I’ve been on the clock of Jelitto Perennial Seeds for nearly 21 years. I peddle perennial seeds (over 3,500 different items), but from time to time, with my colleagues there, I enjoy the pleasure of wildflowers, gardens, nurseries and even a good steak. It is a great gig.
Georg Uebelhart, my Jelitto boss and longtime friend, came over from Germany for two weeks this month. The German constabulary decided to teach Georg a lesson for driving too fast. (Yes, speeding tickets are issued in Germany.) They took Georg’s license away for a month.
Georg picked a good month to do his penance elsewhere.
Mary Vaananen and I did the driving for two weeks. Mary is the North American Manager of Jelitto Perennial Seeds.
As a plantsman, breeder and business owner, Georg keeps his laser focus on perennials, but when he’s traveling in the U.S., he likes to be nourished by a good burger at lunch and a medium-rare prime rib in the evening.
The redbuds in Kentucky were the best they’ve been for as long as anyone could remember. They bloomed for weeks in our early, cool spring and coincided with the dogwoods. Ordinarily redbuds precede the dogwoods in the blooming sequence.
We visited three nurseries, but at the end of the story I’ve added some photos of wild areas, gardens and parks that we saw along the way.
Hoffman Nursery is a 30-year-old family-run business, 20 miles north of Durham, NC. “They grow good grass,” as co-owner John Hoffman is fond of saying. John along with his wife, Jill, and son, David, grow small plug liners of ornamental grasses and native grasses for the wholesale trade. I’ve visited their nursery many times, and it has been wonderful to watch their business grow. Nursery manager Scott Epps always asks good questions about seed germination, and the Hoffman team keeps a steady focus on new grass introductions and efficient nursery production.
This requires constant vigilance and good organization. I can tell when I arrive at nurseries and gardens-and I have visited many-whether or not they have a good vibe. Hoffman’s has the energy of a place that is always changing and thriving.
The garden has filled up, and they have an extensive trial bed of sedges (Carex species) under evaluation. The Hoffmans have their eye on the ball:
Jill and John invited us for a delicious dinner at their beautiful home, tucked into the Piedmont woods. It was a lively evening of good conversation with friends. Steak was on the menu.
On to Raleigh, where it’s always a pleasure to visit Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Gardens. I’ve been visiting since they opened the door in 1988. Tony Avent’s catalogs are the Sears and Roebuck catalog of current gardening. Anyone with a pulse and passion for gardening needs Tony’s catalog. His descriptions are honest appraisals of what he personally has grown. Tony’s self-styled humor is an added bonus.
In the not too distant future, Juniper Levels Botanic Gardens will become a 501 C-3 non-profit foundation. The future of the garden will be passed along from Tony and Anita Avent to generations of plant geeks to come.
Georg, Mary and I walked hoop houses, the garden and trial beds, and shopped for plants for eight hours. There wasn’t enough time to see the front garden. The whole operation is staggering in its scope. It leaves me wondering what nursery and garden enhancing mojo he’s on. “Sleep is overrated,” Tony joked.
I had naively thought, at the outset of our three day trip to North Carolina, that I might not be tempted to buy plants. (Was I out of my mind?) Mary bravely bought Pig Butt Arum Helicodiceros muscivorus, a fly-pollinated, stinky relative of the voodoo lily. We packed suitcases full of plants on the flight home a few days later.
I would recommend Gene Bush’s garden, in Depauw, Indiana, to anyone who wants see what a great woodland garden can be. Savill Gardens in England is lovely, but who has their resources? Cousin Gene (we are distant cousins) is a testament to one man’s devotion to a steep, wooded hillside in southern Indiana.
Gene is no longer in the nursery business. He sold his inventory to Lazy S Nursery in 2015. Freed of the Munchkin Nursery business, he found more time for his blog and lectures. Gene continues to garden like a maniac, though. The garden maniac gene runs in the family.
There is no way to keep up with Gene. (I am honored to claim family ties when any of my kin can garden this well.) I’ve visited Gene and his wife JoAn Riley, over the years, and I discover something new every time. The streambed was enchanting. (How had I missed this before?) The woodland Sedum tenatum was right at home on a mossy rock.
JoAn and Gene were very kind to invite Georg, Mary and me for lunch. Thank god, there was no beef. I’ve never had a pimento cheese spread so good in my life.
By now, you’re probably figured it out. Georg Uebelhart, after his brush with the law, did not do hard time in the U.S.
Springtime trumped hard time. Georg was honorably discharged.
Many thanks to John and Jill Hoffman Tony and Anita Avent, Gene Bush and JoAn Riley, Pat Haragan, Tay Breene, North Carolina Botanical Gardens, Sarah. P. Duke Gardens, Walk Across Kentucky, Jamie Dockery, Mike Hayman and Whitehall, Tom Smarr and the Parklands of Floyds Fork, Paul Cappiello and Yew Dell. And above all to my beloved wife, Rose Cooper, for letting me fuel my passion for nurseries, gardens and public parks for two weeks.