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E-Garden Almanac: The Perennial Flower Farm

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Perennial Flower Farm

The Perennial Flower Farm, located in Ionia, is the Heronswood of Iowa. No joke, no lie, and I'm not exaggerating if you've caught the point. The owners Steve and Caroline Bertrand have built a most impressive and overwhelming collection of plants that will surely whet any plant collector's appetite. I learn new plants on each visit and it's one of those visits that I'm sharing with you today.

In the bustle of this gardening seasons, I've found little time for one of my favorite of self-indulgences: mailorder gardening. I run a mailorder business so it would seem fitting that I support the niche of the industry in which I make my nest. And boy is it fun. But to my surprise a few weeks back, I realized I would be receiving NO, ZERO, NADA plant orders this fall. I talked about this paring back, though not necessarily intentional (I say that now), in my last post and it's bothered me since. I've got to planting something this fall, right? Then I remembered a promise. When I visited Steve and Caroline back in July to profile them for a chapter in my forthcoming book Planting Passions, I was unable to come away with much in the way of plant material. Days on the road and not wanting to hassle with watering plants in hotel bath tubs (I've done it) were perfectly good excuses then. True to my word I told them I'd be back later this season to make amends for my lack of patronage in July (trust me, it wouldn't take much convincing to get me back up there).

On this quick, daylong escapade I was joined by two endearing plant nerds ala ISU hort majors, Karie Vrba and Tyler Johnson. Put three plant nerds in a car, armed with checkbooks, razor sharp wits, and lots of jazz CDs, and you've got a day trip or a troop of horticulturally-inclined Charlie's Angels. You pick. Oh yeah, and we stopped for lunch at this sports bar in Waverly (home to Wartburg College and the famed Wartburg choirs under the direction of Dr. Paul Torkelson for you choral music fans) called "The Fainting Goat". Good food, fun cups, and a wacko name. We debated getting shirts that said "I (heart) goats" but passed on account of their disturbing ambiguity.

I could go on for days about our visit, which last for the better part of three hours. And here's what we found ourselves coming home with. All of these plants begged to come home with us! Steve and Caroline were hospitable hosts as always and the realm of conversation we enjoyed varied from Chinese ethnobotany to scrimshaw (Caroline is an amazing scrimshawer) to rare Chinese Delphinium, and what to do when friends come calling at 2:00 AM in the morning.

Speaking of Chinese Delphinium...I encountered what is quite possibly the coolest delph I've ever seen. Delphinium forrestii is found at woodland margins often in association with Rhododendron in the provinces of Sichuan, Xizang, andYunnan. What a bijou little baby for the shade! Impressive, choice, and ever so unavailable that buying one seemed like the only option. Don't be jealous, I didn't get one because they haven't quite built enough stock yet. In the meanntime oogle over the photo (at right).

A visit to The Perennial Flower Farm will almost assuredly include a viewing of several impressive stands of Kirengeshoma palmata, the yellow waxy bells. Native to the Korean peninsula and Japan, this yellow-flowered member of the Hydrangea family is closely allied (if not a variant of the same species) with K. koreana noted only for being taller as it carries the same characteristic yellow bells. The yellow waxy bells are choice plants for the fall shade garden tolerating dry shade but prefering a humus rich soil where they'll put down hefty roots and grow into sub-shrubs. Fall, shade, tough. What more could you want? And they combine well with so many things, including the Bertrand's many herbaceous Clematis (no indication given as to "proper" pronunciation here...clem-a-TISS vs. cle-MAT-iss). See photo at left.

Ideas, plants, and people. That's what gardening is about. I can assure you in advance of reading it that the chapter about the Bertrands is going to be wholesomely rewarding. Eccentric plant collectors aren't hard to find. But eccentric and gifted plantsmen are novelties and Iowa is a fortunate home to Steve and Caroline. More information about their business can be found at this link. Drop what you're doing 'cuz they've got plants you ain't never seen!


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