Garden Muse

On March 18th Nerd Night brought joy to the garden community for the 10th year in a row.

Kudos to KXL radio celebrity Mike Darcy for hosting and organizing the event. No longer a passing fancy, Nerd Night is now a beloved tradition, complete with its own rituals. This year more than 600 gardeners gathered to worship plants, hear the latest dirt from growers, buy plants and even sing songs devoted to plants.

Excitement had been building for weeks as gardeners asked each other, 'Are you going to Nerd Night?' and, 'How early are you getting there,' followed by, 'Will you save me a seat?'

Nerd Night is so popular in the garden community that although the doors open at 6 p.m. and the program starts at 7 p.m., devotees line up as early as 3 p.m. to get a good seat. Rain or shine, they set up folding chairs outdoors, sip coffee and complain about how cold and soggy their gardens are. It's good to vent freely with companions who understand your frustrations. Sharing the hardships of too much rain, too many slugs and not enough sun eases the pain.

When I arrived at 5 p.m. at The Lake Bible Church, a new venue this year, two long lines had formed at two entry doors. I phoned a friend who was saving me a place-she picked up and waved me over. All along the line friends were passing around cut up apples, orange sections, crackers and cookies.

Why is this night so special? Six nurseries show slides of unusual new plants and sell these gems. The Chorus of the Goddess Flora sings popular songs with wild and witty parody lyrics by Linda Beutler. My favorite was 'I bought the Hosta, but I should have bought the Sluggo too,' sung to the tune of I Shot the Sheriff.

As 6 p.m. drew close, front-of-the-line gardeners began the countdown as the doors slowly opened. We swarmed into the hall, the aroma of chocolate cookies greeting us, along with KXL volunteers handing out raffle tickets for door prizes.

On every seat green carry bags sat, holding samples of potting soil, fertilizer, and bird seed, as well as discount coupons. Pandemonium erupted as gardeners scrambled to claim chairs, dump coats, then scurry to the six tables overflowing with exciting treasures.

Each table held wonderful temptations: grafted tomato plants at Log House Plants (, unusual woodland plants at Far Reaches Farm (, ferns and hostas at Sebright Gardens (, and plenty more.

Terra Nova's 'Sweet Tea' heucherella was winking at me from Jefferson Nursery's ( table. I couldn't take my eyes off the bold maple-shaped leaves, the color of peaches. Each leaf was overlaid with burgundy, as if someone had dipped a brush in chianti, then painted a dark star at the center of the leaf. Pretty soon my hand reached out and grabbed the fattest plant.

At the Log House table, I was enticed by variegated cat grass for indoor kitties Webster and Kipper. But remembering how they usually bring greens back up, I resisted. The morning after, I regretted my restraint - planted out in the garden, the cat grass would have made a great snack for visiting cat Mr. Blondie. Lesson learned: don't think, just buy whatever speaks to you.

Squeezing my way through the crowds, I stopped to covet a golden-variegated Aucuba gleaming from a woman's carry bag.

'Where did you get it?' I hollered over the din. She pointed to the other side of the room, but with three vendors mobbed by throngs of customers, it was a lost cause. Still, plant lust kept nagging at me all during the program of slide shows.

At the end of the evening, I spotted another woman carrying a golden-variegated Aucuba. 'Where did you find it?' I tried again.

'I'm just holding it for a friend, I'm not sure where she got it.' She glared at me suspiciously, as if I might rip it out of her hands.

Reassuring her I would only look, I reached in and read the tag, labeled Sebright Gardens. This favorite nursery in Brooks, Oregon, was already on my calendar for a May visit. I went back to their table, and they promised to save me an Aucuba for pick up at that time. Plant Nerd Night is just the best! It was over for this year, and I'm already looking forward to 2012's gathering.

Coming Events

• Raymond Evison speaks on New Clematis for the U.S., 3 p.m. Sunday April 10th, Al's in Sherwood, 16920 SW Roy Rogers, Sherwood. Admission free, registration required, contact 503-726-1162.

• Dahlia Tuber Sale and Auction, 6:30 p.m., April 12, Portland Dahlia Society, Rose City Park United Methodist Church, 5830 NE Alameda Street, Portland. Admission free. Contact 503-246-8632 for more information.

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