MEMBERS’ DAY PLANT SALE PRIMER
Distribution of rare, unusual plants to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden members has had a long rich tradition in south Florida. In 1939, Fairchild Tropical Garden had the first Members Plant Distribution. To quote David Fairchild from the first list of plants:
“In accordance with our policy to grow and distribute plants and palms which are more or less rare in this section, we have now on hand and ready for distribution a limited quantity of plants, a list of which is attached herewith. Small plants are ready for delivery to members only at the Garden, not more than a total of three plants are available for any one person.” That first distribution listed 37 species of palms and 31 species of trees, shrubs and vines. The first Members’ Day took place in April, 1939.
In 1943, Dr. Fairchild wrote: “There are two ways of looking at this year’s distribution of new plants from the Garden. One is that we are presenting to our members plants they cannot buy in nurseries anywhere, - rare things they should want for their yards and patios. The other is that we are hunting homes for some young plants which must be taken care of this year or they may perish. Many of these plants come from remote localities in the Dutch East Indies now no longer open to collectors. Decades may pass before they can be secured again. Necessary conditions, such as the shade afforded by patio or the shady side of a house are limited in the Fairchild Tropical Garden. We do not have suitable places enough to take care of all these young plants. While they are small, they need careful watching; a plant lover should have them close at hand.”
During World War II all plants were delivered by truck. Where truck deliveries were impractical plants were sent by express collect if members desired. In 1943 there was a charge of 35 cents per plant or 3 for $1.00! This was the cost of plants, no charge for delivery! In 2009, prices are a bit higher.
Currently, the plants grown for sale to FTBG members are carefully considered before propagation takes place. In recent years most of the plants offered for sale are propagated from plants growing in Fairchild or in the gardens of staff or volunteers. Many of the plants we offer are not available in local nurseries. The selection of plants for our sales is never far from our minds. We constantly observe plants growing in the Garden, noting their characteristics. For example, "Are they adapted to South Florida soils, or do they need regular applications of iron?" Then there are questions we must ask to make sure that we do not introduce an exotic plant that will invade our natural areas. "Does the plant (if not native to South Florida) produce many seeds? Do the seeds germinate readily under the plant? Have we noticed seedlings elsewhere in the Garden or in areas surrounding the Garden?"
In some cases staff members plant newly introduced exotic plants in their own yards to observe their growth, seed production and proclivity to produce seedlings – anything which would increase their chances of becoming a pest plant. We also observe them to determine how successfully they grow in our soils and climate. Are they adapted to our alkaline soils? Do they show cold damage when exposed to temperatures in the 40's? Our intent is to distribute plants that are easily grown in our climate yet do not pose the risk of becoming a pest plant, displacing native flora.
We have a large number of species native to South Florida and the Caribbean growing in the garden. After years of observation, I have become increasingly drawn to the Bahamian plots, Plots 164 and 166. Many of the Bahamian plants also are native to South Florida. We are also growing native wildflowers and grasses, collected from cultivated specimens, so we can see how they are adapted to conditions not exactly like their native habitats. Their beautiful flowers, red, yellow, purple, blue, have the potential to give more color and interest to our landscapes. We use the knowledge gained from this project to increase the number and variety of native wildflowers available at our sales. I have collected seeds from native wildflowers growing on private property with permission from the owner. If you own property with native species present and would be willing to share seeds with us, I would appreciate hearing from you.
Members’ Day Plant Sale now takes place on the first Saturday of October from 9:00 am-1:00 pm. This year's sale will take place in the Palmetum on October 3. Plants which are designated “distribution plants” are those grown in larger quantities, described and with photos in our Members’ Day Plant Sale brochure. Members may chose up to 4 species from the list of distribution plants to purchase. During the sale, the distribution plants are arranged in Plot 117 in numerical order, according to their listing on the distribution list. Members line up and go to a table where they tell our staff which species they wish. The plants are then handed out to the members.
The “sale plants” are plants which are available in smaller quantities than the distribution plants and may or may not be mentioned in our Members’ Day Plant Sale brochure. We offer trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, palms, and wildflowers which have been propagated especially for members. Occasionally we will have just a small number of rare, choice species that we put “blue tags” on, meaning that they are available one per membership. Otherwise, the number of “sale plants” one may purchase is not limited.
Members should plan on getting to the sale early. Plants sell out quickly. If you have your heart set on a distribution plant or one of the described sale plants, it is a good idea to be in line at 9:00. We actually open our lowland field for parking at 8:00 am. Members may park in the lowlands, then walk up to the cycad vista, just west of the palm glade and wait in line until 9:00. Many people bring their own nursery cart or wheelbarrow. We do have some plant valets with carts. The distribution plants are placed in the northern and middle portion of Plot 117, arranged in the order of the Distribution List as printed in the Members’ Day Plant Sale mailer. The sale plants are placed in Plot 119 with native plants placed in the southern end of Plot 117. Usually by 11:00 am, most of the plants have been sold. The sale ends at 1:00 pm. Plants leftover from Members’ Day will be offered at the Ramble.
In the near future, I will post photos and descriptions of some of the plants available at the 2009 sale. A special Members' Day Plant Sale brochure will be mailed to FTBG Members in September. More descriptions and photos will be included on our Web site. I am working on this currently and will upload the information as soon as possible. I know there are many devoted Members who come to our Members' Day Plant Sale excited about the possibilities of planting their own yard and garden with these special plants. If you are not currently a Member, this is an excellent time to join and partake in one of the many special benefits of belonging to the Fairchild family! For more information about becoming a Fairchild member, click here.
Two members with their new plant. "Decisions, decisions, what plants shall we choose for our garden"