Plant geeks near and far no doubt already have the yearly Bloedel plant sale marked on their calendars. A plant lover and possibly a geek, I was not fully aware of the hardcore plant geek subculture until today when I visited Bloedel behind the scenes and talked with its Director of Horticulture Andy Navage.
Navage is one of those specialists so immersed in his micro universe that he doesn’t realize how ignorant the rest of us are or know exactly how to communicate with the stunted masses. Sure, we agreed that False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) is one of the best-smelling plants around, but my above-average plant knowledge was quickly eclipsed by Navage’s vastly broad and intensely deep knowledge of plant species, including scientific names that I at least knew enough not to attempt to spell on my own.
As Navage himself became for me a rare and fascinating specimen, I managed to get a few bits of basic information out of him and Bloedel’s new Director of Communications & Events Korum Bischoff before my brain short-circuited.
The Bloedel plant sale, scheduled for April 6 and 7 with a members-only preview April 5, features unusual plant varieties not typically available through most nurseries. The main reason the plants they sell are not commonly accessible to buyers is that they take longer to grow and are therefore not commercially viable for most nurseries. Bloedel patiently raises these plants mostly from seed on its grounds over the course of 4-6 years. Thirteen other highly regarded sellers will offer their uncommon plants at the sale too, making for hundreds of species at reasonable prices for the discerning plant enthusiast.
While I was there, ten or so volunteers stood outside in the mud at a long table tenderly putting plants into little pots of dirt in preparation for the sale, bless their dirty finger nails and plant-loving souls. Bischoff told me the Reserve has about 25 employees and some 120 volunteers, some driven by their plant passion from as far as Bremerton.
Navage showed me Bloedel’s plant nursery (shown in featured photo), which contains many of the gems that will be sold at the event. He pointed out one in particular with a fanatical following—Hepatic nobilis, or “purple form.” This small Japanese flower seems humble at first glance, but in the hardcore plant lover market some versions, such as the “double forms,” go for thousands of dollars. Navage told me his subspecies will sell for about $18. Given that these little perennials only grow a few inches tall and take some 6 years to mature, that still seems like a lot of fuss for not much flare. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I will admit they are appealing little blue flowers, with a luminous off-white color on the under side of their petals that Navage said shows when the blooms close up during hot or cold temperatures.
The plant sale is an important fundraising event for Bloedel. Navage said the goal for the Reserve is to net about $25,000 and keep the nursery going. Admission to the sale is free.
Photos by Julie Hall.