Getting beyond giant retail centers

Plant enthusiasts know specialty sales offer varieties from vendors who care

In The Garden

May 05, 2002|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,Special to the Sun

Avid gardeners await and plan for yearly specialty plant sales with the enthusiasm of a hunting hound sniffing the air for a favorite quarry.

The garden centers certainly have their place in the world. What would we do without them? However, most of these stores, and even smaller nurseries, depend on a small variety of plants: the hardiest and nationally most popular. These are mass-produced, grown and processed in anonymous hundreds of thousands by contractors, and often sold by clerks who, if cheerful, have little knowledge of gardening.

Then there are specialty plant sales. At these once-a-year events, you can step into a lively world where you may find rare, brand-new or old-fashioned plants -- and often meet the person who grew them, as well.

"What makes these sales so different is the extremely large variety of plant material, and the large amount of it," says Jane Baldwin, president of the Cylburn Arboretum Association. "There is simply no comparison."

Baldwin emphasizes another factor that draws many people to the markets. "These are vendor-raised, not mass-produced, and most of them are truly dedicated plant people. They can tell you all about the plant, its history, how to grow it, and so forth." Plus, since in most cases proceeds go to support specific groups, such as Cylburn, the plants are "very reasonably priced," she says. "Profit isn't the big motive."

Often, as in the case of Cylburn Arboretum, the plants are mainly supplied by gardening societies and others who wish to help support a gardening cause.

This means that "most of the types of plants simply can't be found otherwise," explains Joel Gaydos, a professional horticulturist and devoted specialty-sales fan who gardens in Baltimore.

"You can find things you might only otherwise see listed in catalogs -- rare wild flowers, roses or ferns, for example. You get a chance to talk to the person who grew it and find out how it does in this area."

Gaydos also points out that the sales give the shopper a chance to judge the quality of various nurseries and garden clubs to see if they're interesting enough to be investigated further.

Now in its 16th year, the Baltimore Herb Festival is an event for both the novice and the long-time gardener. If you have made do with the handful of standard culinary herbs sold at your local all-purpose garden center, here you will find a dazzling choice of herbs, not only for cooking but also for every other conceivable use.

Brought by their individual growers, the herbs at the festival, to be held May 25 at Leakin Park, are reasonably priced. Seymour Ponemone, president of the festival, says that the featured herb this year will be ginger, with lectures and cooking demonstrations. Experienced festival goers often take children's wagons to haul their purchases around in. Not a bad idea at any of these sales, come to think of it.

Plant sales

May 11, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Cylburn Market Day, 4915 Greenspring Ave. $2 donation per car. Call 410-367-2217 or www.cylburnassociation. org.

May 12, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.: National Arboretum Plant Sale, featuring azaleas and companion plants, National Arboretum Triangle, 3501 New York Ave. N.E., Washington. Call 301-831-9164.

May 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Baltimore Herb Festival, Leakin Park, Windsor Mill Road. $5 admission. Call 410-496-4655 or www.baltimoreherb

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