BY LES BRAKE / Willow, Alaska, USDA Zone 3
Nursery of Note
Tryck Nursery 3625 Rabbit Creek Road Anchorage. AK 99501 907-345-2507
A trip to Doug Tryck’s nursery always feels like an outing to a mini botanic garden or arboretum. Autumn is the best time to visit—you’ll catch the many exotic trees and shrubs at their most brilliant, including Sorbus fruticosa, with its red-feathered leaves and white berries. Best get going now—it’s open weekends only in September and closed October through March.
For several years after I started my gardening life in Alaska in 1984, I avoided primroses. Figuring that I needed to concentrate first on what I thought of as the “big plants,” the plants that would form the bulk of the garden, I hoped to later meet an egghead—I mean enthusiast—who could point the way to some of the hardier species for my cold Willow garden. When I was ready, long-time garden writer Lenore Hedla told me to call plantsman Jim Fox of Palmer, the only person in southcentral Alaska who knew primroses.
Fox later moved to the Seattle area, in 1997. Wanting to ensure that his collection would remain well tended in Alaska, he asked Sally Arant, garden designer/nursery-woman/wife/mother of two and later two more, to take it on. He couldn’t have chosen a better person to assume not only his plants but also his enthusiasm.
Falling in love with primroses because “they’re tenacious, like Alaskans” Arant acquired enough firsthand knowledge of the genus to write a handbook on the subject. The desire to do a book wasn’t born out of the need to be the first to write on the subject in this area, nor the need to be a “primrose queen” (she notes that “someone will always know more”). More than anything, it was an attempt to educate herself about an unexplored group of plants. A self-described “encourager,” Arant could use her handbook to nurture other gardeners’ dreams. It started out as “a little list, then a commentary, then a handout, and then a class.” She finally asked herself, “How do I reach more people and conserve my energy? I think this needs to be a book. Not a book book, but a handbook. A pretty handbook, though. The goal was not a cute little book for the locals, but [a manual] intended for a wider audience.”
Subtitled Growing Primroses in Southcentral Alaska because Arant didn’t want to claim more than she knows, the Alaskan Primrose Primer is relevant beyond its stated range. Gardeners in each of Alaska’s seven USDA hardiness zones should find selections that work for them. A hefty 12 pages are devoted to color photos—smart, because that’s what we need to see in the winter. Plenty of practical advice is presented. For example, Arant notes that beds around trees require liberal amounts of leaf compost annually, and she makes suggestions about how to treat primroses that tend toward early dormancy. My only quibble is the claim that the maddeningly difficult Primula pulverulenta is long-lived. When I questioned Arant about it she said, “Haven’t you heard of revisions?”
Alaska is the best state for growing primroses, and now we finally have some literature on the subject that’s been written specifically for the uniquely challenging conditions of the Deep North. Just in time, too, for rumor has it that Sally Arant and her family are leaving Alaska after 20 winters. Indeed, orders for the handbook can be directed to Sally Arant, 713 Williams Street, Springfield, Illinois 62704. (Price is $14, which includes shipping.) Her departure will leave a gaping hole in the gardening community in southcentral, but at least we have a handbook to help demystify the large and confusing group of plants that’s so at home here. H
Nutmeg-scented Primula florindae closes the primrose season. Beginning their bloom in late July, the yellow shades go through September, while the orange-red tints bloom into October if the weather permits, according to Sally Arant. To do its best, this plant has just three requirements: water, water, water. Sources, page 74.