The last thing I need is more plants. I am awash in plants around here. Granted, most of them are not my plants, they belong to the plant sale, but they certainly give me that feeling of cozy abundance (which lives right next door to soul-destroying clutter) that I think many women are seeking. As an aside I believe, as the gatherers half of the hunter-gatherer equation, we have long since evolved to feel that more equals better. Ten thousand years ago this compulsion would have kept our kids alive, which was pretty much our entire agenda as mothers (was life more or less stressful when getting into Harvard was irrelevant, but we had starvation and diptheria to contend with–way more is always my conclusion). Now we live in a time and place of staggering abundance and many of us feel as though we are drowning in stuff, most of which we have dragged in the door (women are responsible for 80% of consumer spending in the U.S.). I know I often have this feeling, but I am still bringing stuff home with regularity, which is the point of this post.
I love Cistus Nursery. Going out to Sauvie Island, crossing Multnomah Channel, driving past the farms and fields always feels like a little vacation, leaving the world behind. And then to enter the nursery is to enter another world. Sean Hogan and the now sadly deceased Parker Sanderson really expanded Portland’s plant palette with this wonderful place. To go to the nursery is, for me, to become instantly horticulturaly ignorant since there are so many unfamiliar plants. I have never even heard of the genus of most of the plants they carry. Their display gardens are truly special, with something in flower, and often wafting delicious fragrance, much of the year. And the nursery itself is handsome, with high walls of wire fencing separating different plant areas, yet permitting transparency and a view of the entire collection. Someday I will have a vegetable garden fenced in just the same way!
I have only two issues with the place, both of which are personal. I garden to low USDA Zone 7, and they trumpet themselves as the home of “zonal denial”. Excepting only the lone, sad banana tree that shivered its way through the winter every year outside of Thiele’s long-gone (still missed) restaurant at 23rd, they brought us the idea of bananas, palms and cycads as reasonable Willamette Valley plants. I went to a Sean Hogan lecture a few years ago when he announced in all seriousness that he now believed Portland to be a Zone 9 climate! Then the last two winters hit and we all lost those plants that had barely been hanging on through the milder preceding winters (seven fat and seven lean…weather fluctuation has been with us for a long time). I don’t like to lose plants. I don’t like wasting the money, and I also get pretty emotionally attached to them. So, if I don’t set my sights above Zone 7 I am usually quite safe. It has been hard to find many Zone 7 plants at Cistus in years past.
Furthermore their prices are often quite high. Now, I don’t think that they are unreasonably high. They take a lot of risks with their plant offerings. What if nobody wants a plant that looks like tangle of wire with tiny leaves attached at 2 inch intervals? Then they are out the time and the money that plant required (right now people will kill for plants which fit that description, but tastes change with utter caprice in horticulture as they do everywhere else). Their selection is always abundant, always changing and always inspiring. That’s not cheap to pull off. However, my budget does not meet theirs very often, so my garden is not Cistus-plant rich. I have a lush carpet of purple New Zealand burr that I got from them in three four-inch pots. Parker Sanderson was very patient with that tiny, but lengthy, sale as I quizzed him about this new-to-me plant. I have a deep purple Monarda from them that is slowly expanding its territory around the garden. My sister gave me the lovely gift of a shopping spree there once and I got an Epimedium and a Veronica that have both done very well, as well as the beautiful dwarf Jane Platt Schizophragma that lives and thrives on the porch. But generally my choices from them come in four inch pots and are very judiciously selected.
So I was thrilled a few years ago when they announce their first “Tough Love” parking lot sale. Gallons and smaller were a dollar each at that sale–these were my kind of prices! I think I went three times that year. The big score that I remember was multiple pots of a variegated Japanese forest grass, unlabeled, with about two blades per pot. They have done fine and turned me into a complete fan of this wonderful plant. That first sale was a little rough. There were few labels, and the plants were in pretty poor condition, but nearly everything I took home did fine. Mostly the plants needed to get out of those pots and into the ground.
Cistus started this year’s parking lot sale last a couple of weeks ago, so I rearranged my plans (thank you all for help in that, potting party ladies) and got there first thing. This sale has grown up. Nearly everything was labeled, the plants were really in good condition, too shabby for the main nursery, but clearly healthy. I went with a friend and we had a ball. We compared notes, we shared plants when we both wanted something and we acted either as one another’s consciences or enablers, it’s hard to decide which. Either way we went home with the car stuffed full (literally) of great plants for not too much money. Here is my share of the haul.
Yes, I got over fifty plants! Included are Hosta ‘Stained Glass’ and ‘Sum and Substance’, two ‘Belle Etoile’ Philadelphus, some dark purple columbine and dark purple Geranium phaeum, one of my all-time favorite plants. There is also a dark purple ninebark, some Gaura ‘Siskiyou Pink’ developed by alpine specialist and nice guy Baldassare Mineo when he ran Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, and some green coneflower (it won’t be as striking as the gorgeous pink in a previous post, but for a buck I couldn’t resist).
So, I got all these lovely plants home, started planting a few here and there and then a few days later I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen in quite a while. We talked plants and gardens and then she suggested that we go to Gardener’s Choice, a really wonderful nursery on 99 in the Tigard/Sherwood/King City area. They always have great plants that I don’t see elsewhere and this time of year they get rid of a lot of their four inch pots for 99 cents each. It is always fun to rummage their bargain tables and look for treasures. So, I went along, feeling horticulturally sated from my binge at Cistus, and quite certain of my ability to resist too much temptation. Wrong! They had a huge selection of Campanula, another genus for which I have a great weakness; I got three of each species. They had two prostrate golden Veronica of which I had never heard before, but they looked great and I have good luck with Veronica here. I got a couple miniature daisies (continuing my gardening tradition of doing the little stuff before the big stuff–first plant the bulbs, then put in the trees), and some plants from Xera simply because their stuff is so great (I am still kicking myself that I left behind a couple of little sea hollies from them). Anyway, by this time discipline had been flung to the winds, I was careening downhill without any brakes hollering “Get out of my way” and grabbing every plant I love. I moved on from the 99 cent table, where the damage is minimal, and hit the 50% off table where I found a gorgeous pie-crust farfugium, learning that these are actually Ligularia, which the slugs and I adore equally, but for different reasons.
Then I asked the lady stocking tables about farfugium hardiness, and she very cleverly led me over to the Ligularia section of the nursery (now, how many nurseries have a Ligularia section–this is what makes Gardener’s Choice a great nursery) whereupon I was so enraptured by several plants I had never seen before and instantly coveted that I got a little dizzy (the horticultural equivalent of Stendahl Syndrome–maybe we could call it Linnean Vertigo or something like that). I started stroking and fondling the leaves of several plants simultaneously, and as I turned one over the clerk squealed “Ooooh, felty!” We were deep into plant porn now. Felty leaves (just the undersides, mind you, we don’t want anything tacky)! It just doesn’t get any better than that. So now she was stroking the leaves, telling me that she hadn’t ever felt them before, and we were ooohing and petting and talking a mile a minute. And what can I say, Ken Starr (the money manager, not the prosecutor) married a stripper, that judge bought drugs for the gal who gave him a lapdance, and I paid the full retail price for a plant. Here it is.
It is Ligularia ‘Last Dance’. The leaves are quite thick and leathery, with that wonderful felty underside. I am hoping that the slugs are as repulsed by leathery and felty as I am enamored of them, but if not those big leaves will hide a tuna can full of cheap beer very nicely. And here are the three flats (!) of 99 cent plants that I got. A lovely selection.
So, the upshot of all this activity is that, in the space of four days, I brought home about 100 new plants. Granted, all told I spent less than the price of a pair of shoes at Nordstrom, but when you buy a pair of shoes at Nordstrom you don’t have to dig 100 holes (unless you have a very punitive arrangement with your credit card company).
It is going to be a busy fall.