This coming Saturday, March 3rd, Old Goat Farm will take part in the Northwest Horticultural Society annual spring ephemeral plant sale. We usually participate in both the spring and fall NHS plant sales. It always gives me an appreciation for all the hard work that these small specialty nurseries go through to do this regularly.
Any nursery business is hard work but when you grow your own plants it puts the business in a whole new category. Then having to take them from one event to another means a lot of lifting and hauling. It takes a lot of advance planning, at least the fall before and sometimes years ahead of time. If you are not using heated greenhouses it may take a few years to get a plant worth selling.
Old Goat Farm propagates a couple different ways. We have a couple small heated greenhouses but also grow quite a bit outdoors. We use the heated greenhouses to start primroses and annual seeds about this time of year. We also do cuttings of zonal geranium, rhododendrons and hydrangeas that we have in the garden. We also winter over stock plants to take cuttings from later and we do divisions from larger plants in the garden.
In the unheated hoop-house we start several hundred spring ephemerals (plants that come up early bloom and then go summer dormant) such as tulips, crocus, anemone, fritillary, snowdrops, trilliums and eranthis. This has to be done in about October and then hope they are blooming about the time of this sale in early March. Sometimes we have to move some flats into the heated greenhouse briefly to get them started and then back into the cold to acclimate. I don’t even want to know how many times I move the same plant before it ends up in the hand of a gardener. You can have a wonderful plant and if it isn’t blooming it is a much harder sale. Anything blooming flies out the door. The trick this year is to see what I can get blooming on March 3rd. With about 8 inches of snow and temperatures in the mid teens just a bit over a week ago I wasn’t sure we would have anything but its looking up now. I don’t even want to know how many times I have moved these same plants in and out for protection.
We also grow a number of plants outside. I’m particularly fond of peonies. I grow about a half dozen species from seed. This is a bit of a longer commitment. The seeds have what is called a double dormancy (it takes two years to germinate). This means you are 3 years into the plant before you get even a tiny seedling. To get a blooming plant takes 5 to 7 years and it is still just a 1 gallon size plant. I seemed to be attracted to plants like this. I also like to grow trilliums from seed which are also very slow. My theory is if you do it every year after the first waiting stretch then you have them coming on every year. Just don’t stop.
All this work takes place before you even get the truck loaded. Then it is a 100 mile round trip to the sale.
The sale is the fun part. There are usually about 20 other growers there with a vast array of plant material. I have also been involved with the Northwest Horticultural Society for a number of years so I see lots of friends and colleagues there.
I encourage you all to shop these specialty plants sales. Not only are you helping to support some of the best plants people in the business but you also get some of the best plants out there. It’s important to encourage these great growers or you may soon lose them to the big box stores.
It may seem early since the weather has been a bit harsh this winter but the calendar says spring is just around the corner so believe it. Let another season begin!