Kris! I really think there’s a big opportunity here for any nursery flexible enough to adapt.

  6. My observations at the botanical garden sales I went to this spring (Ruth Bancroft Garden, UC Davis Arboretum) match yours 100%. Mobs of people! Maybe because they know that they can get (drought-tolerant) plants there that commercial nurseries don’t carry? I continue to be disappointed by the lack of response to the drought at local nurseries. The same ocean of flowering annuals and perennials.

    You walked away with a great haul!

    Half way down your post, is that a photo of your Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’? What a stunner!

  7. Hi, Gerhard, that’s good to hear the specialty/arboreta plant sales are doing fine. Yes, that’s Stained Glass. He was saved from a recent hail attack under cover of the pergola. Wish I could grow all my agaves this way — good light but no sun damage or debris.

  8. Denise, I’m going to be at the Huntington on Wednesday, May 20. It would be great to bump into you there, or even plan to meet at a certain time. I’m hoping that day I’ll also have some time to check out a couple of nurseries nearby — San Gabriel and the California Cactus Center. Can you recommend any others that are near the Huntington?

  9. Wish I’d bumped into you at the sale, I was a volunteer that night, manning the Bromeliad table, and had donated some as well. I thought the sale was a bit low key compared to past years. Picked up a few. items for myself, bid on one of the auction items and got it, a beautiful Ardisia cloudforest tree from Chiapas, many used books, and 3 flowering Jovellana violaceae. Plus another tree daisy with huge leaves. Could have bought tons more, but saving my big purchases for the wholesale nursery shopping expedition yet to come. Hoping to get down to Rancho Soledad at some point too.

  10. @Alison, I sent your an email. Hope we can meet up.
    @David, I was at the sale late morning Saturday, which seemed busy. The day of the Huntington’s sale I had to circle their enormous parking lot several times to park, and that’s never happened. Not everyone was going to the plant sale of course, but still that’s impressive. I wonder which ardisia you got. I saw your photos of jovellana on Facebook, very cool.

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