Thursday, June 01, 2006

A loss for all of us (corporate bastards strike again)

After taking it over in 2000, Burpee has closed down Heronswood Nursery, a legendary plant resource and showplace in Kingston, Washington.

I have saved all the Heronswood Gardens catalogs I’ve ever received since I first heard of the nursery five years ago. These fascinating, highly literate publications are worthy additions to the bookshelf of anyone who cares about plants and gardening. I think I only ordered once: a geranium phaeum "Samobor" whose delicate, reflexed flowers are in bloom as I write this. Maybe a few other plants that year.

Of course, I’ve never been there, but that has only added to the romance of nursery director Dan Hinkley’s stories of gathering unknown cultivars from the high Himalayas during his regular collecting explorations. These essays punctuated the listings of every catalog; in 2000, the nursery published an anniversary book including essays by Jamaica Kincaid and other writers. There were never any photographs in the Heronswood catalogs; the prose was enough to get you excited about their offerings of unusual geraniums, hellebores, campanula, peonies, and other plants.

We hear now that Burpee considered that the catalog had too much reading and too many offerings; in fact, they introduced an abbreviated catalog with the usual garden porn photographs a couple years back. The old Heronswood catalogs are now sold as “books.”

What a shame. A defeat for literacy, romance, and the availability of truly unique plant cultivars.

(I learned about this while browsing Growing with Plants.)

1 comment:

firefly said...

I recently read an op ed in the New York Times written by George Ball (who is Burpee's CEO) actually complaining about the native plants movement in a whiny "them damn environmentalists" tone. As if Burpee et al doesn't already sell enough hybridized crap to suburban America and the "native plantsers" are some kind of threat.

That's when I unsubscribed from Burpee e-mail alerts and recycled all their catalogs. I used to buy seeds for morning glories, nasturtiums, and sweet peas, back when all I had was a container garden, but if the man (and the company) has that kind of attitude, they won't get another penny from me.

We'll probably never know, but I would not be surprised if Burpee had some ambition to patent the collected plant material that they decided to give up on because of court challenges by indigenous peoples to other patent attempts on collected biota, and after that, of course, operating Heronswood was considered "too expensive."