This bud's for you! at Washington plant auction National Arboretum event offers something for every gardener

April 16, 1995|By Linda Lowe Morris | Linda Lowe Morris,Sun Staff Writer

It was nearly 20 years ago that Nancy Brewster decided she wanted something a bit exotic for the yard.

Although the Glyndon resident now says she didn't know much about gardening back then, she knew enough to covet two small trees very rare for the time: an Acer griseum, also called a paperbark maple, and a Stewartia pseudocamellia.

"I went to a local nursery, and the fellow said, 'Nancy, how many do you want?' and I said 'I just want one of each,' " recalls Mrs. Brewster.

"He said 'I'm awfully sorry, but I have to order 10. You'll take one. One of your crazy friends will take another. My brother will take a couple in his landscape business, and I'll be left with six.' "

It was an example, she explains, of a kind of vicious circle in the nursery trade, a kind of Catch-22 in which nurseries only wanted to carry plants they could sell easily and average gardeners only knew what they saw in those nurseries.

Much has changed in the last two decades, pushed by a growing sophistication in gardening nationwide and an exponential increase in the kinds of plants available.

But many gardeners still fear the unknown, says Mrs. Brewster, who is one of the major contributors to "Plants That Merit Attention," Volume I, on trees, and the soon-to-be-published Volume II, on shrubs, from the Horticulture Committee of the Garden Club of America.

"Rare plants aren't the ones that are so hard to take care of. They're just the plants that aren't readily available in the nurseries," she says. "People get scared off on rare plants. They think 'Oh, I can't grow that.' But that's ridiculous. Rare plants are just as easy to grow as any plant you can pick up."

Mrs. Brewster is one of many local gardeners and nurseries donating unusual and prized plants to the annual Rare Plant Auction and Gardener's Plant Sale April 22 at the U.S. National Arboretum.

The event features a live auction of the most rare plants -- including a $950 yellow clivia from White Flower Farm of Litchfield, Conn. Several tents will be devoted to silent auctions. And a cash-and-carry area will have 2,500 plants that are not necessarily rare.

The auction and sale have been put on for the last three years as a fund-raiser by the Friends of the National Arboretum.

"It's not just rare plants," explains Marty du Pont, chairwoman of the sale. "We're trying to appeal to a wide range of gardeners. The whole idea is to get people excited about plants and about what they want to grow in their gardens."

Mrs. du Pont, who lives in Oxford on the Eastern Shore, says she has gotten many plants in her garden from plant auctions at public gardens. Many of these same gardens, as well as some of the country's major nurseries and most respected plant collectors, are donating plants to this event.

Locally, Gerard Moudry, retired chief horticulturist for Baltimore City, is giving several trees in the name of the Cylburn Arboretum Association: an Acer miyabei, similar to a Norway maple; a castor aralia, or Kalopanax pictus; a pink buckeye, Aesculus sylvatica; and a raisin tree, Hovenia dulcis.

(Mr. Moudry will also be contributing rare plants to the connoisseur's booth at Cylburn Arboretum's Market Day, being held May 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Ave.)

Mark Sullivan and his wife, Mary Pat Neff, owners of Fieldstone Nursery in Parkton, are giving a weeping Katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum "Pendulum", and a weeping Siberian

pea shrub, Caragana arborescens.

Paul Babikow of Babikow Greenhouses in Baltimore is donating a collection of heucheras, or coral bells. Although heuchera is usually thought of as a flowering plant, these hybrids were developed by a group of growers, including Mr. Babikow, for their beautiful foliage.

Other local donors include Bluemount Nurseries and Manor View Farm, both in Monkton; Stemmer House Nurseries in Owings Mills; the Maryland Horticulture Society; Foxborough Nursery of Street; Atlantic Star Nursery of Forest Hill; and Doyle Nursery of Delta, Pa. Landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, who lives in Towson and is a partner in Oehme, van Sweden Associates in Washington, is donating a garden design consultation.

At the sale, plant experts will be on hand to answer questions. Members of plant societies will also give information and sell their specialties.

The hours of the event are 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration for the auctions opens at 10 a.m. Those who are not members of the Friends of the National Arboretum must pay a $10 registration fee. But those who join the organization on or before that day for $35 can register for free and receive discounts that day.

There is no admission charge for those who just want to visit the cash-and-carry tent, which opens to the public at 11 a.m. The silent auction opens at 10 a.m. and is over by 12:45 p.m. It's at these tents, Mrs. Brewster says, that gardeners can often pick up some bargains.

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