Plant excursion extraordinaire
October 28th, 2007
For weeks I’ve been anticipating my big “field trip” to San Marcos Growers with fellow garden writer and landscape designer Joan Bolton. Joan divides her time between designing residential gardens (Santa Barbara Gardens) and writing a column called “In the Garden” for several Central California daily newspapers, including Santa Maria Times, Santa Ynez Valley News, Lompoc Record and Times-Press-Recorder. Follow the link to her web site to read her articles.
Joan offered to escort me on a plant-shopping excursion to the legendary San Marcos Growers, a wholesale nursery in Santa Barbara. What a great way for me to meet new plants and bring them home to my own backyard.
After making the 1-hour drive north up Hwy. 101 (with long stretches of Pacific Ocean to my left – a welcome sight after spending much of the week under the haze of wildfire smoke), I turned off of the freeway and followed Joan’s directions to the nursery. An unassuming sign hanging from a chain-link fence greeted me. One glimpse at the endless sea of plants in one- and five-gallon pots, arranged like color blocks by species or cultivars…and I was in seventh heaven.
Joan Bolton, my horticultural angel and guide
First you have to check in with the office and obtain a key to the electric cart. Like a golf cart for two, with plenty of space in the back for loading plants, this is the vehicle of choice for savvy landscapers who buy in volume. Joan shared her shopping tips with me, including the advice to peruse the enormous “availability” list on San Marcos’s web site and come prepared, knowing what I want.
We filled the cart with gorgeous plants, including Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’ at upper right
Since my yard is one enormous blank slate, I preferred to shop the Debra Prinzing “let-the-plant-speak-to-me” method. It’s an organic, rather than organized, plant-shopping experience, which involves allowing my eyes to wander up and down the rows of black plastic pots with delicious foliage, stems and blossoms peeking out of them…until I zero in on something very intriguing and am lured to it. “What’s this?” “Oh, it’s not the best cultivar,” says Joan. “Try this one – you’ll like its habit better.” Or, “This is a pretty flower, but wait until you see this one.” She is a fount of knowledge, having designed gardens for more than a decade. I felt like I had my own personal horticultural angel who helped me hand-select just the right plants.
Of course, we were a bit limited by the size of the cart – and the space in my Subaru Outback. I can always come back for more, I told myself. I allowed myself one little Salvia victory, and Joan was gracious enough to chuckle over it.
Joan introduced me to an AMAZING variety called Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’, which has chartreuse and blue flowers. Of course, if one is good; two are better. They will be gorgeous in the new mixed perennial-grass-shrub bed I’m planning.
Then another Salvia caught my eye – with an almost iridescent deep purple-blue flower. It’s called Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’ (S. guaranitica x S. gesneriflora). Yeah! There’s gotta be room for her somewhere in my new design scheme.
About 30 minutes later, Joan said: “You know, I think I want that ‘Purple Majesty’, too.” So we turn around the cart and start driving up and down the rows, looking for the dazzling purple-blue block of about 50 pots where I originally pulled my specimen. But every time we found a purple patch, it wasn’t the right salvia, or it was an agapanthus, or some other impostor. Finally, we asked some workers where we could find the ‘Purple Majesty’ – and they told us where to look. We drive up to a sorry-looking collection of black pots with green leaves – and NO BLOOMS. Hmmm. Turns out that during the previous 30 minutes when we were chasing around after other plants, the industrious crew had dead-headed all the ‘Purple Majesty’ salvias.
Yup. Those gorgeous blooms were piled into the bucket of cuttings, destined for the compost pile. Joan was a pretty good sport about it. She still took home the plant, but now she’ll have to wait until 2008 to enjoy the bloom.
Joan, up close and personal with a Heuchera maxima, which she’s profiling in her next column
Here’s a list of what I brought home; comments to follow as I watch them grow:
Agave gypsophila (please pronounce after me: Jipp-soff-fil-a. Not, Jip-so Fill-A). I stand corrected. This is the wonderful Agave with the pointed wavy leaves that curl – A week ago, I admired it at Lotusland. Now I can have my very own, although Joan warns me that it will grow very large and thus requires some elbow room. Also known as Gypsum Century Plant.
Prostanthera ovalifolia ‘Variegated’ (white variegated leaves with purple flowers)
Boronia crenulata ‘Rosy Splendor’
Agastache barberi ‘Tutti Frutti’ (lavender-pink flowers)
Pennisetum ‘Eaton Canyon’ (Now I can grow purple fountain grass, including this cultivar – a dwarf red fountain grass – as a perennial and not an annual!)
Polygala fruticosa ‘Petite Butterfly’ – new to me – a Sweet Pea shrub. This one has a compact form (Joan’s favorite) with purple flowers.
Lavenders, miscanthus, nepeta, campanula, euphorbia and phygelius also found their way into my heart. Luckily, I know these plants, and I take comfort in the idea that the spirit of my beloved Seattle garden will also grow here in SoCal.