December 12, 2012

The Joy of Discovery

For plant enthusiasts, catalogs – both their print and on-line incarnations – are wonderful shopping tools.  You can see a plant, get a good idea of its needs and habits, and determine whether it will fit into your home or garden.  But even the best catalogs are imperfect substitutes for physically picking up a plant, examining it, and choosing the one that has your idea of the right number of leaves, buds or branches. 

You walk in looking for one plant,
only to be beguiled by its neighbor.
To get the perfect plant, you have to go to the source.  And, occasionally when you do, something wonderful happens.  You go off in search of a great specimen of Begonia ‘Cracklin Rosie’ which caught your eye in the catalog but sitting next to it is Begonia ‘Curly Fireflush’.  You look into the deeply spiraled chartreuse and chocolate leaves of ‘Curly Fireflush’ and you say, ‘wow’.  Then, you see the fine red hairs on the leaves and you know that this plant is going home with you.

The facade of Logee's retail store.
It tells you nothing about what's inside.
Last Saturday, Betty and I set off on just such an exploration.  It was a beautiful day in southern New England; still uncharacteristically mild for early December.  Our destination was Logee’s Greenhouse in Daniels, Connecticut.  Logee’s is exactly sixty miles from our home and getting to Daniels takes us through some very pretty countryside. 

As I wrote in my last entry, Logee’s has one of the more compelling catalogs in the business.  But, like even the best businesses, what you see in the catalog is just a snapshot in time, and is limited by marketing realities.  For example, if you have only three of something to sell, putting it in a catalog makes no economic sense.  Or, if you’re not certain something can be shipped safely, it’s best to omit it. 

Before I go further, a few words about Logee’s.  The business was founded in 1892.  In 1900, William Logee ordered a Ponderosa Lemon tree and planted it in his greenhouse.  The Ponderosa Lemon is still there, 112 years old, bearing fruit like crazy and occupying several hundred cubic feet of greenhouse space.  I relate that story as evidence this is no ordinary, by-the-books business.  It is a distinctly, family-run business, now its third generation.  Byron Martin and Laurelynn Glass Martin are both very active in the enterprise.  Byron is the horticulturalist; Laurelynn is marketing and administration.

Logee's aisles are less than
two feet wide.
To comprehend the passion that goes into Logee’s, you need to set foot in its greenhouses.  Directly behind the ‘retail store’ is the Long House, a hundred-plus-foot-long structure that nominally houses begonias and gesneriads.  Here’s a video of what is actually growing inside it.  What the video cleverly disguises is that the two aisles down the length of the structure are less than two feet wide.  When someone wants to get by you, one of you ducks into the center greenery.  There, you may be ensconced in a thirty-foot-long bougainvillea (with two-inch-diameter trunks), jasmine vine or Glory Bower.

All along the perimeter of the Long House – as well as the Big House, Lemon Tree House, Fern House and Potting House – are the plants.  I counted 106 genera, from Aeschynanthus to Trichodiadema. How many different cultivars?  I wouldn’t venture a guess.  Each cultivar is well signed, with growing information and a detailed description.  The one drawback is that those who buy only mature plants may go away disappointed.  Much of what you find in Logee’s is in two-, three- and four-inch pots.  The assumption is that you will take the plant home, nurture it and, in a year (or two, or three), have a strapping specimen in your window.

On one side, it's a dense tangle
of greenery, with occasional
The joy is in wandering, of reading descriptions, and of letting your horticultural imagination run rampant.  We walked into Logee’s with a dozen catalog pages earmarked.  In the course of ninety minutes, we filled a box with plants, put some back and re-filled the box with others that caught our eye.  If we couldn’t find a featured plant, one of the greenhouse staff quickly located it for us.  In the end, only two of the plants we went looking for came home with us.  The balance was spontaneous decisions.  (On a down note, the Sarcoglottis sceptroides that was at the top of my list had only three specimens to choose from, none of them sufficiently tempting.  The Fragrant Jewel Orchid is now listed as being out of stock.)

Shopping in person can also have a financial benefit (in addition to saving shipping and handling charges).  We were told that if any of our purchases was a plant with a red bloom, our entire order would be 20% off.  A Clerodendrum x spectrum – already in our box – qualified our purchase for the discount.  You don’t get that kind of a happy surprise from a catalog.  And, as a note to any marketers who may be reading this and wondering if offering a 20% discount on an order a) reduces the total sale by 20%, b) causes the shopper to purchase 20% more stuff but keeping the total dollar purchase the same as it would have been without the discount, or c) causes the shopper to buy lots more stuff, thereby increasing the total value of the sale by more than the discount; the answer is most decidedly 'c'.

Logee’s is at the extreme end of the ‘Joy of Discovery’ kind of plant shopping.  You can expect no such thrill in a big box store (with endless rows of focus-group-approved plants) or at a garden center whose stock in trade is Four-Step lawn products.  But any nursery that has unusual plant devotees on its staff invariably has a section of uncommon cultivars tucked away and available for perusing.  Stop in and look around.

1 comment:

  1. Neal, I used to receive their catalogue many years ago and was always intrigued by it. I love the story about the lemon tree. What changes it has seen in 112 years!