Selecting and Buying Plants

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Monday and Tuesday, May 12-13, found Beth and I touring a number of places to finish up our plant buying. I had general lists for all places, and Beth had them for her purposes as well.

Our first stop was The Woodsmith Store. I was looking for peppers, and Beth found me some ghost peppers. They are supposed to be especially hot, and they are just beginning to become plentiful. This store has individual plants in a pot, and they looked healthy and ready to grow. We also picked up a few more items of a more traditional nature. It always helps to know what you want, but is especially nice when employee assistance is available, which was the case at Woodsmith.

Goode Greenhouses is a traditional stop for us. My Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) did not come back from the hard winter. I knew Goode’s had them. And I was not disappointed. We picked up a few additional items as well, pretty much “run of the mill.”

Monday’s last stop was at Earl May. I wanted sweet banana peppers, and again, I was not disappointed. At Earl May, customers like me can get all the assistance they want, need and deserve. While touring the tomatoes, I asked the employee to read the varieties to me. Then I remembered that about 30 years ago, at the Earl May store in Sioux City, they had a tomato cultivar called Super Fantastic. I asked if by chance they had this tomato in stock. Sure enough they did, and the man saved himself considerable reading time.

Twice a year, Beth and I journey to Winterset where we stop at three nurseries as well. The first was at Howell’s, which is closer to Cumming. My Baptisia (false indigo) did not grow this year in the mailbox bed, so I found a healthy specimen to purchase. Our second stop was at Groth, just east of Winterset. They had some very nice-looking hollyhocks, along with other perennials. They even had Sweet William, so I bought a second batch of that perennial. None of my daisies came back in the apple tree and pine tree gardens. There must be a lot of gardeners in that boat, as Groth was sold out. Fantastic for them—not so good for me. But my quest at Groth was for a Martha Washington geranium. They had some fine ones, so when I see Mom later this month, I’ll present her with that belated gift.

Last but not least, we stopped by Susan Appleget-Hurst’s in Winterset. She has lots of herbs, and she gave me a few borage seedlings. They are very small, and I suppose I should have left them potted for a while. The resist to place in the herb bed was too great, and now their survival is in question. Liking to try new things, I spotted some Cuban oregano, which I purchased. Later in the week, I placed it in a larger pot, and it will remain potted in the herb garden. Susan said it would survive in the sun room this winter. When I transplanted it, I couldn’t resist eating a leaf—tasty!

Six stops, and lots to plant. These were tried and true favorites for Beth and me, so by the end of our shopping on Tuesday, we had several flats of plants to plant. And since these places were familiar to me, and I was familiar to some of the staff, my job was made easier. Before buying anything, I ask Beth, or the employee, to let me see the merchandise. Beth has been purchasing plants with me for over 13 years, so when she says “this is a good one,” I can take her word for it. But I just like to see what I’m paying for, as would any regular sighted customer. I can feel for signs of dead or wilted leaves, how wet or dry the soil is, how large the plant is in relation to its pot or tray, and what stage of growth the plant is in. For example, I try to pick annuals that are not in bloom. If I have no choice, I pinch off the flowers when I plant them. This was especially true for the marigolds I purchased. They were healthy, but really too mature. Annuals will bloom again, so there is no harm in doing this. Some of the Sweet William were quite far along in their growth and flower habit, but I just let them alone. A little later, I may pinch off the growth on the flower end of the stem, but since they are perennial, they will not bloom again. And I love to ask what is new and different. Oh and by the way, the Super Fantastic tomatoes were perfect specimens.

Wednesday-Friday were spent planting. I knew where I wanted my plants, and by the time Friday evening rolled around, I had them all in, except for the tomatoes. They were placed in gaps in the potato rows on Sunday morning. Now that task is done, new tasks begin—weeding, watering, and protecting.


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