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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Perennial Pursuit

By Jim Bishop.

By the late 80's, the heavy use of annuals and bulbs in my garden meant that it needed almost continual attention to replace faded plants and spent blooms. There was a major drought and I was starting to look for ways to use less water, so I began trying to make my garden easier to maintain and also extend the blooming season. Perennials were getting a lot of attention in magazines and seemed to be the answer.

My pursuit for perennials led me to Buena Creek Nursery. I'm not sure how I first learned of Buena Creek. It may have been a newspaper or magazine article. Or maybe it was when I was looking for unusual daylilies. In the 80's, Buena Creek was Cordon Bleu Farms and I received their catalog in the mail. It was owned by Bob Brooks and his partner Ray Chesnik. They had established a mail order business for hybrid daylilies and bearded iris. In 1988 they hired Steve Brigham to help manage the nursery and mail order daylily business. I visited the nursery in mid-June and starred in amazement at the fields and hillsides covered by rows of daylilies in shades of rust, orange, yellow and pink. I remember Steve not being very enthusiastic about selling me daylilies, however, he was very excited to show me his collection of unusual plants with the beautiful flowers.

It could be that I learned of Buena Creek through Judy's Perennials located next door. The San Marcos nursery was owned by Judy Wiegand and I recall reading about Judy in the local paper. I set out to visit when there was a Saturday open house. It was very crowded when I arrived with a large group of people waiting in line to purchase plants and peppering Judy with questions. Most frequently people were asking for plant colors that went together and Judy consistently answered that everything she sold was selected for color and they would all work well together. I took a stroll through the front display garden. I was impressed that everything did indeed work well together. It was particularly rich in pinks, whites, lavenders, purple and blue colors. However, I was on a mission for two plants. Judy had hybrid alstroemerias which I had recently learned about. She also sold perennial nemesias that came in white, pink, or lavender and had a sweet fragrance. I was already growing the brighter, larger flowered annual nemesias and thought the perennial ones would be a nice addition to my garden. I came home with a short, pink and white flowered alstroemeria and several small nemesias. The nemesias also set seed and came up in the garden. I still have several descendants of the original plants in my garden today

Back at Buena Creek, I found listening to Steve talk about plants fascinating. Living alone and not knowing any other gardeners, for me gardening was a solitary sport with little interaction with others. Steve however, could talk about any plant telling you the Latin and common names, place of origin and other countless details. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I could have listened to him forever. To me, it was like I'd found confirmation that I wasn't the only plantaholic in the world. I would spend most of the day there reading the informative signs on the plants and then check with Steve that I had made the correct selections. I brought home a carload of plants that I had never heard of. Over the years, I would return many times, always purchase too much, and spend the next several weekends trying to find places for things in the garden. Through Buena Creek I was starting to connect to the larger horticultural community. Over the years, I would meet Kathy Musial, Mary McBride, Scott Spencer, Susi Torre-Bueno and many others. My plant selections, garden, and enthusiasm for gardening would never be the same.

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