TOTW: Sources
Tue, 11 Mar 2003 19:41:25 PST
I'm going to kill two birds here with one stone by discussing Allium, last 
week's TOTW, and Sources, this week's TOTW.

Back in the 70s there was a well known (infamous) nursery in Massauchusetts 
known as Blackthorne Gardens.  For a small local area nursery, they produced 
an impressive glossy color catalog with an overdose of nursery hype and big 
$$ items.  It caught my eye when a whole page featured a new and fantastic 
Allium hybrid, the page gushing with poetic musings of this rare Chinese 
allium species which he (Mr. Blackthorne) had reputably hybridized... 
resulting in an ethereal blue-flowered allium with fabulous foliage and 
sky-blue flowers... the plant in question: Allium tanguticum 'Blue Skies'.

I received plants from Blackthorne Gardens, and subsequently also received 
plants second-hand from other sources in the interest of verifying the claim. 
 It turns out that the plant in question is an insipid and inferior form of 
Allium senescens ssp. montanum (now A. lusitanicum) with overly tall stems 
and dull, washed out white-pinkish-lilac flowers (yawn).  The true A. 
tanguticum is not in cultivation... it's a bulbous species (not rhizomatous 
as with the imposter) with red-purple flowers, not blue.  In the years that 
followed, I battled against this hoax and complete misnomer, but the plant 
shows up everywhere and still to this day this inferior pale pinkish plant is 
described as "blue" (it's an emperor's clothes thing).

The hoax was primarily perpetuated by a well-known bulb "specialty grower" in 
Wisconsin (one of the names begins with the letter "z" and ends with 
"immerman"), whether knowingly or not, they continued to sell the plant under 
this name for many years after sending letters repeatedly informing them of 
the mistake.  I also corresponded with the actually grower of the plant, a 
wholesaler in Oregon that grew this plant by the thousands and sold most of 
his plants to that nursery.  Via our correspondance, the grower became quite 
convinced about the error, then tried to get the bulb nursery to accept the 
correction, but they refused and continued to sell under the imposter name in 
spite of the corrected name it was supplied under.  The grower, before he was 
aware of the error, had also named a seedling from the so-called 'Blue Skies" 
and named it A. tanguticum "Summer Skies", which became as entrenched as the 
original imposter, but in this case it was done naively. That cultivar wasn't 
much better than the miserable 'Blue Skies', and it still wasn't anything 
close to A. tanguticum.  

The moral is, sometimes these errors become so entrenched, that it is near 
impossible to correct the bogus mistake or egregious indiscretion.  In this 
case, I'm convinced that the original offering was a hoax, and the subsequent 
"turning a blind eye" by the Wisconsin nursery was spurred on by $$$.  By the 
way, the original Blackthorne Nursery was banned from advertiseing in the 
ARGS bulletins (American Rock Garden Society) due to the number of complaints 
against the nursery.

Mark McDonough        Pepperell, Massachusetts, United States    "New England"               USDA Zone 5
>> web site under construction - <<
     alliums, bulbs, penstemons, hardy hibiscus, western 
            american alpines, iris, plants of all types!

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