Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Rare Plant Nurseries rule!

Some people collect rare coins, others collect stamps. I collect rare plant nurseries. During my recent visit to Spokane I was lucky enough to have time to visit not one, but TWO such nurseries...which is appropriate since when I grew up, several aeons ago in the middle of the 20th Century, two Spokane area nurseries provided "correspondence school" plants for me (so to speak) that helped enormously in my horticultural education. Before I address the here and now, I would like to pay tribute to Lamb's Nursery and Thurman's Gardens: I practically wore their catalogues out over the years. Lamb's was one of the premier sources for garden perennials (which were not as popular back then as they are now), and Thurman's had the glitziest of rock garden/wildflower catalogues with a positively lascivious picture of Lewisia tweedyi on the cover. I made the mistake of loaning this last one out to someone years ago, and I have not had the opportunity to glimpse it in years: I am sure it would send huge shock waves of Proustian nostalgia through me...

As a young man of 26 I first visited Spokane and made a pilgimage to both these orginal nurseries. Many decades later I arrive to visit their successors. I begin with a picture of Diane Stutzman, who owns Desert Jewels Nursery with her husband, which has a treasure trove of native plants and succulents. Do click on that hyperlink to get much better pictures of their wares than my midsummer visit (in blazing sun) can do justice to. Do check their website for the times they are open and their terms: this is not the primary business of the owners. That said, I can assure you have put their heart (and a great deal of elbow grease) into it!

Despite its being early August, there was much in color at Desert Jewels: here you can see the meadow garden ablaze with tallgrass perennials.

And there were a number of penstemons blooming: the flowers here are on Penstemon richardsonii, growing in a drift of Penstemon barrettae.

It is not likely to show up at your local box store very soon, but click on the shot above to see a wonderful planting of Eriogonum microthecum getting ready to bloom. Even without flowers, the grey, artistic mass of stems is striking. Imagine the dome of white fading to pink: I was so thrilled to see Diane had this propagated: I was able to bring several back! They had hundreds of kinds of plants--mostly natives from the interior Pacific Northwest, and mostly grown from wild seed, all grown in the sort of deep pots that make dryland plants much easier to establish: perfection!

In addition to natives, Desert Jewels has some outstanding succulents such as these immense Jovibarba heuffellii: I have never seen these growing so immense--nearly a meter tall! There were many unusual Hylotelephium and other Sedum cultivars as well...

I stupidly did not take any closeups of the plants from Desert Jewels (and the ones I brought back are in the ground already) but I did take a picture of this Gentiana striata at Alan Tower Perennials, the other choice nursery I visited. Alan's nursery is very much a full service garden center with a wide range of trees, shrubs, perennials, alpines, aquatics--even cacti! I was enchanted with his many rare conifers and rhododendrons, but I came away with many rare gentians and other alpines they had grown from seed collected across Asia by the intrepid Czechs.

Alas! Alan did not have plants for sale of THIS, the ultimate cushion plant. Gypsophila aretioides is found in the highest mountains of Western Asia (Caucasus, Iran), where it makes immense and very ancient vegetable sheep. This specimen is doing its best to mimic its cousins back home, swallowing a label in the process!

Lambs and Thurman's are (alas) no more...but Spokane continues its grand tradition of rare plant sales in two worthy successors!


  1. Last trip home to Spokane, after attending the Friends of Manito Park plant sale, we stopped by Tower. It was my first visit there, and I was quite impressed.

    It wasn't until late Sunday as we were packing the car to leave that my mom mentioned Desert Jewels, I regret not getting to visit but look forward to it "next time."

  2. Well that's great, now I know where to go in Spokane. If you're in the Wenatchee area, put Derby Canyon Natives in Peshastin on your list. It might not be quite as exciting as these nurseries but still well worth a visit. One more note... don't quote me on this but one guy Roger who was at Lamb's nursery in the 70's may be the same person who now owns Sequim Rare Plants. I may not have my story straight - this place is only about 4 minutes from me but I haven't talked to the guy in more than a year; that's lame isn't it.

  3. Dear Danger! You will have a great "next time" believe me: I wish I had a car during my visit--I would have come away with a heck of a lot more plants! As for YOU, Ian, if and when you meet Roger, tell him "Hi"--he may have been the one I visited with way back in 1976. I was visited in June by John Whittlesey (http://jewellgarden.com/blog/2008/03/22/john-whittlesey-canyon-creek-nursery-oroville/) who owns Canyon Creek Nursery in Oroville (no longer selling mail order, alas!): he told me about his stint working at Lambs' about that time too...what a small world! Delighted to know about Derby Canyon Natives--It is is now on my short list of rare plant nurseries to check out along with your's (not to arrange another trip to Washington: you guys sue keep me busy!)...


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