Sweat Shopping

Sure needs something!
Sure needs something!

First of all, thanks to Amy, Susan, and Elizabeth for your extreme patience in letting me spend 7 or 8 months attempting to organize my life rather than blog posts. Thanks also to the Garden Rant community for your kind words!  I am back in the garden, more or less, though not quite caught up to the grass among the daylilies, weeds in the perennial beds, edging, mowing, etc. etc.  Fortunately,  as a backyard farmer of several decades, I am well aware that even an ill-kempt vegetable garden will generate a scary amount of food between August and November.  And as for ornamentals, well, ugly years are forgotten as soon as the snow falls.

But the fact that I am so far behind in the garden does not stop me from visiting nurseries.  Au contraire!  And if you don’t faint in the heat, July is a good time to visit them.  You will have no competition for the attention of the employees, since everyone sensible is on vacation or indoors in climate control.  It’s still early enough that there might be interesting plants left.  You might even catch a sale.

I went to see my parents three hours south in New Jersey this weekend, which allowed me half an hour at one of my absolute favorite merchants: Rohsler’s Nursery in Allendale, New Jersey.  I have never figured out who buys Rohsler’s stock.  Probably the nursery is just a front for the adjacent landscaping business. I went to my 35th high school reunion this fall in New Jersey and was reunited with a lovely woman from high school Advanced Biology class, who assured me that there actually ARE gardeners in Bergen County.  But damned if I ever see any evidence of them.  Lots of professional landscaping, sure.  But gardening? Never seen it.

Nonetheless, Rohsler’s is fantastic. Always incredibly interesting and beautiful shrubs, vegetables, perennials, annuals, and pond plants. They ALWAYS have woody plants I am unfamiliar with. Cough up $40 there, and you will come home with something incredibly beautiful that involves a grunt to lift out of the SUV.

Of course, it’s July now.  I’m hot, I’m tired.  But here is what is on my mind:   I have a new fence at the back of my property and had the Norway spruce trimmed up very high to allow more light in.  Now, there is sunshine under those trees, with an expanse of six-foot apricot-colored new cedar behind them begging to be climbed, clung to, and aged into a more attractive grey.  I’ve been thinking about hardy kiwi vines.

What I wanted was a pair of ‘Artic Beauty’ kiwi vines, Actinidia kolomikta, with beautiful variegated pink and white foliage.  I figured that for a fruiting vine that never fruits, you might as well get the pretty foliage.  I am only so cynical because I have a pair of the other hardy kiwi species commonly available, Actinidia arguta, a male and female of the variety ‘Meader’.  This is a plant that is like wisteria, in that it is notorious for getting huge before ever flowering.  Mine are at least six years old, have never fruited, do not have particularly interesting foliage, and are doing nothing notable other than aggressively attempting to climb and crush much prettier plants.

But when I asked Rohsler’s for ‘Arctic Beauty’–actually, is was not Rohsler’s I asked, it was a handsome guy in his fifties who I could SWEAR I went to high school with–he brought out an arguta: a variety called ‘Issai‘ that is in theory self-fertile.  Again, self-pollinating in fruiting plants is another concept that from experience provokes profound cynicism in me.  I was about to explain that this was NOT what I wanted, when I saw that there were actually fruits hanging off this not terribly mature plant!  Sold!

On my way home, I stopped by another nursery, vaguely dissatisfied that I hadn’t held out for the more ornamental kiwi.  But there on sale was a yellow trumpet vine. Oh pretty!  The two thuggish vines could duke it out on the fence all by themselves, until they both got so woody and huge that they pulled the fence down, and I might never be called in to settle the question of edible versus ornamental!  A lazy but possibly lovely solution.

The great thing about shopping in the wilting July heat is that the gardener is too hot to argue or to be fussy.  Yes, sold!  Now let’s go home and have a cold beverage.


  1. As a gardener in NJ (former Bergen County, Union County today) I had to smile at your comment on the lack of gardens in Bergen County–real gardens that is. In general, NJ, so it seems, lacks a sense of gardening despite the fact that we are called the “Garden State” and while there is some improvement I can’t think of us having a “NJ Garden Walk” anytime soon. Good luck with both vines, you are a brave gardener!

    Thanks for the smile, from a Jersey girl to a Jersey Girl!

  2. “A lazy but possibly lovely solution” I love it, this describes some to most of my decisions. I hope it turns out well, though I fear you may be dealing with a fence collapse before you know.

  3. We live delightfully close to Edible Landscaping in VA who has several hardy kiwi cultivars including Issai. Mike, the owner and fruit poobah, told us that while Issai is self pollinating, it will have better fruit set with a male pollinator. It’s great fun to visit his place in the fall when everythign’s in fruit – he’ll take you around on a taste test of his landscape specimens to help decide which you like best. Ohhh the persimmons!

  4. The real sweat comes from all the watering you’ll have to do over the next few weeks on those new plantings….trying in vain to keep them from wilting.

  5. I have been eyeing up Arctic Beauty Kiwi for awhile as well. Unfortunately I’ve never seen it actually growing anywhere. Nor for sale. There seems to be a lack of vines other than clematis in general.

    Good luck with your honeysuckle! The hummingbirds will be fantastic if nothing else.

  6. I am multiple states South of you and down here everything you mentioned has to be pruned once or twice a season in order to keep it under control. I prune some of my hardy kiwis every month with a really hard prune in the winter. Once they mature they can easily send out 15 foot arms over the summer. From the view in the photo my guess would be that these vines are going to head for the trees and ignore the fence unless you tiger-mom them. Never go near them without your pruners.

    I don’t grow ‘Arctic Beauty’ myself but in every garden I see it doing well down here it is in deep shade with virtually no sunlight ever hitting the leaves. They do eventually fruit if you have both sexes and the fruit is mighty tasty. All of them have better flavor if you harvest the fruit and then let them sit on the counter until they start to shrivel or put them in the refrigerator for a month or so and then take them out to sit on the counter top a bowl full at a time. If it sounds like too much work, don’t worry, once the raccoons find them you’ll rarely see ripe fruit again.

  7. I am south of you. My 15 ft Artic Beauty is over 10 years old, and get a good amount of sun. I love it, even with it’s leaping arms. The one I am trying to grow in shade isn’t doing so well. No one ever told me the colors fade by early summer, so don’t plan the colors of summer bed based on it. In the spring, however- fabulous.

Comments are closed.