This Week's Podcast: Plant Hunting from Your Own Backyard
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Have you ever tried to hunt for a plant? I don’t mean in the jungles of South America, or the mountains of China. I mean at the local garden center?
Have you ever seen a plant in someone’s garden that appealed to you, learned its name and attempted to acquire it? (This is especially trying if you do not know the real Latin name.) Have you ever had a plant that died for one reason or another and tried to replace it?
That happened to me, last summer. I planted a gold-leaved catmint in a sunny place with gravelly soil. But it drowned in the flood, and its label was washed away. Now I am trying to track this plant down to replace it. The first line of inquiry was an Internet search engine, but I could not find it. I tried “nepeta gold leaves,” and versions, for instance “nepteta gold leaves chartreuse catmint for sale mail order” -- nothing. I looked at images of Nepeta: no gold. Did I imagine this plant?
Another story of a coveted plant has to do with a selection of the Eastern dogwood. About a decade ago, I saw a small tree blooming at Western Hills, a former nursery in Occidental, CA. Cornus florida var. pringlei (right) – allegedly hardy only to zone 7 -- was originally found in the mountains of Mexico. The flowers (modified white leaves or bracts) are fused at the tips so they resemble Chinese paper lanterns. My research has sent me in many directions, including to the book Dogwoods by Paul Cappiello and Don Shadow. The authors suggested that this plant might be the same as one listed as Cornus florida subspecies ‘Urbaniana’. So, I searched for the plant under that name, as well.
I came across a photo on Flicker of a C. f. subsp. ‘Urbaniana’ flower and it did not look like a paper lantern, it looked like flying saucers. Now I need to find both plants.
So to Facebook: I asked friends if anyone knew if there was a gold leaved catmint and got an answer with an offer to send a cutting of Nepeta x faassenii 'Limelight', a recent introduction from the wholesale Oregon grower Terra Nova Nurseries. I may also have found a mail-order source for ‘Urbaniana’ via Facebook. As for pringlei, I collected fruit from friends’ large tree in Napa, originally purchased at Western Hills and I now have about two-dozen saplings. Although they have grown to nearly six feet, the young trees haven’t bloomed yet, but have survived -15 degrees F.
I am hoping that in the case of the Nepeta, at least, I may have struck gold.