The Joy of Plant Sales
Some of my favorite April events are plant sales. Boy Scout troops and churches hold barbecues and fish fries; botanical gardens hold plant sales in the spring. Which is really odd, since in Charlotte, fall is the best time to plant. But when the weather turns warmer and the sun tracks past the equinox, gardeners want to plant. We can’t wait for fall. Winter is past and we just have to plant something new. Oh, come fall, we’ll be ready again, and lesser versions of the spring cornucopias of plants will be offered to tempt us to purchase one last time. But spring is when gardens such as UNC-C’s Botanical Garden and Wing Haven spread their most delectable wares for the willing buyer.
Just as farmer’s markets present a vast selection of fruits and vegetables, some known, some unknown, some only suspected but all very tempting, so too do plant sales seductively display plants known, heard of but never before seen for sale and delights totally unknown to the gardener. Time vanishes as one contemplates the merits of the bottlebrush buckeye versus the red buckeye; the health of the seemingly dead (or is it only slow to break dormancy) Blue Shadow witch alder; the speed of growth of Alleghany spurge compared to Green and gold. Money vanishes as one attempts to resolve such dilemmas by buying them all.
What did I buy? Well, I brought home three (I usually buy in odd numbers) blue woodland phlox and five foamflower, both native, flowering covers. UNC-C gave me a red buckeye as a reward for joining their garden supporters, and I mistakenly picked up another, intending to purchase its cousin, the bottlebrush buckeye. No matter; there is room for all. I acquired a Florida anise tree to grow in the moisture of a downspout discharge and shield the air conditioning unit. I rounded out my grouping of fetterbush with the purchase of one more plant, and I replaced a sweetshrub that had not survived its first season. I could not resist acquiring one of the many native azaleas.
My plant lust overcame my good sense when I bought the “Blue Shadow’ witch alder. A cousin of witch hazels, the witch alder blooms in late March and turns a beautiful mixture of reds, yellows and oranges in the fall. Blue Shadow retains these virtues has the amazing bonus of displaying unbelievably blue leaves during the summer. An amazing plant. The only problem with my purchase is that the plant was obviously not robust. In fact, it appears to be dead. I tried to pretend, like Monty Python’s parrot, that it was only sleeping, but in fact, it hasn’t leafed out and doesn’t look as if it will.
All of these plants are native to the Southeast, if not to NC. I believe gardener should use native plants to the greatest extent possible. In that way we help to recreate in our gardens the natural habitat that is so rapidly being destroyed, providing food and shelter for native animal communities, including insects, that exotic ornamentals just can’t replace. But I am not a purist; I also bought a Chinese paper bush, Edgeworthia chrysantha, an Asian native. I have greatly admired a specimen at Historic Rosedale, where its extremely fragrant flowers in late February are a true harbinger of spring.