If you have ever had green fever, you know it. Sometime during the spring, urges to dig in the soil and magically coax forth nature take hold. For some, it is the moment they receive the mail-order seed catalogs in the darkest days of winter. For others, the first signs of tulips pushing out of the soil begin to stir up their greenness. For those who cannot see the magic-the wonders of nature rebirthing out of the earth every year from winter's sleep-I am sorry for you. You can stop reading now.
As nurseries put out their young seedlings and Boise's green thumbs prepare the beds with roto-tillers, spades and hoes, area gardeners eagerly await what has become the plant nerd's two biggest events of the year: the Idaho Botanical Garden's ninth annual plant sale (in cooperation with the Boise State Horticulture Program) and the Idaho Native Plant Society's sale at the MK Nature Center. Being an über-plant nerd myself, I wanted a preview of what gardeners can expect of this Friday and Saturday's sale. Well, OK, maybe I pushed the ethics of my journalistic access to stake out some of the plants I want to make a beeline for as soon as the sale begins. Sometimes being in the media has its privileges and if you can't take advantage of that, well, that leaves just taking advantage of yourself. And that isn't very pretty.
The Idaho Botanical Garden's plant sale has become the premiere plant sale of the valley. To take full advantage of the event, sharpen your shopping instincts and be ready to sprint once the gates fly open with a take-no-prisoners attitude. But first, you need to know what is worthy this year.
Rebecca Hudson, the IDBG garden manager, explained the highlights of the show via a tour of the greenhouses and is a self-described plant geek. "I love watching for the first perennial to pop up," she said with a green sparkle in her eye and dirt beneath her fingernails. "It still amazes me to watch. Anyone can go to Fred Meyer for plants, but going to a plant sale, where plant geeks run it, is where you'll find the best specimens."
At this year's sale, you'll find a large number of my favorite plants, succulents. They weren't quite ready for last year's sale, as they started early from seeds and cuttings, but this year they're plump and ready. While not winter hardy, succulents make for great patio pots. Just in time for Idaho's worst drought on record, this year's sale will also feature many more native and xeric plants, which require a lot less water. Take advantage of this opportunity to rip out your lawn and put in rock and natives.
Additional highlights include big specimen houseplants, a large selection of basils and mints, a huge selection of Marguerite daisies, over 80 hanging flower baskets in full bloom, five varieties of lavender, bright purple African daisies, drought tolerant Gazanias and some of the biggest tomato plants you'll find in any nursery. IDBG has been pinching flowers off some of the toms and they might be a little leggy, but if you keep them warm this year, you may have some early tomatoes with these bad boys.
With more than 5,000 perennials prepared for sale, it will be difficult to escape without something new to plant in your yard. Boise State horticulture students have been hard at work preparing plants for the sale. They've been starting from seed and doing most of the work of dividing the plants out of Botanical Garden beds. Leslie Blackburn, program manager for the Boise State horticulture program oversees the students and emphasizes the amount of work involved, as they all spend hundreds of hours preparing. "We laugh about it. We have some fun. But we keep doing it every year," Blackburn says. "It's a lifestyle. It's an addiction."
Blackburn says her favorites this year are the pink black-eyed-Susan vine, which she predicts will sell out quickly. She's also excited about the basin wild rye and the plants in grow bags donated by a local grower. Also new this year is a plastic plant tag machine funded by a grant, making the old hand-written tags requiring a handwriting expert to decipher obsolete. They'll all have clearly printed plant names instead.
Not all of her preparations for the sale have lived up to expectations, however. "We have crops that bomb," Blackburn said. "You won't see rosemary at the sale this year. The entire crop failed."
Having gone to the sale last year, I was amazed at the frenzy. Being a member, I had access to the members-only sale on Friday night. Doreen Martinek, events manager with the IDBG, says they will sell as much during the four-hour members-only sale as they will the entire next day. Last year, she estimated over 700 people came on Friday night. Attendance at the sale has increased almost 14 percent since 2002, and memberships keep selling for the Friday night access to the rare and limited plant selections, as only members can attend and cannot bring guests. If you wait for Saturday's sale, it may be too late for some of the prime plants. Last year, I nabbed a beautiful Dogwood and eagerly await its emergence this spring.
While IDBG hasn't had to break up any fights yet, they have had incidents where patron's wagons (either one of the limited number of wagons provided by IDBG, or personal ones brought from home) have been stolen and plants in people's gathered piles have been taken. So they recommend bringing your own wheelbarrow or wagon and guarding your pile of plants. I've got two young guards of my own who are pretty good at flinging boogers at anyone who gets near my pile. You've been warned.
On Saturday morning, the other premier sale hosted by the Idaho Native Plant Society (co-sponsored with the Idaho Earth Institute) kicks off at 10 a.m. sharp at the MK Nature Center. Focused primarily on native and xeric plants, it can be a madhouse there too. Last year most native plants went within the first 20 minutes. I managed to get five different varieties without elbowing too many others and will be back for more this year. When that bell rings, it's a free-for-all. Get there early. Get in line and bring cash.
Idaho Botanical Garden 9th Annual Spring Plant Sale, members-only with wine & cheese reception, Friday, April 22, 4 to 8 p.m., open to the public Saturday, April 23, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., $1 admission. Cash, check and credit cards accepted.
Idaho Native Plant Society's Annual Native Plant Sale, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 23, MK Nature Center.