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Plant sales are fertile hunting grounds for the unusual and inexpensive.

May 24, 2011

Plant sales offer the unusual and save you money.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
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Every weekend in May I shopped plant sales at local botanical gardens, arboretums, garden clubs and an herb farm.

My plantaholic frenzy harvested husky, healthy heirloom tomato and pepper plants, plus unusual herbs and a sweet cherry bush. Irish moss and several miniature conifers made their way home with me, too.

Plant sales are terrific sources for perennial divisions, vegetable transplants, shrubs, trees and the uncommon at discount prices. Late spring is the time in my area when these fund-raising sales sprout, but many gardens have another sale in late summer or early autumn.

Last September, I discovered creeping thyme, bought a pot and found it was perfect as the base for the fairy garden I always wanted to created. That’s why I bought another one two weeks ago, to expand my fantasy kingdom, situated amongst quartz crags in the rock garden.

Creeping thyme makes the perfect base for fairy gardens and my attempt at creating a garden paradise in miniature.

I was particularly drawn to the sale at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisc., because it always offers heirloom and unusual hybrid vegetable transplants. Every year, different vegetables or flowers are featured. This year, tomatoes and peppers were the stars. I picked up Amish Paste and Tumbling Tom tomatoes, plus Jimmy Nardello and Purple Beauty sweet peppers. The sale saved me from having to seed and grow those luscious varieties under lights indoors.

Jimmy Nardello is an heirloom Italian pepper with extra crisp walls and a robust sweet taste.  Plants are prolific bearers, too.

An herb farm about eight miles from my house held a charity sale, featuring lavenders, last week. There I found fragrance, beauty and taste. It was hard to choose which plants to buy without emptying my bank account! After an hour’s indecision and pondering, I walked away with Hidcote and Munstead lavenders, lemongrass, French tarragon and Lettuce Leaf basil.

Hidcote is one of the few lavenders that are cold-hardy enough for my climate.  The flower buds are heavy with perfume and flavor.

Two scented geranium (Pelargonium) called my name, too. I bought Cinnamon Rose geranium and an apple scented one to plant along the garden path, where I can enjoy their perfume every time I brush against the foliage when I walk there. And, I can make teas, flavored syrups and jelly from the leaves later in the season. I plan to pair the Cinnamon Rose leaves with lavender buds for flavored sugar, too.

Klehm Arboretum in Rockford, Ill. featured an added dimension at its sale three weeks ago. Unusual trees and ornamental shrubs from Song Sparrow Farms in Clinton, Wisc. gave hardcore gardeners the opportunity to purchase hard-to-find landscape elements for their gardens. I fell in love with Abies Koreana ‘Silberlocke’, a dwarf fir with deep green needles that have silver undersides. It will look stunning at the top of the rock garden.

Keep your eye out for plants sales in your area at the end of the season and next spring.
You’ll be delighted at the gems you find and the low prices.

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including


Inexpensive plant sales are fertile hunting grounds

By Betty Earl

Sounds like you had fun combing through the various plant sales, Doreen -- and from the picture, I can see you have a wonderful start to your fairy garden!

However, you might consider planting the absolutely stunning Abies koreana 'Silberlocke' in a place other than your rock garden. 'Silberlocke' typically reaches 10 feet within ten years and tops out at 20 feet at maturity. If your tag called it a dwarf, it was mis-marked.

Re: Silberlocke

By Doreen G. Howard

Thanks for the info Betty.  I'm still planting it at the top of the rock garden.  It will grow bigger than I thought, but it should make a gorgeous screen for the compost pile beyond!

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