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Ott’s Exotic Plants April 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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One of our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s favorite spring activities is taking the beautiful river road, aka Route 29, to Ott’s Exotic Plants in Schwenksville, PA. (For more on Ott’s, see my earlier posts “Ott’s: An obscure plant paradise” and “Heading to houseplant heaven.”) Saturday was the big day, and after doing our chores, we hopped in the little red car and headed into the beautiful countryside.

After stopping in Green Lane (yes, this really is the name of a town, along with other scenic townlets along the route, including Chapel, Palm, and Red Hill) for our traditional lunch at Rockwell’s—oh, wait. Our friend Ben should confess to terminal stupidity here. Silence and I have eaten at Rockwell’s a number of times over the years, while heading to Ott’s or after attending the annual Scottish and Irish Festival at Green Lane Reservoir or going to the annual Goschenhoppen Historians’ Christmas show and sale. Not being a Norman Rockwell fan, our friend Ben had always ignored the numerous Rockwell prints on the walls. But this time, I was delighted to see that the restaurant was displaying a selection of beautiful watercolors of local scenes and scenery—including Ott’s!—by one of their servers. Silence and I took a little gallery tour while waiting for our food and did a bit of oohing and aahing. But ugh, there were still plenty of Rockwells up there clashing with the lovely watercolors. Why hadn’t they taken those tired prints down to make room for actual original art?! Suddenly, our friend Ben had what a friend’s mother immortally referred to as a rush of brains to the head. Rockwells… Rockwell’s! Duuuuuuhhhhh. It only took me, what, ten years to figure this out? How humiliating.

Getting back to Ott’s, we wound along the Perkiomen River until suddenly the most unlikely of sights appeared before our eyes: A true Victorian glasshouse with an enormous “mountain” rising behind it covered with pansies of every conceivable color. The elegance of the glasshouse combined with the tackiness of the multicolored mountain (it’s coated with chrysanthemums in fall) would make a visit to Ott’s a unique experience even if you didn’t go inside.

Trying to shield our eyes from the blinding spectacle of the “mountain,” Silence and our friend Ben rushed inside and proceeded to systematically go through every room to see what was new and exciting and to try to find the plants on our lists. Yes, this year we were trying to be budget-minded and had actually made lists of the plants we wanted to buy. As a result, our friend Ben very sadly passed up the jewel orchids, which I love but have managed to kill more times than I can count. (If anybody has culture tips to share on these, I am all ears. Help me, please!!!) Silence resisted the lure of new African violets, since hers are the healthiest plants on the planet but apparently don’t get enough light to bloom here. 

What was on our lists? We’re so glad you asked. Our friend Ben’s list began with terrarium plants. Our friend Ben kept American chameleons (now called anoles) as a child. I fondly remember the Borgias, Cesare and Rodrigo. I have wanted for years now to get some for the greenhouse to assist with natural pest control, but have resisted in a rare burst of common sense because I figured the greenhouse wasn’t really tight enough to contain them, so they’d manage to find their way to the great outdoors, enjoy a blissful summer bug-hunting, then freeze to death in our snowy Pennsylvania winters.

However. Let me just say that this is all Mr. Subjunctive’s fault. If you head over to his blog, Plants Are the Strangest People (http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/), you can read the saga of how he discovered an anole in a shipment of plants at the greenhouse where he works and ultimately adopted her. The story of Nina pushed our friend Ben over the edge, coupled with seeing a brand-new aquarium at a yard sale when last en route to the nearby town of Kutztown. Have terrarium, need plants, right? Mr. Subjunctive somewhat made amends for luring OFB down the road to ruin by featuring an entire week of posts on houseplant toxicity this past week, including notes on toxicity to reptiles. So our friend Ben consulted these lists religiously before deciding on some terrarium plants for the future anoles’ home.

Our friend Ben was also looking for some pothos (Epipremnum aureum) to hang in the greenhouse and keep it from looking too lonely while most of its winter residents spend the warmer months out on our deck or hanging from trees in the backyard. I found two cultivars, ‘Golden’ (with lovely yellow foliage) and ‘Marble Queen’ (green and white variegated), and they went into the flat I was (by now) staggering around with. Unlike the usual practice of Ott’s to specialize in selling endless genera, species, and varieties of Plantus unknownus, at most including tags with labels like “African Violet” or “Rex Begonia,” glory hallelujah, the pothos were actually labeled with the cultivar names! (Our friend Ben watched in horror as the checkout clerk thoughtfully removed said labels while ringing the plants up.)

I was also keeping an eye out for pots of ‘Tete-a-Tete’, the little sunny yellow daffodils, since I knew Ott’s grew them better than anyone. Our friend Ben loves daffodils, tulips, and crocuses, but hates having to plant them in fall, when their in-garden relations have died back so you don’t have a clue where they are. I have had great success planting out these pots of ‘Tete-a-Tete’ after we’ve enjoyed their blooms indoors and having them brighten the yard every spring. And since I can still see where the other bulbs are while I’m planting them, I can actually plant them strategically for best effect. Our friend Ben was thrilled to find them looking as healthy as ever and on sale for half price. A big, glorious live bouquet that will turn into a garden accent for $3 isn’t too bad!

Our friend Ben was also on the lookout for a gold-variegated ivy to match the one that we had successfully overwintered in the greenhouse; its twin had died sometime during the winter. We set out these ivies in clay pots suspended from the shepherd’s crooks on either side of our front door to welcome friends and visitors during the warm months, and obviously, a single ivy wouldn’t do. Fortunately, I found a mate for it among the many kinds of ivy Ott’s grows.

Silence’s agenda was a little different. Her list included more edibles for the greenhouse. She was looking for the ever-elusive olive tree, but we didn’t see any. She did, however, come home with lime and coffee trees, which we quickly potted up, as well as tender perennial herbs like lemon verbena and the beautiful tricolored ‘Well-Sweep Wedgwood’ Cuban oregano (plectranthus). With her usual presence of mind, she also seized an opportunity when she saw it and snagged a couple of pots of golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), which is perennial with us and brightens the shade as a groundcover in the beds under our many trees.

Ott’s also has a huge and beautifully grown selection of ferns, and after considerable agonizing, Silence succumbed to a gorgeous button fern. The black-green of the button fern foliage looked so good with the yellow of the ‘Golden’ pothos and lysimachia that we were both sorry we couldn’t figure out a way to make some kind of combination. Not with these plants! But there must be something…

And yes, Silence did drag our friend Ben kicking and screaming away from all of Ott’s gorgeous begonias. As she pointed out, we have begonias. We have quite a few really nice begonias. We have enough begonias already. (Our friend Ben remains unconvinced, but with what had now become a huge box of plants already selected, I allowed myself to be dissuaded. For now.)

Our friend Ben would be remiss not to note the bazillion other container plants Ott’s has for sale—these don’t even touch the massive selection of cacti and succulents, herbs, hanging baskets, veggie transplants, and every sort of foliage and flowering plant imaginable—much less the expansive outdoor nursery and bedding plant area. (Remember all those pansies?!) Not to mention a vast selection of pots and their own custom mix of potting soil, seed packets, bulbs, and etc.etc.etc.

And though I talk about it every time, I have to say a good word about the Victorian conservatory in the center of the greenhouses with the classic old tableau of huge tropicals and a waterfall and pond with equally enormous goldfish. Nothing here is for sale, but there is a path up the slope through the tropicals so you can view the waterfall from above as well as at ground level. Our friend Ben would hate to have to maintain this, but I love seeing this reminder of a different age and time-travelling to a past when all tropical plants were exciting and new and people created these glass conservatories to show them off in what they felt was a natural setting. Thank you, Ott’s, for keeping this glasshouse up and running!

As always, Silence and I had a great time. Our friend Ben recommends Ott’s to anyone within driving distance.



1. Heather - April 26, 2009

That sounds like a wonderful day! I love local artwork as well, and always go out of my way to see something interesting.

It was, Heather! And the watercolors were especially apt because they showed local barns, scenes from farmers’ markets, and the like, as well as a view inside one of Ott’s greenhouses.

2. Victoria - April 27, 2009

Sounds like a great trip. Wish I could see that Victorian conservatory. I too am not impressed with Rockwell prints, but duh, Rockwell at Rockwells.

I know, I was so humiliated. Geez. And yes, wish you could see the conservatory too, Victoria! It’s so hard to picture sort of in the middle of nowhere, but I really honor the Ott’s family for keeping it going!

3. mr_subjunctive - April 28, 2009

Such synchronicity, or something. I just bought some Lysimachia too. I don’t think it will really work as a houseplant, but I’ll explain the purchase tomorrow. . . .

Have names picked out yet? Do you know how many anoles you’ll have? How big is the aquarium? What plants did you get for the future anoles? Etc.

Well, who knows about the Lysimachia, Mr. S. Seems like it would make a great terrarium plant to me, though it’s wonderfully hardy here. My aquarium is a 10-gallon, and I plan to get two anoles; no names yet. Going with a green-and-white theme, I got Fittonia argyroneura, a white-variegated Hypoestes phyllostachya, and (breaking from the white part) a Selaginella sp. for a soft cushion. (Of course NOID on any.) I plan to add a couple of offshoots of my spider plants for upright interest, perhaps one with a white center and one with white edges just for variety. With a nice branch, I expect that will do it. What do you think?

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