Monday, June 21, 2010

Tour a Nursery: In the Garden Nursery

I may have mentioned (once or twice a month, and in comments on the garden blogs of others) how Alaska is the pits when it comes to sourcing interesting, unusual, or newly released plants.  This is one of those cases when being proved wrong is a pleasant experience.  Lorri Abel is the proprietress of In the Garden Nursery, a small specialty nursery tucked away in a south Anchorage neighborhood, a place where the surprises were both pleasant and frequent.

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A very savvy businesswoman and member of the Alaska Master Gardener Association, Ms. Abel not only offers hard-to-find plants for her customers, she has also lined up some of Anchorage’s finest for presentations and demonstrations over the course of the summer.  (Why don’t more nurseries do this?)  Last weekend, Sally Arant gave a class on concrete in the garden and even had some of her fabulous concrete works of art for sale at the end of class.  Check out the nursery website for more upcoming classes as they are added.  I see I missed hearing from Annie Nevaldine (a pro with extensive knowledge of plants and a Master Gardener) and Jane Baldwin (Primula queen and Anchorage Master Gardener prez).  Drat!

Lori was kind enough to let me stop by shortly after opening week in mid-May for some photos. Shall we go in?

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One thing I noticed right away (and will be gratifying to the nearsighted among us) was the plethora of easy to read signage.  No endless wandering (that tends to get expensive for me) for that vine or groundcover when you can see right away…

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…where to go.  I’m very good at snooping around for those new or unusual varieties (my modesty is really shining through here), so imagine my pleasure at discovering Brunnera m. ‘Spring Yellow’, Ligularia ‘Osiris Cafe Noir’, and Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’.  And the goodies didn’t stop there.

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Looking over my list of pleasant surprises, I note many of them are shade plants, or as we in Alaska call them, full sun plants.  Yep, we grow Hostas in sun.  Crazy, I know, but it just doesn’t get hot here (75F is a scorcher) and our nights (and soils) are cool so we get away with it.  Some other uncommon treasures: Hepatica americana, Athyrium ‘Lady in Red’, Epimedium (at least three types that I saw), Aruncus ‘Guinea Fowl’, Uvularia grandiflora, and about three or four different Cimicifugas.  Won’t find this list at the ol’ home improvement store.  I know, I’ve checked.

And how many nurseries have a sale table?  Off the top of my head: none around here.  Many just pitch less than stellar specimens or overstock in the trash.  I just saw some lush specimens of Isolepis cernua (fiber optic grass) piled up in the trash at a nursery I won’t name.  (At that moment, I contemplated dumpster diving for the first time since my college days.)  None of that wasteful pitching here…off to the sale table they go.

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I was thrilled to see a section devoted to ornamental grasses, which don’t get much attention in Alaska.  And surprise, surprise, I picked up a grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Eldorado’) I didn’t have.  Actually, as a side note, I thought I had ‘Eldorado’ and was unimpressed with the supposed “gold” tinge.  No wonder.  My specimens must have been mislabeled and are very likely ‘Avalanche'.  I am happy to report ‘Eldorado’ does indeed have a pronounced gold tinge, for those that are wondering.

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This isn’t exclusively a perennial nursery.  There’s a bit of everything.  I found cheerful annuals (like the pansies below) just begging for me to take their picture.  I notice I’m having a yellow moment here.  Noteworthy because I have heretofore forbidden myself to have any more yellow moments.  They draw attention to the dreadful yellow play slide in the back yard…oops, I meant back garden: thanks Noelle.  The yellow slide will be covered in a future philosophical rant upon the fascinating subject of children's play equipment. 

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Now, where was I?  Oh, yes.  There were also trees and shrubs to be had.  Don’t the dapper chaps below look nice?  I had to be very firm with myself, “No more room for shrubbery, no matter how small.”  But aren’t they cute?  Sort of like the horticultural equivalent of puppies or kittens, my eye was just drawn to them.  The kids have always wanted a pet, but I don’t think this is what they had in mind.  Which is too bad because these will never chew shoes, spray furniture, or develop a barking habit.

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Is the non-gardening spouse or companion in a decline over having to troll the nursery for hours and hours?  Or even fifteen minutes?  Clever Ms. Abel has developed a place here for them.  A very inviting and comfortable looking place, too.  I didn’t see any sticks for roasting marshmallows over the fire pit, but then I’d never leave if there was.

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Wow, a whole section (and bona fide sign) for our humble native plants.  Again, a new sighting for me at Alaska nurseries.  Usually, our native plants are relegated to some dark, unlabelled corner of retail sales, like Harry Potter shut up in the broom cupboard.  They are there, but unacknowledged.  Not so, here.

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The sly ones amongst the readership are probably wondering how many truckloads of plants were purchased.  I stunned even myself and went away with just a flat.  Disciplined, that’s me.  Of course I won’t promise not to stop by and pick up more bits and pieces for the garden.  The selection is too good, and Lorri says she can get wiped out of certain plants after a garden designer stops by and buys the whole lot.  You’ve been warned…get over to In the Garden Nursery, pronto.

Do nurseries in your area have seating areas for non-shopping companions?  Sections for native plants?  Good signage?


  1. This is a delightful tour. Heck I would like some seating in a nursery so I could sit down and contemplate just what I wanted to purchase. Sometimes I look so long I get worn out before making a purchase. Then I think I will just come back later, sometimes I do sometimes I don't. I like the big signage too. It looks inviting. Like come hither and look at what is a vine... I haven't seen either at any nursery I have perused.

  2. Looks like a fun haunt, Christine! If I lived near, you would find me there too. Happy Summer :)

  3. Thank-you - I enjoyed the tour of the plant nursery very much. Lots there I would want to buy especially as the shade plants would do well in my full sun (Alaskan eqivalent) garden


  4. Oh, I would be in that much more trouble if our local nursery had a 'sale' table. I would take so many plants home and attempt to nurse them back to life.

  5. I grow tons of native grasses. Passers by always compliment me on them. They're actually weeds. But, I never spill the beans.

    Ya know... your gardening buddies in the lower 48 could help you out with cool plants. I have quite a few goodies that could probably handle your growing zone. Let's talk turkey at seed harvest time! :)

  6. What a lovely garden center. It would be such a dream to own one of these!

  7. That does look like a great nursery! My favorite nursery near here does have a little cafe, perfect for the non shopping spouse to sit and drink coffee or eat. I love the signs they have, very clear and easy to read. So often the signs are in strange places or hard to read. The native sections here are starting to get a little better.

  8. I think I'd share your love of this nursery if I were an Alaskan gardener. Other nurseries could learn much from this post. My favorite nursery has a big board listing the plants in each numbered section. When I'm in a hurry the directory is invaluable, but I usually wander just because it's fun.

  9. I like that nursery for all the reasons you do, the signs, the sections, the seating. One high-end nursery here in CT has a botanical garden like setting with a pond and gazebo. I'm glad you found a great plant source near you! (Love the little round shrub-pets)

  10. Fabulous tour. I 've never known a nursery to have a sale table. Good thing becaue I'm sure al those substandard plants would end up in my garden. I'm a sucker for sales. Interesting that you grow hostas in the sun. I never thought about temperature instead of shade or sun. My garden is in zone 3. It is still too hot in the sunshine so Hostas have to be grown in the shade.

  11. Christine, This looks like a wonderful place. I can't think of any nurseries I visit that have a seating area for non-gardeners -- and I wonder why not, because it's such a clever idea. (I bet the gardeners are more likely to stay longer and spend more money!) My own favorite nursery has plants organized on tables that are numbered sequentially and then a central sign board that lists all the plants alphabetically and tells you what table they're on. -Jean

  12. What a great nursery! There are some beautiful plants.

    About growing hostas in the sun - Here in Alabama, we are quite opposite - many full sun plants can take some shade, because of the heat and intensity of our sun.

  13. I like the signs! And what a good idea - to have a special area where husbands can read a paper while ladies are shopping (or opposite)!
    Christine, thanks for your comment on my post. I will ask Jim what type of grass is that one, white, and let you know.

  14. Most of our nurseries have 'tea and cake' or 'lunch' there or nearby for the Ungardener. With water shortages, water-wise indigenous plants are steadily pushing aside things like roses. Unless it is a dedicated rose nursery. We were at Ludwig's yesterday, getting a replacement for the one that didn't make it thru the summer.

  15. Christine, Jim doesn't remember where he purchased the white grass and its name. He wrote: "it has a mind of it's own. it starts out in the spring kind of tidy. grows to 1 foot or less. stays within bounds. then in the fall it dies back an goes dormant".

  16. Christine, With a shortage of nurseries in Alaska, I am so glad you have this great one to visit. One of the joys of gardening, I think, is browsing the gardening centers. Love all the things you love about this one. Pam x


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