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Hamptons Life

Mar 2, 2018 4:10 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Discover Garden Gems For 2018

This primula caught the Hampton Gardener’s eye on a photography website and it became a garden “gem” when some plants were located three years later at Romence Gardens. ANDREW MESSINGER
Mar 4, 2018 3:52 PM

Garden gems seem to come in two forms. First, there are the plants that are gems. We each have our favorites, be they annuals, perennials, woodies, succulents and so forth. Once you get hooked, seeking these gems can be a lifelong pursuit that ends up with a small garden that gets bigger, or a huge estate that just gets filled. But when it comes to garden gems, we all know that there’s always room for one more. Always!

But in the pursuit of these special plants that keep and capture our interest, there is another type of gem that we find—and that comes in the form of new sources for plants. No matter how simple or sophisticated your gardening taste is, and no matter how much we try to support our local garden centers and nurseries, there are gems out yonder, beyond the South Fork, that we discover both by accident and by other means of searching. And, oh, how the internet has come in handy!

I became fixated on a particular primula a number of years ago, and I really, really wanted to try to grow it, with the hopes it would be happy in my garden.

Primulas have become one of my more recent garden fixations. I saw a picture of this plant on, of all things, a photography website, where a photographer in Vancouver had photographed a primula and the picture was published online. He had no clue it was even a primula—he was just trying out his new camera and liked the picture.

I tracked him down, and he was able to find out the name of the primula … and my search began.

For two years, I looked and came up with nothing. But then, in the third year of my search, I lucked out and found a small family nursery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that had the plant for sale. I immediately placed an online order late that winter.

I waited and waited for those plants, until one day I received an email that the plants were not doing well, and the grower didn’t want to send them, but they would be more than happy to refund my money. I quickly wrote back and said, no, no, no … when the plants are ready, just send them!

Six weeks later, they did, and, though small, they arrived and got planted.

There was a personal touch with this nursery, and I really appreciated it. They simply could have told me that they had a crop failure and refunded my money, but they took that extra step just so I could have a few little plants. The nursery was Romence Gardens and Greenhouses. I found them in an internet search.

Now we go back on our garden time machine to last summer. I was walking around the perennial border, and I was looking at one of the newer heucheras and decided that I really liked it and wanted more.

It goes by the name of Heuchera Little Cutie “Blondie.” I think I had originally planted five of them, but only two had survived. But these were really nice plants with interesting yellow flowers not common in heucheras, and I wanted to try one more time. So I made a note to order more for this year.

But when I sat down in January to do my orders, the plant was nowhere to be found. “Blondie” seemed to have vanished from the trade. I kept looking, though, and, sure enough, the only place I could find them was at one of my gems, Romence.

I placed the order on Saturday, and on Sunday I received a personal response from Chris Romence, thanking me for my order. I needed to know more about this place that had come up with two gems, so I began to chat with Chris Romence.

Chris is part of what seems to be a wonderful family operation that bucks the trend of huge corporate growing operations. He is the third generation in the business and, along with his father, his sister and his mother, operates Romence Gardens and Greenhouses in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they have a retail operation as well as an online presence.

The family originally raised head lettuce when the business was founded 80 years ago by Chris’s grandfather. They’ve only recently gone into online sales, but if you check out their site, I think you’ll find it has some great offerings, and you’ll also find the service, shipping and personal attention very unusual for 2018.

Oh, and they even came up with one more gem. I’ve been looking for Thalictrum “Hewett’s Double” to add to my garden and couldn’t find it anywhere. But, of course, Romence had it.

You can find them at romencegardens.com.

Another garden gem that I’ve been growing is alstroemeria, which is also known as the Peruvian lily. I remember reading about this plant at least 30 years ago, when it was being touted in trade magazines as the hot new item in the cut-flower business. A breeding program was under way in this country, and much of the interest was because of the unique flowers and the fact that the plant is a perennial that can also be grown in greenhouses (just like chrysanthemums).

My interest was piqued for the same reasons but also as a garden plant that could double as a cut flower. The pictures of the flowers were intriguing, but from what I had read there were only a very few varieties that would be hardy in Zone 7, let alone in my colder Zone 5 garden.

But if you want real gems, you have to take some chances and experiment. I had my best year yet with them last summer, growing them in an awful soil with a half day of sun. They required some staking, but with their stiff stems this is really easy, and in full sun they may not need staking at all. But they may not like baking in a hot spot, so partial sun and a few stakes may do the trick.

What’s really wonderful is that I had flowers on these plant from late June continuously through late October. Now, show me another perennial that can do this!

Once established, the plants are virtually care free. .And if you are experimenting with varieties that may not be reliably hardy, add a winter mulch once the ground gets really cold or freezes.

Ah, but where do you buy them? I purchased a few from Plant Delights and a few from Roots and Rhizomes. R&R is on my black thumb list, though, as they ship low-quality plants that can be doomed for failure.

Ah, but another gem has shown up. This gem comes in the form of Edelweiss Perennials in Canby, Oregon (edelweissperennials.com). This nursery offers nearly 50 varieties of alstroemerias, with countless possibilities. You’ll have to go through the listings and do some careful shopping, because not only will you be looking at color and height but hardiness. To be safe, you can limit your choices to those rated for zones 5 and 6, but you’ll certainly do well with those rated for Zone 7 as well. Edelweiss offers many other plants and also has an interesting selection of hardy cyclamens.

So far, the alstroemerias that I’ve had great success with are “Mauve Majesty,” “Sweet Laura” and Koncajoli (“Inca Joli”). I’m sure there are several others that will do well out here, and there are other vendors like Plant Delights that sell them as well, but no one seems to have the list that Edelweiss has.

Keep growing!

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