Plant Nerds abound in Northwest

Garden Muse

Are you an adventurous gardener? Are you willing to take a chance on a plant you've never met, just based on the description in the catalog?

What entices you to try something new - color, fragrance, ease of growing, or the fact that you'll be among the first to have it in your garden? Do the spring catalogs make your heart beat faster? Would you rather get a load of manure for your birthday than a case of wine?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, you are definitely a Plant Nerd. Relax - you're in good company. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Plant Nerds are the fastest growing population in the Pacific Northwest. Our climate is so mild and plant friendly, our growers so abundant and ingenious. I could probably prove this statistically, but take my word for it - we have the most and the best specialty nurseries in the nation.

Consider that we can easily drive to Gosslers Farm Nursery, Dancing Oaks, Heirloom Roses, Greer Gardens, Sebright, Schreiner's, Joy Creek, Cistus, Forestfarm, and Hedgerows. OK, not all in one day, but maybe on a long weekend. I've just scratched the surface. Dozens more small Mom and Pop nurseries - such as Silver Star Vinery, a clematis haven, and Eclectic Gardens, a daylily mecca - are ours to explore, by appointment.

I used to feel guilty about my addiction to plants. Not any more. There's an official, accepted name for someone like me: Plant Nerd. I have permission to indulge. After growing 'Karma Chocolate' dahlias last summer, with strong stems that don't need staking - excellent for cutting - I craved more dahlias like this, in every color. Surfing the net, I discovered an entire Karma series and ordered the whole collection from Van Bourgondien (

Drifting into sleep at night, I dream about the Karma dahlias that will bloom this summer in my garden, especially dark red 'Naomi' and neon orange 'Corona.' On a rainy day, I cruise through Clematis on the Web ( to drool over cultivars I have yet to buy. I think nothing of driving for hours just to see one garden or find a particular plant.

There's even a night for garden nerds

Every spring a big event celebrates our tribe of avid gardeners. Nerd Night falls on the first Friday evening in March. For the ninth year in a row, on March 5, plant lovers began lining up at 4:30 p.m. to get a good seat. When doors opened at 6 p.m., a shopping frenzy began. Six specialty nurseries sold plants and presented slide shows featuring their favorite offerings.

Nerd Night has rituals and traditions. Mike Darcy of KXL radio's In The Garden hosts the evening. Generous sponsors such as Black Gold and Whitney Farms hand out free bags of soil and boxes of fertilizer. Everyone gets a red raffle ticket; at each break, plant vendors give away gift plants. Winners are encouraged to yelp and woohoo so that volunteer runners can find them to deliver the plants.

But the culminating entertainment that draws the crowds is the Chorus of the Goddess Flora, a troupe of flamboyant gardeners who sing as enthusiastically as they garden. Garden writer Linda Beutler writes parody lyrics to show tunes, perfectly adapting them to gardening melodramas. This year songs from the musical Hair morphed into Good Morning Nerd Night, Seasons Can Be Hard, and the Age of Asparagus. Singers were appropriately dressed in tie-dye, colorful headbands and flowing garments.

For the first time this year, a new ritual began. An Honorary Plant Nerd was chosen - beloved columnist Dulcy Mahar - along with an Honorary Plant Nymph - prolific journalist Kym Pokorny. These are our kind of Oscar awards. We didn't have a red carpet, but Dulcy did wear a red hat.

The gardener's year has its own parade of holidays, starting with Nerd Night, moving on to a succession of plant sales, a string of garden tours, and a sacred study weekend. I'll list these as we get closer to the events, or you can e-mail me for advance information.

Beyond exploring a satisfying hobby, diving deep into gardening will take you into a vast network of Plant Nerds, eager to share their passion and expertise, and just as likely to shower plants upon you. They'll steer you to the best nurseries, tell you where to find the best mulch, and even comfort you when your favorite plant dies. Plant Nerds are simply my favorite extended family of choice.

You can reach Barbara at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and visit her blog at

Coming Events

• Energy Trust Better Living Show, noon to 9 p.m., March 26, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; March 27; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., March 28, Portland Expo Center, 2060 North Marine Drive. Parking is $7 per car, $6 per carpool, and admission is free. For complete information about offerings, including garden landscapes, raising chickens and sustainability seminars, visit .