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It's Plant Sale Time


On a gardener's scale of excitement, plant sales are somewhere between a swap meet and stumbling onto Solomon's treasure. Plants rarer than rubies, and prices that are at least very reasonable, are the draw.

Two of the biggest plant sales--at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Huntington Botanical Gardens--occur in the next few weeks. Keep an eye on the Real Estate Section's Garden Events listing for others.

The exciting new plants you've read about or seen in other gardens--edibles or ornamental, trees or ground covers--but haven't been able to find are probably at one of these two sales, plus quite a few you or I have never heard of. To make sure they are not in competition with the corner nursery, they specialize in the rare and unusual.

The flyer for the Los Angles County Arboretum's sale next weekend says "Bring your wagon!" but it had better be a big one because they have quite a selection, from growers from Santa Cruz to San Diego, plus some they have propagated themselves, including a vining palm ( Calamus coryotoides ) that is not a palm tree, but a palm vine, clinging and climbing with Velcro-like tendrils.

From Cordon Bleu Farms in San Diego comes a selection of state-of-the-art day lilies. Tree-of-Life Nursery is sending cutting-edge natives, such as the 'White Cloud' matillija poppies or the blue-foliaged desert encelia. There will be several of the correas, or Australian fuchsias, from San Marcos Growers and Suncrest Nursery up by Santa Cruz. These are among the prettiest small shrubs for the garden, though they are not fuchsia-like. Suncrest is also sending a choice selection of blooming Pacific coast iris, which thrive in half-shaded gardens.

There will be cycads, dating from dinosaur days, duplicates from the arboretum's orchid collection, some hard-to-find trees, coral passion flower vines, the magnificent Salvia canariensis , the unimproved, old-fashioned heliotrope, a whole greenhouse full of staghorn ferns.

If you forget to bring a wagon, there will be volunteers to help you load your plants, or offer advice. Look for their identifying badges.

The L.A. County Arboretum is at 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia and the sale hours are 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 1, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 2. This year, the sale will be held in the Arboretum's normally off-limits nursery area--in it's greenhouses and lathhouses--which should add atmosphere to the event.

The Huntington sale in three weeks (May 16) has a fun theme this year, especially if you completed their form at last year's sale. It is "Per Your Request."

"Last year we attempted to determine if perhaps there were plants that gardeners yearned for and didn't find at our sale, so we set out clipboards, paper and pencil for them to record their wishes," says sale organizer Shirley Kerins.

"We'll have Lavandula 'Munstead' for Jo Anne in Irvine, and Hibiscus sabdariffa for Cheryll in Woodland Hills."

"Pat, in Long Beach, knows the virtues of Thunbergia mysorensis and will be happy to find some at the sale. This vine produces spectacular sprays of bright red and yellow flowers during the warm summer months," she continued, and "Diana in Pasadena should be delighted to find Nigella sativa, a lovely little annual that produces tasty seeds, which have been used as far back as ancient Rome."

Not specifically requested but just as exciting are a whole parking lot of unusual plants, most of which have been grown by the Huntington. In fact, the inventory, printed in very tiny type, is 30 pages long.

How about a golden philodendron, with leaves that glow like the gold in Soloman's mine? Or a little violet named 'Freckles' with tiny spots on its white and fragrant flowers? Or a delicate shrublet named Hermannia that covers itself with clear yellow bells?

"We've grown every foxglove in the Thompson and Morgan catalogue (the huge English seed house)," Kerins said, "colored calla lilies, Polish pennyroyal, dozens of different abutillons from John Catlin, and we even have henna Lawsonia inermis for people who want to dye their own hair."

There will be no shortage of succulents or cacti, from the Huntington's famous collection. The brightest is an ice plant, appropriately named 'Red Shift,' but the flowers are nearly as neon on the various hybrids of Bolivian rebutias, mammilarias, or echinopsis, with names like 'Apricot Glow' or 'Volcanic Sunset.'

Last year's favorite plant, a blue-gray succulent that grows in dry shade, Senecio mandraliscae , is back as well as are several other succulents for seldom-watered, shady places, including Sedum dasyphyllum and S. rubrotinctum 'Aurora,' Crassula multicava , and Kalanchoe marnieriana .

There's just no room to talk about the unusual yucca-like bird-of-paradise, the many ferns and palms, the 14 kinds of basil, or the 1,100 other distinctly different kinds of plants.

The Huntington Botanical Gardens sale is on Sunday, May 16, at 1151 Oxford Road in San Marino and the sale runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Don't forget your wagon.

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