Wikipedia defines a honey hole as “slang for a location that yields a valued commodity or resource.” In fishing, it could mean a particular spot in the water where conditions are perfect for catching fish. For a “plant junkie”, like myself, it refers to a nursery or grower who has the unusual, the rare and or the remarkable plants that are head and shoulders above the rest.
During the winter months I spend a large part of my time attending trade shows, researching new and exciting product lines and visiting nurseries. January is trade show month and this year the MANTS show (Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show) in Baltimore, Maryland proved very fruitful for our garden center. The MANTS show is one of the largest nursery/garden center trade shows in the country. Just about anything you could imagine in the green industry is represented here. And it was here that I was introduced to a grower with such high standards that I had to take a road trip and visit their organization.
My standards for accepting nursery stock are unyielding. Product must be healthy, true to name, well formed, free from any scars or holes, well rooted & represented better than what most put forth in the market. In a phrase, it must be as close to perfect as you can expect from a living, breathing plant. I have been told, over the years, that I am fussy and picky, but hey that’s just my fastidious personality coming through. My expectations are what they are because I know it can be done.
Our new grower has done such an outstanding job with their plant material that I left the tour grinning. Product knowledge, techniques, inventory control, finished product and overall passion are second to none here. Touring nearly 450 acres on a John Deere Gator, in January’s cold was a thrilling treat. And the goodies that we will receive come early April will impress even the most seasoned plants person.
For starters ‘Fox Valley’ River Birch, Betula nigra ‘Fox Valley’ had even my brother-in-law smirking and he shows little emotion outwardly. This dwarf river birch can easily be kept at just 15-20 feet tall and wide. Also known as ‘Little King,’ ‘Fox Valley’ has been around for over 30 years. Discovered in Illinois, this diminutive birch has gained popularity through the Chicagoland Grows program. An outstanding plant for hedging and even better where vertical space is limited, ‘Little King’ will impress you as it did us, in the winter months, when its peeling bark is showcased.
Two viburnum which leaped out of the nursery fields to greet us were ‘Michael Dodge’ and ‘Asian Beauty.’ Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’ is a wonderful linden viburnum that is rounded & compact in habit. Vivid yellow fruit is displayed from late summer into the early winter. Bright green summer foliage morphs into a reddish burgundy in the fall. Expect a 6-foot x 6-foot plant in a mature state here. ‘Viburnum dilatatum ‘Asian Beauty’ was another linden viburnum that seemed to almost wave its arms up and call us over. This quick grower not only has white flower clusters in the spring with ruffled, dark green leaves, our immediate experience had it showing off its fruit display too. Early fall the show begins with striking small, cherry red fruit persisting far longer than other dilatatum types. A bit larger than ‘Michael Dodge,’ 8-10 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide at maturity. Remember to plant a compatible cultivar nearby to help promote cross-pollination and a heavier fruit set.
‘Cristata’ Japanese Cedar, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata,’ had by far the most descriptive reference of our tour. The Latin cultivar name describes the “crested” appearance of select foliage, however our tour guide, grower and owner likened it to “moose antlers.” Also described as “cock’s combs,” ‘Cristata’s’ fasciated foliage is a consistent abnormality that “plant geeks” dream of. Deep green foliage clothes this sentinel and its finished look towers at an impressive 30-40 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide. I have seen cuttings of this tree taken and implemented into holiday wreath making showing another artistic use for this impressive conifer.
Finally it is difficult to make a Ginkgo tree look impressive at a young age. The efforts of this grower have his Ginkgo biloba ‘Spring Grove’ as chunky little pyramids. Named for the famous cemetery in Cincinnati where it was discovered, ‘Spring Grove’ forms a densely branched upright pyramid maturing at about 15-20 feet tall. The reliable brilliant yellow fall color we have come to expect with Ginkgo is evident here too.
This spring come visit the botanical wonders found in our new honey hole!