I was sitting in the nursery last night for a moment thinking about how far High Hand has come when I spotted an old friend across the way. Very seldom thought of. I saw a plant I planted two years ago and forgot about. To my left I saw some Japanese Maples leaning over a wall that were given to me by a friend who has passed. I thought to myself that maybe I should take you on a journey through the nursery and point out some things people walk by and don’t think about. Their origin, their journey or how the plant or tree got there.
I started the nursery 14 years ago now that I scroll back in my head. I’m a plant collector. I never thought I would grow up to be a plant collector, but this occupation chose me and we have gotten along ever since because it aligns with my passions and that is cool plants and their stories.
My daughter, Tara, recently graduated from college with a degree in Literature. Having spent time at Oxford University in England and now heading back to Scotland to begin her Masters, I asked her a question. “Tara, I’m not questioning your decision, but how are you going to take a degree in Literature and make money?” She, without hesitation, quickly snapped back, “Dad, life starts with story. Without it you have no beginning. You can’t program a computer without first writing a story. A doctor can discover the cure for cancer, but is probably too smart to write about it in a way that the masses can understand so he needs me to put it into story.”
I thought, “Shame on me”. Of course. I have taken my passion and made my living in the landscape and nursery industry, digging ditches for all intents and purposes. After all, I do have a PhD, did you know that? Yes, I do. “Professional hole digger”. And with a PhD and the help of many great people who I am privileged to be working with here, a nursery in Loomis grew from a blighted property to something I hope haunts you after you have visited it. So, there’s no doubt that Tara will take her passion and apply a story to create new beginnings and new directions. So, here are a few stories from the nursery.
As I sat on the bench the first thing my eyes landed on was this Acer palmatum called ‘Lion’s Head’. Let me dispel a notion about Japanese maples. The notion that they can’t acclimate to
full sun is simply not true. They can.
This was the first tree planted 14 years ago when I opened High Hand Nursery. We had several of them and they didn’t sell. Personally, I didn’t get it, but what do I know.
Maybe it simply doesn’t fit what everybody thinks their ideal Japanese maple should look like.
This tree was dug from a property in Oregon that belonged to a lady who was building a garage. Several trees were dug up to make way for the new building. As we unloaded the tree you could see it’s fate was sealed for not being sold. The trunk had literally split in half, so I took my cordless drill and I screwed it back together. I thought, “What do I have to lose? Let’s just plant it here.”
Fourteen years later, planted in full sun, this tree has grown all of about twelve inches. I’m always amazed, if given a little TLC how hard it is to kill a Japanese maple.
As I pulled my eyes back, I noticed something else. A plant I had given very little attention to or care. Once again I had shoved them into the ground because no one bought them.
The plant I’m talking about is a Euphorbia ‘Tiny Tim’. From where I was sitting it looked like a simple boxwood. A year ago the wind had blown them off of a table. Nobody had bought them for over three or four months, so I shoved them into the ground. I chuckled to myself because it was very spontaneous and kind of a willy-nilly act of “Who cares? Let’s just shove them in here.” I’m not talking about the heuchera called ‘Marmalade’ in the foreground. It’s the fresh green plant in the back. Being a member of the succulent family, they are very tough. The round green leaves are not leaves at all but bracts. It’s the flower of the euphorbia. I have not touched it, trimmed it, or given it any thought since the time I planted it over a year ago until just last night and it kind of made me chuckle. I think, “Why do people not buy this plant? Do they not know what they’re missing out on?”
My eyes drifted to the left and I was fondly reminded of an old friend who passed away.
Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’ These Japanese maples are groundcover maples and have beautiful fall color. You can’t tell, but they cascade over a 4″ stone wall. They were given to me twelve or so years ago by my friend in Oregon and here they are today at their final resting place. I think of him often when I look at these trees.
Another old friend of mine is a Japanese maple with a name of Red Dragon.
Its home was in a very large blue pot for over fourteen years. It was purchased and dug from a field in Oregon by a gentleman who had had it for over fifteen years. Its roots had grown through the pot and firmly anchored it to the ground. We remodeled the koi pond last year so the blue pot had to go, but my memory of traveling up north and tagging the tree meant we had to give it a go to see if we could root prune it and plant it. It’s doing well. It’s branching out a bit internally, probably due a little to the shock of root pruning. Next year, I’m sure my friend of fourteen years will thrive.
This is a pine called ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’. I don’t know why it’s not the most popular pine in the world. This slow growing oddity is pretty much ugly for most of the year. Could that be the reason it’s not the most popular pine? Fourteen years ago I planted this pine at the corner of the shade house. It was about 4′ at the time. Another tree I had put my personal name on while I was on the hunt up north. It is now reaching almost 13′ and is gorgeous. Its spring flush of growth comes out neon yellow as it develops a small red button at the end as an extra bonus. This show of beauty lasts for about a month and then it returns to its normal pale green. It’s not ugly. It’s kind of like a frog that turns into a prince for a period of time.
All these trees and plants have meaning to me. They all have story and I thank Tara, my daughter, for reminding me that life starts with story.
Did you miss the Succulent Extravaganza this week? Do not worry. Belly up to the bar.
Obviously I’m being a little bit tongue in cheek, but let me explain something. Since we opened up our cafe almost ten years ago (wow, time goes fast), we have been pursuing a hard alcohol license to go with our beer and wine license. Well, it’s official. There it is in the form of a pink piece of paper from the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. I think we might be the only nursery in the nation where you will be able to walk and look at plants while sipping on a martini. That makes me chuckle.
But, seriously. Belly up to the bar. Our succulent bar is open.
Our succulent bar consists of almost every variety you can imagine in almost every size. With martini in hand, or not, you can:
Step One: pick out your succulents;
Step Two: pick out a pot provided free;
Step Three: pot them up with succulent mix we provide, and
Step Four: with your succulent masterpiece and empty containers in hand, pay at the register.
FUN! Thanks Kathy and Judith
Willy Wonka basket machine update. It’s working fabulously. Our famous High Hand flower baskets will be ready in just a matter of days. If you would like to pick yours fresh off the line, come on in. It’s really fun and kind of mesmerizing.
I love walking through High Hand’s greenhouse. I’ve tried to put words to the smell you experience. It smells like earth and Nature’s freshness. Come experience it yourself.
Now, for upcoming events.
We are in the early stages of planning a fun concert on our new stage in the Fruit Sheds. It’s not posted on our website yet, but will be as we work out details and logistics. But the date is coming up fast and I wanted to let you know. Just wanted to tease you. It should be a beautiful evening in the nursery and a fun evening of great music.
We hope Mother Nature will cooperate with us so we can bring you all that Maple Rock has to offer. Don’t miss this great day.
Map of Maple Rock
Tickets for Maple Rock Gardens are $10.00 and can be purchased online at www.highhand.com or at the nursery. Parking is free and our new entrance from Highway 193 to the garden is wide open and easily accessible after a year of construction. A light, scrumptious lunch will be available for purchase. Join us for a beautiful day, Mother’s Day weekend.
See you at High Hand Nursery.