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  • Courtesy of Monrovia Growers

    early-bearing Angel Red pomegranate

  • Courtesy of Monrovia Growers

    Wild Swan anemones

Seeds: Rare and unusual plants will perplex and captivate

Published: Saturday, Mar. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 31, 2013 - 1:48 pm

There's nothing like the discovery of a new plant to get gardeners giggly with anticipation.

Nicholas Staddon's enthusiasm is infectious as he discusses Wild Swan anemones and Purple Passion hydrangeas. These are plants few people have seen before – and that's his business.

"It's really fun (to find out) where some of these plants have come from," said Staddon, director of new plant introductions for Monrovia Growers. "When you're plant people, this is really exciting stuff."

Staddon will be the featured speaker today at the Sacramento Perennial Plant Club's annual vendor sale, which features hundreds of rare and unusual plants. Open to the public, the event will be at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in Sacramento's McKinley Park.

Staddon will share how giant growers, such as Monrovia, find new plants and potential best sellers.

"I plan to take people behind the curtain," he said. "People ask me: 'How do you grow these plants? What soil do you use? Do you spray them? How do you propagate?' "

But most of all, they just want to know: What's this beautiful plant?

Staddon offers several head-scratching examples that perplex experts and captivate gardeners.

Start with Wild Swan, a hybrid Japanese anemone. Its lineage goes back to cliff-dwelling perennials that cling to rocks in Nepal. This particular hybrid was discovered in a Scottish garden, where it grew for more than a decade.

Plant scientists perfected Wild Swan, creating a reliable, free-flowering shrub. In 2011, it won top honors at the famed Chelsea Flower Show.

"It's extremely flower-rich and highly unusual," Staddon said. "It looks great coming and going. As you approach it, you see wonderful white flowers with bright yellow stamens. Then you see these lovely nodding amethyst backs as you're walking away."

The Purple Passion hydrangea is a variation on a familiar favorite.

"It has this wonderful purple foliage," he said. "That's what makes it so appealing. It's an old-fashioned shrub and loves the shade."

Edible ornamentals remain a hot trend, said Staddon. He cited several beauties including Angel Red pomegranate, Bountiful Blue blueberries and the container-ready blueberries Jellybean and Peach Sorbet.

Angel Red was discovered as an accidental seedling that sprouted in the middle of an overgrown lawn in Visalia. Said Staddon, "It's a really unique plant that was found totally by chance. How many more great plants are out there, still waiting to be found?"

Nursery tour

Joan Coulat, the longtime "begonia lady" at Capital Nursery, is now retired, but she's still very busy with begonias and other plants. Right now, she's organizing an April 13 bus tour with the Sacramento Begonia Society to three destination nurseries in the Bay Area: Alden Lane in Livermore, Navlet's Garden Center in Danville and Orchard Nursery in Lafayette.

With the price of gas, it's a bargain at $35.

"All are spectacular nurseries," Coulat said. "Plus we'll have pastries on the way down and cheese and fruit on the way back. For $13 more, we'll provide a box lunch."

Deadline to sign up is Friday. Call (916) 486-9505.

Make that Aaron

Featured in my March 23 column, our guide and culinary garden expert at the French Laundry garden in Yountville was Aaron Keefer, not Adam. Blame too much Napa Valley touring before hitting the oyster-leaf spinach.


Ready for spring? Get the dirt on gardening with KFBK's "Farmer Fred" Hoffman and Sacramento Bee garden writer Debbie Arrington at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Bows and Arrows, 1815 19th St., Sacramento.

Hoffman and Arrington will read some of their own garden prose and answer questions, then the mike will be open for other gardening writers and bloggers to share their work.

Admission is free, but space is limited. Sign up in advance online at http://wordsaloud3.


Where: Shepard Garden and Arts Center, 3330 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento

When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. today

Admission: Free

Details:, (530) 885-9248

Highlights: Find hundreds of unusual plants and garden treasures at this major event, presented by the Sacramento Perennial Club. At noon, Nicholas Staddon, Monrovia Growers' director of new plants, will present "Behind the Curtain," how nurseries find new introductions and bring them to market.

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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