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Cast a wide net in search of plants

Garden Muse

Often I find myself face to face with a flower that's irresistible. Once it was at Bella Madrona, the whimsical garden of Geof Beasley and Jim Sampson.

I couldn't take my eyes off a blood red camellia blossom calling to me from a shady glen. Geof told me he'd found that camellia, very likely called 'Black Magic,' on a trip to Nuccios' Nurseries in California.

I made a note, and only recently remembered that I'd never followed through.

Winter is a great time for following up loose ends like this one. I did an Internet search and found Nuccios' website, but when I clicked on the buttons, none of them were active. A phone number listed at the website (626-794-3383) rang busy for quite a while. On my fourth try I got through to a very solicitous fellow who took my name and address, offering to ship a print catalog very soon. Hallelujah!

How hard are you willing to search for the plants you desire? How wide a net are you willing to cast? Call me crazy, but when I fall for a plant, I persist doggedly until I find it, even if the shipping costs more than the plant. After visiting some mail order nurseries, and witnessing their operations, I have no trouble understanding the expense of shipping and handling. The time and care it takes to pack a plant safely enough to travel without spilling soil or breaking branches is a labor of love.

We're lucky to have Heirloom Roses (www.heirloomroses.com) in St. Paul, a manageable drive down Interstate 5. A trip to Heirloom is especially pleasant on a summer day - pack a picnic basket for a leisurely outing. But when I was mesmerized by a flower arrangement starring 'Robin Hood,' a pink-red hybrid musk rose, I couldn't find it at Heirloom or anywhere locally. I was stuck in rose purgatory until someone told me about Rogue Valley Roses (www.roguevalleyroses.com). Like Heirloom, they also grow roses on their own roots. Thanks to Rogue Valley, 'Robin Hood' grows happily in my garden.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' is another of my favorites - flexible, nearly thornless branches carry re-blooming silky flowers that open pink, peach and pale yellow. But finding it in local nurseries was impossible. Fortunately, Forestfarm (www.forestfarm.com) and the Antique Rose Emporium (www.antiqueroseemporium.com) sell it. It must be hard to propagate - I have to admit I've never succeeded in rooting cuttings of 'Mutabilis,' despite having very good luck with so many other roses.

Decades ago, when perennials were hard to find, I ordered quite a few starter plants from We Du Nursery (www.we-du.com), located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. They're still carrying on, with a new name, Meadowbrook Nursery/We-Du Natives. They have the best selection of mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) that I've seen since Flora Lan Nursery in Forest Grove closed its doors. These evergreen shrubs are lovely additions to the shade garden. Clusters of white, red and pink flowers bloom in June; each small blossom resembles a pleated parasol.

You'll also find an interesting diversity of viburnums and false indigo (Baptisia) at Meadowbrook. I like the search buttons that allow you to check out 'Plants by Exposure,' including 'Shade,' 'Sun,' and 'Partial sun.'

There is a fine dahlia nursery, Swan Island Dahlias (www.dahlias.com) right here in Canby, but if you're searching for the Karma dahlias, with super strong stems and large brilliant flowers, you'll have to look farther away. Glowing hot pink 'Karma Fuchsiana' dahlia was the star of my summer garden last year. I'd sent for the tubers from Van Bourgondien (www.dutchbulbs.com) early last January as part of my winter fix. They were listed as part of the 'Karma Dahlia Collection' - type that into the search bar and up they'll come. If you're tempted by these, order early, as they're sure to sell out.

On the other end of the plant spectrum, if you're hunting for a special tree, visit Treephoria (www.treephoria.com). Located in Boring, this niche nursery is open by appointment only (503-663-0220). I'll head there soon to see the witch hazels in bloom. Quite a few trees on Treephoria's list caught my eye, especially Japanese Clethra, Emperor Ginkgo and Sawtooth Stewartia. I will likely override the fact that I have no room for more trees. After all, my elderly cherry tree is failing, and will need a replacement, very soon.


Coming events

• Orchids: Learn how to create the environment in your home to keep orchids happy and blooming, 1 p.m., Jan. 15, Al's in Sherwood, 16920 S.W. Roy Rogers. Seminar free, open to the public, taught by a representative of the Oregon Orchid Society. For more information, call Patty Howe at 503-726-1162.

• The Oregon Orchid Society presents Being Brilliant, The Best Kept Secrets of Orchid Growing, 7 p.m., Jan. 18, Multnomah Art Center, 7688 S.W. Capitol Highway, Portland. The meeting is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.oregonorchidsociety.org or send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..