It's the Plants, Darling



One seriously good plant

The photo above is Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost.’  It grows in the ghetto of my garden, in the soul-crippling alley between two Victorian houses built snugly close by siblings.  A touching story in 1880 maybe.  But now, not only is there no light, there is not a speck of moisture, thanks to a Norway Spruce on the neighbor’s side that so sucks up the water here, you can’t even step on the ground without its crunching.

Yet ‘Jack Frost’ carries on in this dismal place, shedding its silvery light and celestially-blue flowers as if it were painted by Fra Angelico and growing on a cloud.

I ought to have 20 of this plant, which the Missouri Botanical Garden recommends as a ground cover.  Instead, I have two.  Why’s that?  Well, there was an interesting thread on GardenWeb last year about mass suicides among New England brunneras. But no–my brunneras seem to be beatific, martyr-like characters able to find a ray of hope even in the inhuman conditions I impose.

No, I only have two because they are ridiculously expensive.  The second one is little, something I bought at a season-ending half-off sale and not yet worth discussing. The first one, I bought at fancy-assed Mettowee Mill Nursery in fancy-assed Dorset, Vermont.  I don’t usually shop there for perennials, being unwilling to head into the double-digits for glorified weeds.  I shop there for flowering shrubs, because they carry really, really gloriously big ones that are really, really worth the splurge.

But I was nonetheless so desperate for something that would grow in my dry shade that I took a recommendation from a woman working there and went home with ‘Jack Frost.’  He was so beautiful, even as little bouquet of three leaves, that I went back the next spring to buy more.  The price had gone up to $15 a Jack. I balked, stupidly–one of those gardening moments when I just should have handed over the credit card and forgotten about it.

Since then, I’ve always had my eye out for Jack. You can’t find him everywhere, but I did just see nice ones at a distinctly unfancy country Agway.  The price?  $18.99.  Again, I balked.  I’m sorry.  Maybe you spend that much on herbaceous plants.  But given the rate at which they expire under my care, I don’t.

Why so expensive?  The web is full of blather about difficult to propagate on a large scale.  Why don’t I just divide mine?  Well, it took my first Jack three or four years to reach his present magnificence, and I just don’t have a heart to set him back in any way.  So maybe he’s difficult to propagate on small scale, too.

The most interesting thing I learned about Jack, I learned from Larry Hodgson’s book Making the Most of Shade.  Hodgson points out that white -and cream-variegated plants tend to be weaker than all-green plants, because the variegation means that parts of the leaves don’t contain chlorophyll and can’t absorb light.  Silver variegation, on the other hand, is a translucent cover on a fully-functioning leaf.  So silver plants like Jack should be just as robust as green plants.

This only doubles my conviction that Jack should cost $5.99 for a thriving gallon and my yard ought to be full of him.

Posted by on May 16, 2008 at 4:23 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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13 responses to “‘Spensive”

  1. Kim says:

    I saw these at Gary’s Gardens in Severna Park, MD last weekend for $18.99. Granted, they were big, healthy plants, but I’m with you on the price being waaaaaaaay too high. That’s why I don’t have one yet.

  2. queenie says:

    BUT – will deer leave it alone, do you think?

    What a gorgeous plant – and I have several places where it would thrive – but I fear the deer. . . .

  3. Yummy plant, but I’m with you. I hate paying that kind of money for a perennial.

  4. Kim says:

    What I’ve read says they are deer resistant. I’ve never ordered from Dutch Gardens, but they have 4 inch pots of this for 8.99 on sale. I’m tempted.

  5. mj says:

    Dont blame the retailer. Fancy assed Jack cost $4.95 wholesale from the supplier in a 2″ pot, a tiny little tissue culture thingy, plus the shipping and fuel surcharge. Then the grower has labor to grow it, pot it, the cost of the pot, the soil and fertilizer. Oh, the roalty fees on patented Jack are like .25 per plant and then you are required to by the .15 label to go with the patented plant. Hmm lets see, I guess that might cover it. Somewhere in that retailer might like to make a little profit instead of just giving everyone the plant at cost. oops almost forgot that…
    Just my opinion from the back seat of the bus….

  6. Benjamin says:

    I’ve wanted this plant for years, but laughed my butt off at the price. Glad I’m not the only one who thinkgs it’s freaking nuts.

  7. suzq says:

    If you think that’s bad, try pricing epimediums. The home gardner has to compete against “male enhancement” herbologists.

    Gorgetop Gardens has Jack at $7.99, although, who knows how much shipping is.

  8. Kim says:

    My Jack died. I planted it on the north side of my house in rich moist soil. I think it might be difficult to grow. I would pay a high price for a well grown plant like that if I knew it would survive. Gonna try it again in poorer conditions thanks to your experience. If that doesn’t work I’ll give up.

  9. Kim says:

    My Jack died. I planted it on the north side of my house in rich moist soil. I think it might be difficult to grow. I would pay a high price for a well grown plant like that if I knew it would survive. Gonna try it again in poorer conditions thanks to your experience. If that doesn’t work I’ll give up.

  10. Half price spring sales are your friend:

    Yes, Bluestone plants are small. But they stand behind their stuff and this is $9 compared to $16+. Sounds good to me.

    By the way, I love my ‘Jack Frost.’ I think that the other Kim, above, must have been way too nice to hers–I have mine in dry, crappy soil, too.

  11. Jack O says:

    I love the Jack Frosts, we have about 10 of them – 3 in hanging baskets where their drought tolerance is a real blessing. And for three years now the deer have left them alone.

  12. queenie says:

    hey – thanks for the info re: the deer attractiveness quotient – much appreciated! If I can find one, I may plant several. . . . (if I find ’em at a half-way decent price, that is!)