The lone voice of horticultural reason

You Heard It Here First

April 1, 2002 — As long and insufferable as a Disney park parade, the winter of 2001/2002 releases its grasp on our forgotten patch of tundra, and gives ground to blessed spring. As I gaze out my second floor window, what’s that I spy pushing up through the dwindling drifts of snow? Could it be? Yes! And over there, and there, and there … the handles of my gardening tools, or half of them anyway, scattered about the back yard, right where I left them last fall. And my new hose! I thought I’d lost it. To the Renegade Gardener, these are classic harbingers of spring.

We have much to discuss, but first a bit of housekeeping. For years now I’ve been lying in my bio, so over the winter I decided to correct some of the more outlandish misstatements and set the record straight. Visitors curious about my true past will wish to click on “The Story of the Renegade Gardener.”

New this season I’m going to be offering a small collection of gardening products that I’ve featured on the site in the past, or stumbled upon of late. Where are they? As usual, my Webmaster and I are still cooking a few bugs out, but hope to have the products page up in the next few weeks. I’m choosing only products I’ve used and found superior, but limiting the number of gadgets offered. I don’t want to lose too much money selling products on the Internet.

And that’s about it, because frankly, it’s April 1st, and in the north that means there is a whole lot of nothin’ you should be out doing in your garden. So to fill space I thought I’d reproduce just a few of the dozens of news items and press releases I received over the winter from wire services and companies in the gardening industry. I’ve edited a few for space, but what follows is pretty much what came out of my mailbox. There’s a lot of exciting news, so as always, feel free to e-mail these to friends and fellow gardeners.

Enjoy. And welcome back!



01-25-02/Keokuk, Iowa (AP) — With a hug from her daughter and honks from a few faithful customers pulling out of her parking lot, Betty Hart, owner of Betty’s Garden Patch, pulled shut the front door to her greenhouse and locked it for good. The third-generation retail nursery was the last independently owned and operated nursery in America.

“I held out as long as I could,” said a tearful Hart. “Poinsettia sales got us through Christmas, but there was no sense in starting lilies for Easter or seeding annuals for spring. No one’s buying their plants from us when they can get them cheaper at the Wal-Mark down the street.”

The closing means that starting this spring, the only retailers in America selling annual bedding plants, perennials, trees, and shrubs to gardeners will be the three, super-sized “box store” chains operated by Arkansas-based Wal-Mark, North Carolina-based Lows, and the largest of the three, The Home Station, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

Betty’s Garden Patch was the last of an estimated 11,670 independent nurseries in the country to have gone out of business over the past decade, as the larger box stores have expanded into the lucrative gardening retail sector. “We’ve now answered every gardener’s dream – one-stop shopping, with unbelievably low prices,” said Valerie Conrad, senior vice president of marketing for The Home Station. “A good gardener can fool mother nature, but I pity the fool who fights the nature of economics.”

Concerns have been shared by some gardeners that the smaller, “ma and pa” operations, snuffed to dust by the relentless expansion of box stores, were specialty growers offering a variety of plants not found in the parking lots of Wal-Mark, Lows, and The Home Station. The smaller nurseries also built their reputations by growing plants with the care and professional acumen that made for a high-quality product.

“I think American gardeners will discover we’ve done them a favor,” said Kent Miles, gardening trend analyst for Lows. “By carefully dictating what the American consumer really wants, we are able to narrow a harried homeowner’s choices. Red geraniums are going to be big this spring, and that’s what you’ll see carpeting our parking lots.” Miles also claims that the quality and care of these plants will not be an issue. “Each and every Lows nursery center is managed by a former plumber – and who knows more about watering than a plumber?”

Homeowners who live hundreds of miles from their nearest Wal-Mark, Lows, or The Home Station outlet needn’t worry about distance, either. “At Wal-Mark, customers can order plants on-line, or via catalog, then we’ll ship their plants anywhere in the U.S., for a very small charge,” stated Buford McCoy, spokesperson for Wal-Mark. “We saw that concern coming. That’s why we purchased UPS last week. Besides, the big cost in shipping is weight. Homeowners will still pay less – all our plants, even the trees, are tiny.”


03-08-02/Mount Vernon, Indiana – Tired of watching flowers wither and die? Upset that when red clashes with orange, the only remedy is actually getting off your rocker, stepping into the garden, and moving plants by utilizing dirty, ungainly tools? Disappointed when October frosts make impatiens go bye-bye? Polytech Corporation, the nation’s leading manufacturer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products for daycare centers, schools, home, and garden, announces the debut of the Eternity™ line of easy, care-free, deer-proof, fool-proof, no-toil, low-cost, low-maintenance, never-fade, can’t-break-’em-with-a-stick plastic annuals and perennials.

“We were sitting around the lunchroom one day, discussing an idea my wife had for plastic koi, when it hit me,” said Mert Barr, president of Polytech. “Jap catfish, hell, the big money’s in flowers.”

Eternity™ Plastic Flowers never need watering, fertilizing, mulching, pruning, deadheading, or division. And since the entire flower is made of 100% polyvinyl chloride, garden diseases caused by pests and fungi are a thing of the past. “Just think what it means for the environment,” says Clyde Buhler, senior chemist for Polytech. “Homeowners can pour all their pesticides and fungicides right down the drain. We’ve replaced the need for all those toxic chemicals with acre upon acre of PVC.”

Creating a colorful, care-free garden with Eternity™ Plastic Flowers is easy; just insert the hollow base tubes into the ground with a simple whack from a ball peen hammer, then snap the flower stems into place. A patented release clasp at the base makes it easy to move flowers whenever you’d like a fresh look. Advanced gardeners can even try removing all the flowers for winter!

First to market will be Polytech’s introductory line of American gardeners’ favorite annuals – impatiens, zinnias, marigolds, and geraniums. Said Barr, “I told our production people to hold off until the colors of the petals were exactly right. Wait until you see the red geraniums. They nailed it.”

Next will come their complete line of plastic perennials, with the “Stella de Oro” daylily planned for the first extrusion. “We’ve done our homework,” said Barr. “Stella is the most popular perennial plant in America, and our PVC version will be so detailed you won’t be able to tell it from the real thing. What’s more, we’ll be selling gardeners the first daylily that really does bloom all season long.”


11-13-01/Dusseldorf – Scientists at the C.E. Kreisling Nursery research and propagation lab have announced patent application for a new hosta so small it is invisible to the naked eye. The new plant, Hosta ridiculosa ‘Caligula’ will be available to the international nursery trade beginning in April of 2004.

“We are extremely excited,” said Klaus Froilech, director for the Kreisling lab. “The international demand from gardeners for dwarf varieties of plants is insatiable, particularly among hosta fanatics.” Froilech stated that ‘Caligula’ can be readily seen using most standard magnifying glasses, and described the plant as having dark green, narrow leaves fringed with yellow. “Although the yellow washes out to white if you grow the plant in too much sun,” cautioned Froilech.

The plant displays a heavy profusion of lilac flowers in mid-season. “It’s exceptional in flower,” said Froilech. “Even without the magnifying glass, you can almost see them.”

Similar to all new patented plant introductions, propagation is prohibited once the plant leaves the Kreisling nursery. Lawyers for the nursery are also working to institute international laws making it illegal for gardeners to claim to friends and neighbors that they have the plant in their garden, but have misplaced their magnifying glass.

Cost of the plant is expected to be around $360.00 (US) per root segment. In the U.S., gardeners will be able to purchase ‘Caligula’ at all Wal-Mark, Lows, and The Home Station stores. Sales will be limited to one root segment per customer.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener