Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Pretty pots at the TNLA Expo

Last weekend Matt's company went to the Texas Nursery & Landscape Association annual expo in Dallas, and they were nice enough to take me with them.


Look at this: there were ball and burlap trees there that reached to the rafters! There were hip new cultivars! And there were tchotchkes--my word, there were tchotchkes. The lure of the free does something truly preculiar and chemical to the human brain. I collected more cheap tote bags, branded sticky pads, and caliper-measuring devices than I have any use for. But it was all free, you see. In the words of Tom Lehrer, "More! More! I'm still not satisfied!" (He was talking about smut, not freebies, but I think the impulses dwell in adjacent areas of the reptilian brain.)

It wasn't quite the Chelsea Flower Show, but it's got some of the same intense, plant-nerdy vibe paired with (differing magnitudes of) flamboyant virtuosity.

So here's some of what I learned.

Trendy Plants
Here are the cultivars that kept popping up all over the place.

This funky lime-and-pink petunia, called 'Lime Bicolor' from a series of petunias called--not at all pretentiously--"Petunia Sophistica."

This deeper, more intensely blue plumbago, called 'Imperial Blue' (sadly, a bit wilted in the picture below).

This compact Magnolia grandiflora, charismatically named 'Teddy Bear.' It has unusually fat, rounded leaves with prominant brown fuzz on the underside.

This green-and-purple mimosa, 'Summer Chocolate.' It blooms pink, although the foliage is so striking that I suspect the flowers are almost an afterthought.

This blooming millet, 'Jade Princess.' Matt, who's more of a grass fetishist than I am, was immediately sucked into its gravitational field.

'Summer Red' maple. But does it grow in the Austin area? I asked, skeptically. It grows everywhere, the salesman replied with bland confidence.

Plants to Grow

I'll probably end up giving some of the trendy plants a try--maybe we can find a home for the 'Imperial Blue' plumbago; I'll probably end up tucking a cluster of "Petunia Sophistica' cultivars somewhere or other. But the ones below are ones I really, really want.

Bismarckia nobilis, the Bismarck palm. Even though it's named after a historical figure whom I have always loathed and despised, I love this fantastic, huge, beautifully colored palm, which, I am assured by people who--well, want to sell me a palm--will grow beautifully in Elgin. Matt did say that we weren't to plant any more trees on accont of already having rather a lot of trees on the property as it is. But of course a palm isn't a tree--it's just a very attitudinal grass. And so skinny! It will barely take up any room at all. And so majestic. People will think we're very important and special if we have a tree like this in our yard.

'Hearts of Gold' redbud (Cercis canadensis). Well, yes, technically, this one is a tree. But it's just an ornamental tree, which means it's more along the lines of an overgrown shrub. Actually, I think I'm still fonder of 'Forest Pansy' redbud (you can sort of see one behind the 'Hearts of Gold'). It's red-purple-dark green and so pretty. Back when I worked as Fusion, there was a little wooded area between the garage and the building, and in that area was a redbud. During the fall its leaves changed, and from the garage you couldn't see the dark grey branches--all you could see were these few golden leaves floating in the dim morning light. So, so lovely.

Quercus robur 'Regal Prince.' Uh, and this one--hey! what's that? over your shoulder! Yeah, this is also a tree. Look, I like trees. Leamme alone. The thing about this is that it's an oak that grows like a smallish Lombardy poplar or hornbeam. To people who live in civilized climates in which you can grow Lombardy poplars or hornbeams, this may elicit a big 'ehn,' but we can't grow either of those things (to the best of my knowledge. Admittedly never tried it. Neither has anyone else I've ever heard of, which can't just be a coincidence.) So if you need a very tall but narrow column of foliage to define a boundary or block an ugly view or dampen noise, your choices are junipers, junipers, or junipers. And I know that RP grows here because the nursery around the corner, Bloomers, is growing one. Their staff didn't actually know what it was, but when I saw it at the expo, I immediately recognized it. They told me that they had bought a bunch years ago, and that they took forever to sell, which is why they eventually popped one in the ground. "Forever to sell"?!? How is that possible? It fills a really difficult niche and is also quite unique within my experience of oaks. Buy it, silly people! It's dead useful and it grows beautifully!

Quercus virginiana cvr. 'What is That?' So 'Regal Prince' was unique in my experience of oaks, until I saw this. It appears to be a fastigiate (with upright, vertical branches) live oak. A thing that makes my brain bend because the characterizing quality of live oaks is their broad, spreading crown. What would a fastigiate live oak look like when it reached maturity? Sadly, I'm not likely to find out, since there was no one at this booth to answer my questions.

And speaking of hornbeams, a couple of nurseries did actually bring some hornbeams (Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata') to the expo. Both, oddly, were from Tennessee. One of their reps also tried to make a case that hornbeams could be grown in Austin as well as in Tennessee, because, she said, the climates are so similar. I know she meant well, but No. I've been to Tennessee. There's green stuff all over the place. I guess they must be leaves, but unlike the leaves around here, they're not grey, tiny, and covered in a scurfy, hairy, or waxy protective layer. I exaggerate slightly, but if I hear one more easterner complain about how their summers actually get into the *gasp!* 90s, I'm going to... be very unimpressed with them.

Turffalo. Turffalo is, apparently, an improved cultivar of buffalograss blended with zoysia. Like buffalo, it's supposed to be low water and minimal maintenance. I'm a fan of the low water concept, so I'm interested in this turffalo. I asked the rep if it would out-compete bermudagrass, which, as you know, is a problem here at the hacienda. Nothing, he told me grimly, can out-compete bermudagrass. Apparently, they have a multi-step program on their website for eliminating the bermudagrass before planting the turffalo. Mostly consists of blasting the stuff with Agent Orange and detonating small, carefully timed thermonuclear devices. Sigh...

'Scarlet's Peak' yaupon holly. This is a new cultivar that's actually due out next year. It's a 'Will Fleming' competitor that improves on the former by (1) not splitting as it ages. WF tends to become lumpish and misshapen as gets bigger. And (2) being famale and therefore putting on attractive red fruit. From the look of the sample, I would say that it is also taller and has smaller leaves.

Nannorrhops ritchiana (Mazari Palm). A cold-tolerant, clumping palm with pretty silver foliage. The internet is divided about whether or not it can withstand shade, but I'd be willing to give it a try to replace the sad little palmetto wisp that passed on to the Swamp in the Sky earlier this summer.

Do It Yourself
I also got some arts-n-crafts inspiration from the displays. There was a florist ball studded with Tillandsias on a stick--but it would be even neater to hang the ball from a copper pipe in the garden. Another display used Spanish moss to make a garland and studded it with larger blue-grey Tillandsias. Somehow, I could make that fit into the shade garden...

Another display had turned some of the huge glazed pottery they sell into rainwater collection units. Brilliant! His were bright blue, but I think apple green would work better for our color scheme--and they'd be decorative and functional.

Random Pretty Stuff
Finally, I got to spend a few hours at the Dallas Museum of Art on Saturday. I loved these big flower/parasol/glass bowl things in the cafe.

I also really liked this simple Roman necklace. I'm gonna see if I can replicate it, albeit in something less pricey than gold and emeralds.

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