Celebrating Winter’s Suckiness

Some of the party animals at Arrowhead Alpines.

Enduring winter in Kentucky is like sitting at the stop light, fiddling around trying to find a radio station, waiting for the red light to turn green. Eventually, spring arrives, just not soon enough. There is, however, a little consolation for all gardeners who are anxious to kick-start spring. Arrowhead Alpines, a retail and mail order plant nursery in Fowlerville, Michigan, feels your pain. Mark your calendars for February 23rd.  Winter sucks. Let’s party!

Balmy weekends, soft rains and temperatures in the mid-60s don’t sound like such a bad thing.  In Louisville we had the mildest mid-January in memory, with blooms on Prunus mume, Iris unguicularis, snowdrops, witch hazels and hellebores.  I’ve never seen flowering like this, so early. The foliage on daffodils, border phlox and daylilies was pushing-up, too; and so were weedy henbit and chickweed. We’re Zone 6 B—and proud of it—but this means it gets cold from time to time.  It did get colder, with a low temperature of 8 F one morning on the last day of the month, but this does not mark the end of global warming.

In fact, we’ve been living the comfy life of Zone 7 for the last six years. Iris unguicularis, a native of Greece, Turkey, Western Syria and Tunisia, has no business surviving here.  Neither does the

Arrowhead Alpines’ Joseph and Brigitta laughing.

Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume, for that matter. The ground hasn’t frozen to any depth the last five winters, which is unusual for a region that mandates pipes be buried 24” below the frost line. The little rubbery roots of the purple shamrock Oxalis regnellii ‘Triangularis’ survive winters unfrozen, and it has made a lovely seasonal groundcover in scattered parts of our garden in sun and part shade.

Mail order nurseries try to make hay with our mood swings between winter blues and unstinting lust for spring. Catalogs begin arriving around the New Year, and a steady stream of orders follows.  Or at least that’s the plan. If they’re lucky, mail order nurseries generate positive cash flow from January until the first prolonged hot days strike, sometime from mid-May until late June. It’s a dogfight to make payroll the rest of the year.

Imagine the Winter Sucks Party as misery loves the company of gardening wackos and the sunshine-dispossessed.  Arrowhead Alpines, in their own words, offer Rare Plants for Obsessive Gardeners.  So mother and son Brigitta and Enders Stewart, along with Nursery Manager Joseph Tychonievich, view the party as a support group for gardeners. They’d rather you buy plants than a sun lamp:

It is true. So cure your cabin fever by coming out to our annual Winter Sucks Party! The greenhouses will be warm, narcissus, cyclamen, ranunculus, and primula will all be in bloom, and we’ll have loads of food and drink (feel free to bring something to share if you want) and yes, you can do some plant shopping as well. The
 Party is on Saturday February 23rd, starts around noon and keeps going all day. Hope to see you there!

Doubtful you’ll find pansies, but the website does list 1,748 different perennials and rock plants; 74 cactus and succulents; and 463 evergreens and deciduous shrubs. And there is plenty more.

Party with Cyclamen coum ‘Silver Leaf’

Bob Stewart, co-founder, passed away in 2011, but his sense of humor and political incorrectness survive at Arrowhead Alpines. I’m channeling Bob when I say, “So screw you if you’re sipping fruity rum drinks at a seaside bungalow on February 23rd. The rest of you are cordially invited to Arrowhead Alpines for their Winter Sucks Party.”

Editor’s note:  They have “Animals that Live Here” on their website!


  1. No worries, Arrowhead Alpines has been celebrating summer with their annual “Summer Rocks” Party. It is always the end of July and includes rock dealer /rock hounds selling some of their precious finds! This is the perfect party to get the unique rocks needed for that rock garden or trough you need to create! Check arrowhead Alpines website under events or exact date and times!

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