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GARDENING

Everything Exotic Is Coming Up Catalogs

January 17, 1998|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When I started outdoor gardening more than 10 years ago, every trip to the nursery was an adventure that turned up new plants. Then a couple of years ago, after having filled my garden with nursery finds, I began yearning for something more.

How interesting it would be, I thought, to grow more unusual plants. And so I discovered the world of rare plants. Although some nurseries carry unusual plants, availability is often limited. One of the best ways to get rare plants is through specialty mail-order companies.

When dealing with mail-order companies that carry rare plants, you need to be patient.

"Many rare plants are difficult to propagate, so specialty growers don't always have a large supply," says Arnie Mitchnick, owner of Northridge Gardens, a mail-order company that grows a variety of rare and unusual plants. "I have some hibiscus that take a year or more to root from cuttings."

If you're looking for a certain plant, ask and it may be grown for you.

Many rare-plant nurseries will take orders and call when your plant is ready for shipping.

Unless otherwise noted, the following rare-plant catalogs and plant lists are free.

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GERANIACEAE

122 Hillcrest Ave., Kentfield, CA 94904; (415) 461-4168

e-mail: geraniac@pacbell.net.

Web site: www.freeyellow.com/members/geraniaceae

This grower carries more than 300 types of geraniums, including Erodiums, night-scented Pelargonium species, scented geraniums and cultivars of angel and pansy face Pelargoniums.

Many of the geraniums are exclusive to the company, including G. antrorsum, from southeast Australia. It is a mounding alpine plant with small, mid-green veined leaves and small, pink flowers. G. cinereum 'Holden' has gray-green leaves with warm pink flowers and dark veins.

Another rare plant good for borders and beds is G. pulchrum, a geranium from South Africa. This has broadly lobed silvery leaves and pink flowers on upright stems with white centers.

There is even a good selection of geraniums for shady locations, such as G. nodosum 'Whiteleaf.' This has deep green leaves and lavender flowers with magenta blotches and pale edges to the petals.

The nursery's owner, Robin Parer, consults with customers to ensure that they buy the right plant for their needs and climate conditions.

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HORIZON HERBS

P.O. Box 69, Williams, OR 97544; (541) 846-6704.

In this catalog, you'll find a variety of unusual and hard-to-find medicinal herb seeds, including Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), a perennial in the tropics that grows as an annual here. It is said to be used to make a ginseng-like tonic that is supposed to alleviate physical and mental exhaustion.

Another interesting herb is Arnica montana, an extremely rare perennial that provides the basis for homeopathic remedies, oil infusions, compresses and salves.

Also uncommon is bears' foot (Polymnia uvedalia), a perennial native American plant that grows above tall grasses. It has stems with three-lobed leaves that resemble the footprint of a bear and bright yellow flowers. It is said to alleviate enlargement of the liver and spleen.

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KARTUZ GREENHOUSES

1408 Sunset Drive, P.O. Box 790, Vista, CA 92085-0790; (760) 941-3613.

e-mail: mikekartuz@aol.com

This catalog offers a wide variety of rare flowering plants, including begonias, species gesneriads, passifloras and hoyas.

The company carries the Fragrant butterfly bush (Buddleia asiatica), which has long spikes of white flowers in winter and spring that give off an intensely sweet freesia-like fragrance that can perfume a large area.

There is also Monkey flower (Angelonia), including the 'Blue Pacific' selection that has violet blue and white flowers that resemble 1-inch pansies and smell like blueberries. In rare gesneriads, you'll find Chrysothemis 'Black Flamingo,' with clusters of bright yellow flowers marked red and dark, coppery, tapered leaves.

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KAY'S GREENHOUSES

207 W. Southcross, San Antonio, TX 78221. $2 for plant list.

This begonia grower has many rare, often newly hybridized begonias such as 'Christmas Candy,' a cane begonia with light green leaves and numerous dark pink blooms.

There is also 'Emerald Lacewing,' a rhizomatous begonia with pale green leaves and light pink blooms from winter through spring. 'Fragrant Orange' is a cane begonia with medium-green leaves and white splotches, and the cane begonia 'Flamingo Queen' has large green, silver-specked leaves.

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LOGEE'S GREENHOUSES

141 North St., Danielson, CT 06239; (860) 774-8038. $3, refunded with first order.

e-mail: logees@neca.com

With 12 greenhouses for propagating, this specialty grower has more than 2,000 plants. The company's full-color catalog illustrates a variety of rare plants, including flowering maples (Abutilons) such as A. 'Clementine,' a constantly flowering hybrid that has rich, orange-red flowers on a compact plant that does well in a hanging basket.

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