Last week, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Buffalo in order to do a talk at Urban Roots and meet up with Elizabeth and Amy, who also did a book-related event in Buffalo and had the audience laughing its ass off as she descibed various bug-related murders.
It's no secret that I LOVE Buffalo. Ever since my first Garden Walk garden tour, my husband has been asking with some trepidation, "You aren't going to try to make me move to Buffalo, are you?"
He still hasn't recovered from his original forced move upstate 20 years ago.
No, I don't want to move there. I just want to drink white wine in Elizabeth's garden a few times a year and shop at Lockwood's Nursery. The last time I was there, I struggled back on Amtrak with some very unusual annuals, including a white-edged plectranthus that wintered over beautifully in the house and is now sitting in a prominent spot in the garden in my favorite pot.
This time I was more interested in perennials. And Lockwood's has such a great selection, that if I weren't traveling by train, I could easily have bought a dozen entirely new plants.
But this time, I realized that the true genius of Lockwood's is not in the selection. It's the fact that it employs garden writer and reporter Sally Jean Cunningham to walk the aisles and answers the customers' questions. Sally may very well know everything that ought to be known about gardening, and, I suspect, life.
She steered me towards ironweed, an American native that is not only the title of a William Kennedy novel, but also, according to Sally, gets about 8 feet tall with wonderful purple flowers.
She also convinced me to act on my interest in dictamnus or gasplant–which really does smell like gasoline and apparently gives off such potent volatile oils that you can set the air around it on fire. I only know this plant, which is a bit like a foxglove with pea family-like leaves, because I have long admired an ancient stand of it in the country town of Salem, NY. It's reportedly one of those plants that, like peony, will live a hundred years on sheer neglect.
I have never seen dictamnus in another garden, never in a nursery, and rarely in books. According to Sally, it resents being moved, so it may be difficult to propagate. But one of Lockwood's growers has apparently decided to single-handedly revive dictamnus by starting some from seed. I had to have the white version, even at a punishing $21.99.
And then, on my own, I picked out a hot pink Oriental poppy because it works with the color scheme. Elizabeth bought them for me as a present (it really should have been the other way around!) and I put them in the luggage rack on the train.
Whatever Lockwood's is paying Sally to be walking the aisles dispensing charm and wisdom, it is surely not enough. But clearly, Lockwood's is living up to url, weknowplants.com.
Think what the world would be like, if other garden centers also knew plants…if they employed intelligent people who could convey their enthusiasm for plants to the gardeners and would-be gardeners poking around the store. (Certainly at the Big Box stores, the employees mostly convey misery.)
I know what the world would be like if there were a Sally Jean Cunningham in every garden center. All the gardeners would be going broke.