"Eye Candy" for Plant Lovers

Posted on April 24, 2012 by Lisa Blackburn | Comments (0)

Preparations are in high gear for the 38th Annual Spring Plant Sale, which takes place on Sunday, April 29, with a preview sale for Members on Sunday, April 28. Staff and volunteers have been busy for weeks, unloading deliveries, inventorying, sorting, labeling, grooming, watering, and—in many instances—coveting the thousands of plants that will be offered at the big event. One of the perks of volunteering is getting a sneak peek at the goods.

For volunteers like Wayne Schenck, it's like being a kid in a candy store. "You keep saying, oh, look at this one, and ooh, look at that!" he exclaims. "There are so many different plants, so much interesting stuff." Walking past neat rows of perennials, he stops to admire a graceful Grevillea 'Moonlight' shrub, with wispy foliage and spidery white blooms. "You see these all the time in bouquets, but how often do you see the actual plant?" In fact, shoppers at the sale will see several different varieties of these drought-tolerant beauties, including G. 'Moonlight,' G. 'Superb,' and G. 'Fire Sprite.' Imagine how one would jazz up the home landscape!

Belinda Chuang has been a plant sale volunteer for five years, and, like Schenck, she has an eye for an unusual find. "I love that dark purple rose," she says, pointing across a sea of blooms to 'Rhapsody in Blue,' with its eye-catching, deep violet flowers. "I've never seen one that color before." Judging by her admiring gaze, there may be a new purple rose gracing Chuang's own garden after the plant sale is over. Near the roses, a group of gorgeous clematis hybrids threatens to steal the show with masses of amazing blooms in shades of purple, mauve, and white.

Even the sale manager will admit to having a few favorites. Louise Guerin is particularly excited about the grafted tomato plants, and she suspects that many shoppers will be, too. "The plant is grafted onto rootstock of a hardier, stronger variety," she explains. "It doubles the yield." Tomato fanciers will also find heirloom varieties such as Purple Calabash, Green Zebra, Yellow Brandywine, and Black Icicle. (There will be plenty of basil plants to go with all those tasty tomatoes, never fear!)

In addition to tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, Guerin is pleased to be able to offer a greatly expanded selection of dry-climate plants this year, including unusual succulents like Coreopsis gigantea; the Mediterranean beauty Cistus heterophyllus (rock rose); and California natives such as the blue-flowering Ceanothus and the striking Matilija poppy.

Trees will be prominently featured, as well, Guerin adds. "Many local homeowners are shopping for trees this spring to replace the ones they lost during last winter's windstorm, so we've increased the selection of saplings we'll be offering in order to meet the demand." Japanese maples, ginkgos, viburnums, and smoketrees are just a few of the varieties to look for—along with all the other rare finds and popular favorites that have made this event an annual rite for Southern California gardeners for nearly four decades.

Shoppers are sure to feel like kids in a candy store, too.

Hours for Sunday's public sale, and Saturday's Members' sale, are from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free. Guerin suggests bringing a wagon or cart to carry your purchases.

See additional photos on Flickr.

Captions: Volunteer Belinda Chuang gets ready for the plant sale; 'Rhapsody in Blue.' Photos by Lisa Blackburn.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

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