Always be on the lookout for new garden additions

Story and Photos by Troy B. Marden

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is, “Where do you find so many unusual plants for your garden?” That question is often followed immediately by, “How do you get them to grow so well?” Let me answer the second question first. I have killed far more plants in my lifetime than I have successfully grown … far more. Killing plants is a natural byproduct of growing them and preparing yourself for that will make your gardening experience far more enjoyable, and it is part of my process of figuring out which plants will thrive here, and which are not worth wasting more time on. I do not suffer strugglers – Grow or begone.

Back to the original question – where do I find so many unusual plants for my garden? Everywhere. I am constantly on the lookout for new additions. I start at my local garden centers; especially those that specialize – or at least dabble – in varieties that are different from the standard offerings. Good garden centers have their thumb on the pulse of the gardening and horticulture world and offer a good selection of new releases each year, including annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. I am not, however, interested in new plants simply because they are new or, supposedly, “improved.” Often, they are not “improved” at all, as is the case with many of the wretched dwarf forms of once tall and graceful perennial plants that have saturated the market of late. No one needs a garden a phlox that is 10 inches tall, including the butterflies. Then you must look at an unattractive lump of a plant at the front of the border after it finishes flowering, instead of being able to disguise it farther back amongst other plants. But, I digress.

Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii. Pictured at the top of this article is Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’.

These days, the best and most unusual plants are found at specialty nurseries either in person if you are visiting nearby (always the best option because you can choose the plants you like the best) or by mail order. I find that many gardeners have an aversion to buying plants online. I don’t; if I’m ordering from a new source, I may order only a few plants the first time to check their quality. If I like it, I’m inclined to order more. If not, I will not be a repeat customer, and neither will anyone else and that nursery won’t be around for long.

Is mail order more expensive? In some cases, yes, considering that you must also pay for the shipment of heavy plants in pots full of soil. However, if you want the best and most unusual varieties, it is a worthwhile investment. These are, after all, plants you are not going to find at your local box store or at any but the best and most savvy of garden centers. You must also realize that what you are buying are not half-grown plants in 1-, 2-, or 3-gallon pots (and you certainly don’t want to pay that shipping cost!), but well-grown starter plants, which, if well tended, will thrive and grow once they are in the ground. This is part of the challenge of growing the most unusual species and varieties available. I would advise you to pot up smaller plants into 1-gallon or larger pots and allow them to grow on a bit before just plunking them in the ground. That said, well-rooted plants in quart-size (4½-inch) or larger containers can go directly in the garden and will settle in nicely. Occasionally, plants are sent bare-root, without soil. I find more success potting these first and transplanting them to the garden later, unless they are bulbs that can be planted directly in the ground.

I will leave you with a list of my favorite mail-order nurseries from which I have acquired some of the most special plants in my garden. I order from all of them on a regular basis (though not always every year) and have yet to be disappointed with their quality or service. They include: Plant Delights Nursery (
Broken Arrow Nursery (
Logee’s Greenhouse (
Brushwood Nursery (
Annie’s Annuals (
Brent & Becky’s Bulbs (
Arrowhead Alpines (

If you are in search of unusual plants – those that will elicit oooh’s and ahhh’s from your gardening friends – look to these and many other mail order sources to satisfy your cravings!

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