I mention this because I will be heading out to Plant Delights tomorrow for the fall Open House. Tony Avent’s nursery, specializing in unusual perennials, is primarily a mail-order business; the general public can visit only by appointment or during its eight Open House weekends. And so, on Friday, I will take my place among the bevy of besotted botanists who - having exhausted every possible inch of garden space and spent far more than they could afford on plants with unpronounceable names – return, like swallows, to Sauls Road in Raleigh.
A veteran of six Open Houses, I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. Compared with the hardcore, I’m a rank amateur: my five-year tally is a measly 39 plants totaling $591. I’ve seen people buy more in one day. But I flatter myself that I have some insights for the uninitiated, and it is to them that I offer this unofficial guide to the Plant Delights Open House.
2.) Have a plan. Twelve greenhouses overflowing with plants can be enough to test the willpower of even the most jaded gardener. And since it’s not just any day that you can shop in person, you may also be telling yourself, “Buy now or forever hold your peace.” It is critical to set priorities ahead of time. If you know you are looking for white hellebores, you will substantially lessen your chances of winding up on the checkout line holding orange cannas.
3.) Concentrate on plants that are not readily available at local garden centers. For example, Aster “Purple Dome” is a terrific plant – I myself have three – but you can get it anywhere. Put it down and keep moving.
4.) Tour the gardens. Unlike many nurseries, Plant Delights grows its plants on site, and trials and displays them in its gardens. If you live in the southeast, these gardens can give you a pretty good idea of how your proposed purchase would perform in your yard, assuming you had a team of professionals taking care of it. If you don’t like it at Plant Delights, it probably won’t look any better in your garden.
5.) Talk to the experts. What makes the Open House experience so much fun is that Tony Avent and the nursery staff are on hand to impart their considerable wisdom and answer your most random plant questions.
6.) If the Radio Flyers haven’t clued you in, Plant Delights is charmingly low-tech. When you’re through shopping, be patient: it takes time to write up an order by hand.
7.) Finally, when you are asked if you want to be on the mailing list, the answer is yes.
Plant Delights Nursery
9241 Sauls Road Raleigh, NC 27603