What's New at Rocky Creek...

I guess you can tell from our shrinking availability list that we’ve been shipping a good bit of stuff here lately. But, oddly enough, we grow these things to sell so I’m ok with turning our inventory loose. I can tell you from bitter experience that it’s better to be selling plants than throwing them on the dump pile. There aren’t a lot of things in business more disheartening than that.


I would like to mention a couple of plants I think you might be interested in, or that you at least ought to consider. The first is Physocarpus, commonly called Ninebark. The first time I ever saw this plant it was in the yard of a good turkey hunting buddy of mine in Nelson County, Virginia. I thought it was beautiful so I came home and ordered some to try for myself. I wouldn’t care to consider how many times I have fallen into the trap of growing things that I like, rather than things customers will buy, but it has happened a lot. Some of us are slow learners, but sometimes even slow learners get it right. This appears to be just such a case.


Physocarpus reminds me somewhat of one of my all-time favorite plants, Bridal Wreath Spiraea, in that it has a loose, cascading growth habit. I don’t know, and I never will, if a Ninebark makes as good a switch as does Spiraea. We had a fully mature Spiraea growing at the end of our sidewalk when I was a boy and it served as a permanent and convenient source of behavior modification tools for my parents. I can truthfully say I never got a whipping I didn’t deserve, and, in fact, probably needed a few I didn’t get. But if my parents ever heard of the concept of putting unruly children into “time out” they dismissed it post-haste in favor of the less contemporary “spare the rod and spoil the child” tactic. It worked too.


But back to Ninebark; the foliage is a beautiful maroon – bronze and the stems absolutely cover themselves with tiny pinkish white flowers in the spring. The blooms look almost identical to Crabapple blooms to me. I have noticed a few buds popping here in the last couple of days. I imagine it’ll be in full bloom by the last week of the month.


I think we are on the southern edge of Ninebark’s range, judging from the way it has performed on the nursery. I nearly drowned the first few of them I grew by putting them in an area that tended to hold water, so I would not recommend treating it like a Wax Myrtle or an Itea. They need full sun and a well-drained site to thrive. They will stop traffic when they bloom. If you haven’t tried Ninebark you might want to think about it. I think it’ll sell for you.


The other new plant I’d like to point out, or new to us at least, is a shade-loving perennial called Heuchera. The only ones we have ready at the moment are the ‘Black Beauty’, which is actually a very deep maroon in color. The foliage is the thing on this plant, although they do flower. In that sense they’re a lot like Hostas. They aren’t normally grown for their floral display.


Heucheras come in all different colors. We have, waiting in the wings, a green and white variety called ‘Paris’, a bright red one called ‘Fire Chief’ and a bronze one called ‘Brass Lantern’. My guess is that all of these varieties will be ready in another 2 or 3 weeks.


I saw a stunning display of Heucheras a few years ago at a resort in north Mississippi. Until then I’d never paid much attention to them, but when used in mass they are make quite a statement. I have had a number of garden center customers tell me recently that they also do very well in mixed containers, which are all the rage these days. To me, Heucheras look like something you’d find on an upscale salad bar. I have never tasted them, although I have been tempted to do so. It’s just that, with age, you lose some of that try-anything-once mentality. I’m told that wisdom comes from good judgment, which comes from experience, which mostly comes from poor judgment. I can show you the scars to prove it.


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