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Re: Tony Avent in NYTimes

Geez I wish I lived near that place.

neIN, Zone 5
----- Original Message ----- From: "Donna" <gossiper@sbcglobal.net>
To: <gardenchat@hort.net>
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2006 9:25 PM
Subject: RE: [CHAT] Tony Avent in NYTimes

Speaking of new plants, got a note from a local nursery/garden center here
today. (yes Kitty, THAT nursery)

Claims to have a hundred new and different plants this year. Now that is
scary, although it depends on what he considers new as well as how he is
counting them. Also sucking me into going there with promises of flowering
greenhouses for that 'green fix' and a coupon for a free perennial of my

I think I need to avoid the place this year and get organized here, but the
seminar on new and underused perennials does sound like something I would


-----Original Message-----
From: owner-gardenchat@hort.net [mailto:owner-gardenchat@hort.net] On
Behalf Of Daryl
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2006 1:43 PM
To: gardenchat@hort.net
Subject: Re: [CHAT] Tony Avent in NYTimes

Zem and all,

The newer cultivars of Kniphofia that are coming out of England are
spectacular. There are what seem like dozens, in all kinds of colors
from the traditional red to Creamsicle colors to shades of light yellow
ivory, to golden. I fell in love with 'Shining Sceptre' when I was at
Wisley, but it was just one of many.

And yes, Colocasias are popular here in the south, but there's been an
explosion in the Colocasias and Alocasias available. It used to be that
could find the plain green in either "pointy-uppy" or "hangy-downy", now
I've got a half a dozen others in different colors and patterns, and that
isn't even a drop in the bucket to what's out there.

d (plant nerd)

----- Original Message -----
From: "Zemuly Sanders" <zsanders@midsouth.rr.com>
To: <gardenchat@hort.net>
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2006 2:01 PM
Subject: Re: [CHAT] Tony Avent in NYTimes

> Interesting article, Jim. I didn't know Agapanthus and Kniphofia were
> unusual. I've had them in my yard here for the past 8 years, and I've
> know about Agapanthus for years. The same holds true for Colocasia.
> been a staple in southern gardens forever.
> zem
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "james singer" <islandjim1@verizon.net>
> To: "Garden Chat" <gardenchat@hort.net>
> Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2006 5:45 AM
> Subject: [CHAT] Tony Avent in NYTimes
>> For those who don't peruse the regularly Times, here's this mornings
>> article on Tony Avent.
>> In the Plant Game, Some Bets Are In
>> Published: April 6, 2006
>> TONY AVENT is not too worried about reports that the garden market is
>> in decline, or so he would have you believe. Mr. Avent, a co-owner of
>> Plant Delights Nursery, a retail and mail-order concern in Raleigh,
>> N.C., acknowledged recently that "the slump is real"  after years of
>> double-digit sales increases, he said, the business saw a decrease in
>> sales of 2.2 percent in 2004 and no growth last year. But "these >> things
>> happen in cycles," he said.
>> Mr. Avent is relying on his customer base, which he says is made up
>> mainly of "collectors" (as opposed to "mainstream" buyers, who >> frequent
>> local nurseries and garden centers, or what he calls the "bottom
>> feeders," who buy on impulse at big box stores and home improvement
>> outlets) to help him cycle out of the current downturn. Plant Delights
>> is one of the country's premier "boutique" nurseries, known, along >> with
>> others like Heronswood in Washington state, Fairweather Gardens in New
>> Jersey and Forestfarm in Oregon, for attracting serious gardeners >> every
>> spring with new and unexpected botanical eye candy.
>> And Mr. Avent, who owns the nursery with his wife, Michelle, has
>> developed a reputation among his customers for predicting and even
>> setting trends in gardening. In the early 1980's, he took tropical
>> houseplants off the windowsill and planted them in outdoor beds and
>> containers for summer, creating a craze for frost-tender perennials
>> that continues today. In the mid 90's, he bet on hostas, breeding his
>> own (and giving them ear-catching names like Elvis Lives, Elephant
>> Burgers and Hosta Bubba); they are now among the best-selling
>> perennials on the market. And 10 years ago he fell for Arisaema 
>> jack-in-the-pulpits  from Asia, contributing to what became a >> national
>> love affair with the plants.
>> For customers like Mark Veeder, a New York City events planner with a
>> garden in Barryville, N.Y., who flew to North Carolina and filled a
>> rented truck with plants from the nursery in 2001, it "is a kind of
>> mecca." Its huge test garden has more than 17,000 specimens so "you >> can
>> see how the plants grow," he said, and it offers "the newest, most
>> sought-after items"  plants that get the collector's heart thumping.
>> "Our goal is to separate the winners from the losers so our customers
>> don't have to," said Mr. Avent, who travels constantly in search of >> new
>> plants, networking with other plant breeders and what are known as
>> "sport fishermen" (avid collectors who search out and develop the
>> unexpected plant mutations that go unnoticed at commercial nurseries),
>> as well as his customers, who are often knowledgeable themselves.
>> Some of Mr. Avent's newest plants come from nurseries in other
>> countries, like England, that are more horticulturally advanced than
>> the United States. (Asked to pinpoint the cultural difference, Mr.
>> Avent said: "If you're a kid in England and you're not interested in
>> gardening, your parents take you to a psychiatrist to find out why. If
>> you're a kid in the United States and you're interested in gardening,
>> your parents take you to a psychiatrist to find out why.") Two of the
>> most promising English imports, he said, are Agapanthus and Kniphofia,
>> both of which are already popular on the West Coast.
>> "They're great, tacky, gaudy plants," Mr. Avent said, "and I think
>> that's why they're becoming popular. People are inherently tacky and
>> gaudy, and at certain times in history that becomes acceptable."
>> Other new favorites are hybrids, like the Colocasia, or >> elephant's-ear,
>> that he has been breeding in collaboration with a University of Hawaii
>> professor. These rugged tropical plants, often with enormous leaves,
>> have been growing in popularity for a few years  perhaps, Mr. Avent
>> speculates, because gardeners in temperate climates are drawn to their
>> exoticism and to the challenge that growing a tropical plant in a
>> temperate climate seems to present. "When you give people something
>> they think they can't grow, they love it," he said. He seems confident
>> that his new breeds, which are still in development, will have huge
>> commercial appeal when they are introduced to the market in the next
>> year or so.
>> Some of Mr. Avent's finds come from the wild and are grown from seed
>> and then introduced to the market. "People are always looking for
>> something that will take shade and be durable," he said. "That's one
>> reason I think wild ginger has tremendous potential," he added of a
>> plant that enjoys cult status in Japan but is only beginning to find
>> its place in the American market.
>> Another Avent success story is the Baptisia minor (or Blue Pearls). >> Ten
>> years ago, having witnessed the popularity of the Baptisia australis, >> a
>> widely available, drought-resistant plant with indigo flowers, he made
>> repeated trips through the backwoods of the Southeast, from North
>> Carolina to Texas, in search of a smaller, more marketable version of
>> the species growing in the wild.
>> After gathering seeds from 30 different varieties, he found a compact
>> one that bloomed in profusion, growing 56 flower spikes on each plant,
>> compared with an average of six on a typical wild Baptisia. He
>> introduced the new plant to the market last year and already it is so
>> popular, he said, that his nursery "can hardly produce it fast enough"
>> to keep it in stock.
>> Still other plants, like the ferns he sees "coming back in," are not
>> new but renewed, brought back after decades out of the public eye.
>> These plants, infamous as symbols of 1970's dicor, are now selling >> well
>> for outdoor use in shady gardens. (Ferns, like many other plants, he
>> noted, move in 30-year fashion cycles.) Mr. Avent has brought back a
>> few fern varieties that had been popular Victorian plants, but were
>> nearly lost forever.
>> Mr. Avent is adamant that timing is all when it comes to a plant's
>> market potential. Plants have to be novel enough to catch the eye but
>> can't stand out so far from the pack that they intimidate consumers.
>> His own experience bears this out. He has occasionally been so far
>> ahead of the curve that it has taken nearly a full fashion cycle for
>> the world to catch up. In 1981, he grew a pineapple lily, or Eucomis,
>> from seed that came up with striking purple leaves, instead of the
>> usual green. He introduced it to the market as Eucomis Sparkling
>> Burgundy, but it did not become a huge success for more than two
>> decades.
>> Mr. Avent is the first to admit that he sometimes errs on the side of
>> optimism, particularly when it comes to the cold tolerance of plants.
>> "I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself," he said.
>> "At least three times." He claims that Agave Silver Surfer and >> Acanthus
>> mollis, which have done well in North Carolina, are strong enough to
>> survive colder climates farther north, although some gardeners,
>> including this one, have not had such luck. (I did have more success
>> with the hardier Acanthus hungaricus, which blooms freely in my Zone 6
>> garden, where the temperature can drop to as low as minus 10; Mr. >> Avent
>> has it in his display gardens this year.)
>> Mr. Avent's serious plant collectors, like Mr. Veeder, reject the
>> suggestion that the recent downturn in sales may be a sign that
>> gardening is falling from favor. "Never," he said. "I still think
>> people are longing to connect to each other and feel a sense of
>> belonging." Gardening, he said, "creates an occasion to connect with
>> people." And Mr. Avent, for his part, is grateful for customers like
>> Mr. Veeder, comparing their devotion to the fanaticism of antiques
>> collectors. Still, he points to what he sees as a crucial difference.
>> "I bought an antique chest, and I've watched it all year," he said. >> "It
>> hasn't grown an inch."

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