Question regarding commercial advertising

Jane McGary
Wed, 20 Jun 2018 09:59:41 PDT
I've been purchasing plants and bulbs for about 35 years now. I'm 
fortunate to live in Clackamas County, Oregon, which has more nurseries 
than any other US county, so "local" can mean anything from a daphne at 
the farmers' market to a viburnum from the big Monrovia fields on the 
other side of the river. I buy some unusual cultivars and rooted 
cuttings for cutflowers by mail order, mostly from specialty nurseries. 
Most years I obtain some commercial bulbs for planting out in front of 
the house -- daffodils to distract the bulb fly from the good ones in 
back, anemones and crocuses for the bulb lawn, etc. Almost all of my 
bulb "collection" has been grown from seed.

I agree with Robin that there's false advertising by large commercial 
nurseries, but small ones do so as well, especially in exaggerating 
cold-hardiness. They may not mean to, but if you're growing plants on an 
island you don't have the same conditions as most of your customers who 
live 150 km or more inland. Conversely, nurseries in colder areas who 
keep all their stock in greenhouses may produce plants that are hard to 
acclimate to outdoor conditions anywhere. Growing your own from seed is 
likely to result in losses, but the survivors will be easier to keep, 
and much cheaper.

Two years ago I had the experience Ellen mentions of buying a shrub that 
had been bulked up by keeping two cuttings in one pot, but I got it at 
the farmers' market and the grower told me about it. It's a hybrid 
daphne; I was able to disentangle the root systems, potted them 
separately for a couple of months before planting out, and now have two 
very fine shrubs. This spring I went on a spending spree on Dianthus 
cultivars. One nursery sent me excellent plants, but another's plants 
had been in their pots far too long (I repotted them and waited until 
they recovered to plant them out). I almost never put a purchased plant 
into the garden the day after I get it. For one thing, you have to watch 
them for disease.

As for bulbs that fail, it helps to understand the growth cycles, 
natural habitats, and structure of the particular species and genera. 
Bulbs with strong tunics, such as tulips, can stand dry storage much 
better than those without tunics, such as most Fritillaria. A species 
native to rocky desert will survive storage better than one native to 
river meadows. A species native to the alpine zone may not flourish 
without a long winter dormancy (hence the plants "hardy in Denver" that 
can't be grown in lowland gardens). It is also instructive to learn how 
commercial bulbs are grown and processed in the Netherlands, where they 
can be grown in sand, heavily fertilized, protected from predators, 
lifted and kept in warehouses controlled for temperature and humidity, 
and exported in advantageous condition. After a month at Home Depot and 
transfer to a home garden, they'll likely perform for a year but that 
may be the limit of their adaptability. Moreover, controlled conditions 
can suppress the activity of viruses, which may resurface in the home 
garden; that's why all my tulips are grown from seed, and I buy lily 
bulbs only from The Lily Garden, which I trust to provide clean stock.

So read, read, read, and be prepared to lose some plants anyway. You can 
identify an experienced gardener by their possession of a big bag of 
plantless labels.

Jane McGary

Portland, Oregon, USA

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