The big sale, a great day

Dwarf Patio Peonies are bred for life in containers. (David Lendrum | For the Juneau Empire)

Saturday morning, the day before Mothers Day, at Safeway’s parking lot on the day of the big plant sale, the excitement is palpable as volunteers set out flats of perennials and tubs of shrubbery. The 4-H kids are at one end of the spectrum, looking over the field towards the adults and seeing potential lives for themselves. Events like this are a combination revival, circus and reunion, as familiar faces and new attendees mingle in the frenzy.

 

Pieces of history are batted about, personalities discussed in whispers appear, and parts of old Juneau gardens make their way from yard to yard. This annual plant sale, evolved from venerable Juneau Garden Club sales, has grown to festival proportions. There are actually two festivals going on simultaneously, and in the same location. The first party is put on and attended by gardening associations and businesses; Master Gardeners, Primrose Society, 4-H, Friends of the Arboretum, and Juneau’s Garden Club. The other one is everybody else, the hundreds on the other side of the yellow tapes.

The first party has been planned for weeks, preparations have been passed along, plants divided and rooted containers cleaned and stored, and business supplies readied. Email lists whisper across the community, and telephone trees groan under weight of information, as tasks are apportioned and needs met. There is as much fun in assembling such an event as in going to one.

Saturday morning, plants arrive in trunks, station wagons and pickups, piling up like driftwood and being sorted into appropriate order by skilled hands. Names are checked, varieties are made neighbors, and sizes ranked. Many of these plants are returning to the arena whence they came, having been purchased at previous sales and grown to where they could be made divisible again. Plants passed on this way are often unavailable through commercial channels, heirlooms like sprouts from Telephone Hill cherries or local creations like Mrs. Jensen’s spectacular primroses. Many new additions to the gardening palate are seen here for the first time, this year look for the Primroses from the Arboretum, and the new dwarf Patio Peonies that are bred for life in containers. Their shorter stems with full sized flowers mean greater rain resistance, and being able to keep them in a container means they can become real focal points when they’re in bloom.

Some earlybird dealing goes on, side transactions are discussed, someone sees something brought by somebody else, and says “I’ve got lots of that, but I didn’t think anybody wanted it.” They are overheard and arrangements are made to meet tomorrow and share out the bounty. A little warning murmur passes, as particularly invasive plants are set out, “Don’t plant that Bishops Weed by your Bleeding Heart, it will eat it up.” Everything looks lovely. The plants are healthy, the day is sunny, and everybody is ready.

The second party comes together while the first is still in their private realm; buzzing with anticipation and desire; boxes, flats and gloves in hand, they surge towards the tables as soon as the 9 signal allows them access. Nothing lasts long, treasures are handed over, bargains snapped up and thousands of small lives are sent along the network to new quarters.

Friendships have been renewed, acquaintances have blossomed into something closer as shared interests emerge, and another community bond is built. Gardeners are not single interest personalities, they all have full and valuable lives, but meeting with others in events like this big plant sale lets them indulge in some part that is real fulfilling.

The plants are a reason for the event, fundraising for the groups is a reason for the event, and access to local garden stuff is a reason for the event, but the effects of this day’s activities go far beyond these. People meet, allow other barriers to fade, and share feelings and experiences that predate current conflicts. Dirt heals.

Then the sale is over, the last plants are half price, then some stragglers show up and take everything left for a fixed price, the tables come down and attention is passed to the rest of the day. Many of the participants head directly home to plant their new acquisitions, lots go on to the other events of the day.

Know & Go

What: Plant sale

Date: Saturday, May 13, starting at 9 a.m.

Where: Safeway parking lot


• David Lendrum and Margaret Tharp operate Landscape Alaska, a nursery and landscape business located on the Back Loop Road in Juneau. Visit their website at www.landscapealaska.com, or reach them at landscapealaska@gmail.com. This column “Landscape Alaska” appears every two weeks.


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