Now is best time to try different plants, flowers

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2003

David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to

It's one of the best times of the year, when fantasy reigns and all the possibilities of a robust gardening year lie ahead. There is the hint of warming trends, the tantalizing thought of a hot summer and all the catalogs open on my desk at once. It is sheer unadulterated bliss. Never mind that there are still several months of changeable weather ahead, never mind that we are building our nursery all over again, never mind that there has only been one truly hot summer in the last 20 years. We are in line for a doozy of a season. We might even get corn this year.

The opportunity to try new things is always a draw. We all want the next best thing and the only way to have it is to keep on trying the unfamiliar. I am no exception and I peruse the magazines every day, looking at the perennials being offered by the Dutch, the new varieties being brought in from Germany and what is being introduced by the explorers from the cold rainy mountains of China or Siberia. There are only a few tens of thousands of plants offered in the commercial nursery world and there are millions of species in the world. We would never be able to even look at all that there are and there are hundreds of people who just look and sift and report to the rest of us.

That is just for the new species. There are even more chance mutations of already known plants that expand the color range, or grow slender rather than wide, or have delicately fringed leaves rather than big thick ones. These variations on already familiar themes are the most attractive to the largest number of people.

People look for the new, but not the unfamiliar. It's strange but there is much more demand for a blue rose than for a new species that would have deep blue blooms on a short shrubby frame. The same can be said of unusual colored annuals, the incredible uproar over the white flowered marigold made several millionaires.

One of the plants being introduced this year by the prestigious Blooms of Bressingham Nursery is a purple-leaved hardy geranium with bright blue flowers. The foliage color alone will have it selling like mad, but the fact that it's hardy here and that the purple turns crimson in the latter days of the season will make it one of the "must haves" of 2003.

The last few years has seen the black-leaved snakeroot, a two-foot tall foliage mass with twisting fragrant white bloom spikes, a creeping golden yellow Corydalis with tiny clear yellow trumpets in pale green ferny foliage and a whole mountain of beautiful new bellflowers. Yellow peonies from China, silvery pink masterworts and pink double flowered columbines that look like a genetics experiment have all come from their test gardens. They have dozens of beautiful new plants to offer each year. If you want to look at the selection of last year's favorites, log onto their Web site at and look for the list of top 10 selections for the last few years.

We met the nursery founder, Alan Bloom, at a lecture in Portland, Ore. years ago. He said that in his youth he had traveled to Southeast Alaska to work in the woods as a logger. It was too hard so he went back to the gardening business. Our whole world has benefited from that decision.

Thanks to the many people who stopped me in the street, or called our nursery line expressing indignation that anyone would steal our plants. With help we found some, but keep your eyes open for collections of Sitka Roses, Japanese maples and especially the unusual purple flowering Daphne which will bloom on bare twigs in the next month. The aroma of this will be so distinctive that it can be smelled from the street.

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