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Into the Garden: Hosta your vista

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I love buying locally because of the customer service I receive from local garden centers. It's so nice to have insight into a plant's habits, to have someone make suggestions about where to place certain plants, and other tips.Shopping via the Internet is typically not a "friendly" experience. Imagine my surprise when I placed an order online a few weeks ago and, with my order confirmation, I received a personal email from the owner of the company.Let me assure you he didn't know I would be writing about his communication -- he is just an amazing hosta grower who appreciates his customers.I ordered a couple of plants from An email from Tom Carlson popped up after I got my electronic receipt for my purchase.Here's what he wrote:"These are all nice, but 'Hoosier Dome' is one of my favorites. Thanks again! Tom."I wrote back and said I was excited about my purchase and was looking forward to getting them in the ground.Then, another reply."These are 4-year-old plants, but the height might be stunted some as they are grown in full sun. They need to get established, but you will love them! They look like spaceships! Thanks again, Tom."I figured, well, while I have his attention ... so I asked if I could plant them in part sun following their start in full sun.Moments later: "Perfect. Hostas can grow just about anywhere but do best in morning and late-afternoon sun or filtered light all day long." He gave me this link: this point, I was compelled to tell him his conversation might end up in the newspaper. When I asked if that was OK, his reply was swift."Absolutely! We appreciate all of the publicity we can get. If you have any other questions, feel free to call me any time. Work pretty much nonstop seven days a week, so seriously, call me on my cell." I looked at the earlier emails, and he had included his cell number along with lots of other ways to connect.My new friend Tom finished with, "I have never been to Charleston but hear it is wonderful!"
Tada! A great public-relations move from a Minnesota hosta grower.
I'm always writing about the need for plant growers to be more involved, to be more personal, to connect with the buyer. Tom Carlson of HostasDirect just might be the model for perfect Internet plant sales, if you ask me.Here's what I ordered:Hosta 'Alabama Gold': This one is in homage to my son in Alabama. It's slug-resistant, has great light yellow leaf color, and the leaves pucker and cup.Hosta 'Hoosier Dome': This large hosta has leaves cupping downward and grows to 24 inches tall.Hosta 'Chartreuse Wiggles': Especially beautiful in mass plantings, this one has wavy leaf edges in a bright chartreuse color. Simple but elegant.
Hosta 'Praying Hands': The 2011 Hosta of the Year, this medium grower (16 inches tall) has leaves that look like praying hands, arching upward.Hosta 'Medusa': With very long, interesting leaves in creamy white with a medium green margin, this mini grows 8 inches tall.After a few days, I called Tom to chat about his company and his plants. He said he tries to look at every order that comes in, and he shares information with all of his customers. He said people don't expect to find a hosta grower in Minnesota."But we're at the same latitude as Japan, and that's where most hostas originated," Carlson said. He sells mature plants as well as starters, which cost a lot less, and, since hostas grow quickly, he's had great success bringing new plants to the market quicker than other growers.With a laugh, he called himself an "inventor type," but he owns five patents in the printing industry and he's been working for years on a garden marker product. When it's perfected, he promised to share the product with me. In the meantime, he's working with national parks, colleges, universities and other gardeners to improve it for mass marketing.Plant fall veggiesNow is the time to sow seeds for your favorite greens, beans, carrots and other edibles. According to gardening newsletter Extra Dirt, it's actually easier to start vegetables and herbs from seed in the heat of the summer rather than in the spring, when temperatures fluctuate wildly and soil can be wet and cold. Just be sure to choose ones that can be planted before the last average frost date in the spring; that way, you know they can take some cold.Recycling, part 3 ...Last week, I wrote that a reader was turned down when trying to recycle pots at the local Lowe's store. I noted that the managers that I had talked to had assured me that they accept pots for recycling. The reader had been turned away at the local store.Lin Davis, garden center manager at the Westover store, in the Morgantown area, called to tell me that it's a Lowe's regional policy to accept pots for recycling. She personally wraps the pots turned in at her store and returns them to their annual and perennial nurseries. She suggested that if someone visits the store to recycle pots and they are turned away, they should ask to speak to the store manager.Thanks, Lin!Reach Sara Busse at or 304-348-1249.
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