On Saturday, a sale that will grow on you

May 02, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Tucked at the rear of the Howard County School of Technology is a place that would make any gardener turn green with envy.

Down a long corridor, through a door and past a classroom are four greenhouses filled with several hundred varieties of house plants and garden flowers, from delicate blue ageratum to budding red begonias to leafy, colorful fuchsias.

Hundreds of people will flock to the Ellicott City school on Route 108 Saturday for the school's spring plant sale. They'll come from Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Some will arrive early, sleep in their cars and line up before the 9 a.m. opening.

And for good reason. There are racks of hanging baskets filled with ivy, geraniums, fuchsias, chenilles and impatiens. New this year are hanging baskets of scaevola, a purple flower that flourishes in hot weather, and helichrysum, yellow strawflowers used in dried flower arrangements. Ten-inch baskets sell for $8 each; 8-inch baskets are $6.

There are tables of other garden varieties, including Boston daisies, carnations, dahlias, snapdragons and wild columbines.

Rose bushes are $6 each and come in 21 varieties, including Don Juan, a red climber billed to bloom more often through the summer than other rose varieties, and the John F. Kennedy, a mildly fragrant and tall plant. There's also the Royal Highness, a delicate pink flower, and the King's Ransom, a tall, bushy, yellow variety that's easy to grow.

Priced at $1.75 are small containers of herbs, including catnip, chives, parsley, thyme and sweet basil. Also $1.75 are vegetable and fruit plants such as cucumber, zucchini and watermelon. There are seven types of tomato plants.

"The kids take pride in all they do," says Joe Dymek, the school's knowledgeable horticulture teacher who's taught there for 20 years.

While some commercial greenhouses use pesticides to control insect growth, the students do it the natural way. This year, they released more than 200,000 ladybugs and praying mantises that feed on harmful insects, as well as hundreds of parasitic wasps to take care of white flies that spread plant viruses and lay thousands of eggs under leaves, often destroying the plant by turning it yellow.

The plant sale is an annual event for the school's horticulture program, which the state Department of Education recognized in 1990 as the most outstanding in Maryland. It serves as a vehicle for students to organize, prepare and participate in a large-scale sale.

Students enrolled in the program say it helps them prepare for the work world. Eighteen-year-old senior Harold Holmes, for example, is learning the ins and outs of landscaping and greenhouse management. "It's energetic work," he says. "It involves a lot of movements. It's a lot different from the other careers because you're working with your hands."

Fifteen-year-old Shannon Bell, in the program for two years, says she's found her niche arranging flowers. "I like trying to make neat things," she says. "I like the different colors."

For budding green thumbs, Mr. Dymek offers these tips:

* Before you plant, prepare the bed properly. Make sure you have enough fertilizer and organic matter and the proper Ph level -- for example, 6.8 for annuals.

* Arrange plants in the appropriate light. Don't hang fuchsias, for example, in sunlight -- they like the shade more. Other plants that should be placed in shaded areas include impatiens, begonias and coleus.

Plant geraniums, petunias and salvia in areas with a lot of sunlight for them to thrive.

* Check hanging plants daily for insect diseases.

* Remove dead or faded flowers to promote new growth.

"Then you can sit back and enjoy them," Mr. Dymek says.

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