Saturday, February 28, 2009

Field Trip--Madrone Nursery

There is a nursery in San Marcos called Madrone Nursery that I've been meaning to visit for years. They specialize in native plants, but they're only open by appointment, so what with one thing and another, I'd never made my way down there.

I finally got my shit together this weekend, happily, and checked it out. And wow, the prices are good. His one-gallon perennials go for about $3.50! He's got a really big selection of trees, including some native oaks that are new to me, a weeping redbud, and a native crabapple that he's particularly proud of (sadly, Matt says I'm not allowed to buy any more trees--he doesn't think there's room. A needlessly defeatist attitude, I say.)

Madrone also has a number of nativey perennials, including a rare native Texas strain of Iris virginiana and the totally hip and unusual clover fern, which we first saw in the dinosaur garden at Zilker Botanic Garden.

The prices were so good, and there were so many things that would be striking and prolific, that I amassed quite the collection of pots. He's selling seedling Japanese maples for $25 for a 3 gallon. Because they're seedlings, if you buy them before they leaf out, you don't know if you're going to get charteuse, red, or purple leaves. In consideration of that fact, he gave me two for the price of one. So I paid $12.50 each for two 3-gallon Japanese maples! Holy cow! Those things usually sell for $50-$80! And they're a rare non-native exception in his inventory, but he's kept them because they grow so well, even in the limey soils and full sun of the hill country. They'll give a wonderfully eastern, lush quality to the bed. Every now and then, I'm filled with envy for those traditional southeastern plants that always look so graceful and elegant and faintly aristocratic to me: Flowering dogwood, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, cherry trees... And now I'll have a little bit of Down East up here on the prairie.

I'm also particularly pleased about a couple of Dioon edules that I'm hoping will mimic ferniness without the tetchiness of actual ferns. The owner collected them on some limestoney mountain in Mexico that has comparable winter temperatures to Austin, so they should be cold-tolerant as well as alkaline-tolerant. They're also supposed to be resistant to some disease that's been affecting cycads in the east.

Here's the full list of my haul:

2 pint-sized satsumas (Citrus unshiu?)
1 slip of Iris virginiana (for which he charged me all of $1.00. Amazing.)
1 3-gal Mexican lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
2 3-gal Japanese maples (Acer palmatum)
4 1-gal Missouri violets (Viola missouriensis)
2 1-gal inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
3 1-gal eastern columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
1 1-gal Penstemon tenuis (which he gave me free on account of its being in the wrong area)
2 1-gal Penstemon digitalis
2 1-gal clover fern (Marsilea macropoda )
2 1-gal Dioon edule
1 1-gal cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
1 1-gal white boneset (Eupatorium havanense)

The owner is a real character. Not to the extent of Grumpy Dave, the Ron Paul-loving conspiracy theorist who runs Garden of the Ancients, locally renowned for its inventory of the hallucinogen Salvia divinorum. But the Madrone Nursery guy is clearly part of the spectrum of eccentric horticultural characters--he's full of opinions and interesting--even cliff-hanging--stories of the seedy side of the local hort biz. He's also very generous with his expertise and very willing to give tips and back story on his stock, most or all of which he has collected and propagated himself. He's a shotgun-toting anti-establishment environmentalist plant nerd and antiquarian. Apparently, after college he donated his peyote collection to Kew Gardens.

I've planted everything but the citrus in the shade bed, though I tried to give the clover fern a little extra sun. Will add pix tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Hee hee. I went there during the summer or early fall and the owner showed up in nothing but shorts and shoes to greet me. That's interesting that he said that Japanese maple could grow in limy soil and in full sun. That's a first. I didn't even know he was selling them. Interesting...

I don't know if you've been to Metro Maples in Ft Worth but maybe you could take a trip there during the fall for fall color. It's known more for its 'Fire Dragon' shantung maple. Very hardy maple tree compared to Japanese maple but what do I know? I've never tried growing JM in my limestone rubble soil...

Elgin_house said...

You were right to be skeptical about the Japanese maples--they looked burnt and miserable all summer. Mind you, it was trial by fire this year, but even so: not promising. I'll give them another yet to shape up and then maybe I'll try your shantung maple instead.

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