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Pacific Northwest

by VALERIE EASTON / Seattle, Washington, USDA Zone 7

Wells Planted

Do we define ourselves by where we buy plants? Recently I ran into a garden-mad friend while waiting in line at a major Seattle-area nursery. After we’d complained about the weather and compared potential plant purchases, she leaned closer and whispered, “I’m really a Wells Medina person.” The bustling nursery where we waited is nothing to apologize for, but it isn’t Wells Medina.

In the plant-rich Northwest, what’s made Wells Medina the go-to nursery for serious gardeners for more than 35 years? Its upscale location in Medina, east of Lake Washington, near the waterfront estates of Bill Gates and Amazon. coin’s Jeff Bezos, doesn’t hurt. The gloriously showy pots featuring lust-inspiring plant combinations are a draw. And Nordstrom’s clerks could take a lesson in patience and courtesy from the knowledgeable longtime staffers. Many of us appreciate that Wells Medina is the only female-owned nursery in – the area. But in the end, it all comes down to the fact that Wells is all about plants.

“Our lunch time conversations are botanical…it’s our goal and our fun to search out the newest, latest, coolest plants,” says Wendy Wells, who owns the nursery with her sister Lisa Freed. Their father, Ned Wells, started the business in 1971, and the unobtrusive yet sleek architecture by Seattle architect Gene Zima still serves the nursery well. The clean, simple lines of the buildings highlight the plants while lending a muted, classy sense of place and scale. When gardeners gather to taste wines at the “Gelebrate the Reds” autumn benefit for the Washington Park Arboretum, or when they mob the place at the annual May coleus party, the nursery is a festive backdrop. Most of the time, however, its gravel paths, tables, and shade houses are a treasure trove of reasonably priced rhododendrons, Japanese maples, perennials, roses, grasses, vines, annuals, and edibles. There’s a commitment to variety and selection. “Most nurseries don’t even bother much with trees anymore,” says Wells, “but we carry lots of them, even the conifers that tend to sell slowly.”

That’s not to say Wells Medina hasn’t kept up–in fact they’ve fanned the flames of the coleus craze in the Nordiwest. Every year, the sisters host a coleus bash, showing off more than 50 different varieties. The party sells out, with a waiting list of people clamoring to come buy the latest coleus. And Freed s famously exuberant seasonal containers inspire the latest style trends. Her winter plant combos have been especially influential. Customers no longer ask for pansies or cabbages in autumn, but for variegated rhododendrons, evergreen perennials, and golden euonymus.

But perhaps Wells Medina Nursery is most distinguished by what it isn’t–there’s no gift shop, no latte stand, no commercial merchandising. Almost all the space is filled with plants for sale, and any left over is used to show customers how plants actually grow, in demonstration gardens and planters.

“We’ve made a conscious decision not to sell coftee, candles, or soaps,” explains Wendy Wells. “So many nurseries now have plants as a backdrop to the gift shop.” This must be why dedicated gardeners characterize them selves by this, their favorite nursery. H

WORTH GROWING

Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist

Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist’ is a fairly new wallflower from New Zealand. It must be one of the longest blooming cultivars in a species already known for near-endless flowering. Its bright little blooms, sweetly fragrant and shaded apricot to dusty mauve, persist from March through the frost. ‘Apricot Twist’ blends beautifully with purple- or burgundy-foliaged plants. Like all wallflowers, it prefers full sun and good drainage. Sources, page 92.

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