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So I am sad to share this news, but in memory of a great plant lover, co-owner of one of America’s largest nurseries, Plant Delights, and supporter and beloved wife to one of the greatest plantsman of all time (Tony Avent)….I am sad to say Michelle Avent, 55,  has passed away after her 4-year battle with breast cancer.

Michelle and Tony met while working at Mission Valley Movie Theater in Raleigh…I have had a many of popcorn there. After that first meeting, they became soul mates for life. Together, they worked side by side to fulfill a dream – Plant Delights Nursery.

But as Tony will admit and wrote in a letter to his customers, it wasn’t easy to support someone obsessed with a dream like him–a dream to have a horticulture paradise – now materialized as Plant Delights Nursery. Tony says that while Michelle was hesitant, she dove in head first and offered some of the fundamental business knowledge needed to get the Nursery off the ground – you know the boring stuff you try to forget while you are in the garden — business systems, publishing platforms, and office set up and management.

I remember her always at the Plant Delights cash register when I visited one of many Plant Delights open houses.  She was reserved, but had a delightful smile and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

When I heard, I cried.  I admit it.  Mostly because of the perspective it gave me…recently, I have been worried about silly things and reflecting on this untimely death of a wonderful women, helped me see beyond the small stuff and be thankful.

I am sure we will all agree, cancer sucks.  So I encourage you to donate to your favorite cancer organization, be that V-Foundation for Cancer Research, The Susan B. Komen Foundation, or UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in memory of Michelle Avent.



Fall is for planting in the South.  Perennials and shrubs do better when they get settled in before our summer heat, so find a good plant sale and go.

Here are a few of my favorite sales and the plants I bought this weekend:

No time to sit with all these new plants!

5 perennials for 10 dollars at Campbell Road Nursery on Tryon Road in Cary.  I came home with some splendid Carex, Erysimum Bowles Mauve, Mexican Petunia, Veronica Georgia Blue plus some dollar annuals and 50 cent perennial herbs.  Some of my best plants have come from the retail side of this well-respected wholesale nursery.  They are great growers.

Some of my most unusual plants come from Plant Delights Nursery in Wake County.  Tony Avent’s  plants are pricey but many are very  rare and all are splendid.  Even if you don’t take your wallet,  the display gardens are free and worth the trip.  I came home with a sweet almond tree verbena (Aloysia virgata)and a red Mexican Bamboo (Polygonum cuspidatum “Crimson Beauty)–plus a maidenhair fern that is supposed to take the heat.  Rare indeed.

Finally, everyone should go buy some greens by the end of the weekend.  Even if you live in a third floor apartment, you can grow collards, kale, lettuce, chard and cabbage and they will be so much better that what you buy.   Grow transplants in beds and pots.  Toss leaves in  your soups and salads until next spring.   I have arugula, romaine and spinach.  I’m shopping for collards and cabbage.

What about you? Share your fall planting lists and favorite sales.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

Remember when you had a school field trip…you were so giddy with excitement to discover something new and there was this feeling of wonder…well, that is not lost after you grow up.  Chris and I went on a field trip this weekend and we were inspired to write a slew of posts from our adventure….here is just one.

The Parade of Hellebores!

So I think we have established the specialness of a winter garden…but Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanical Gardens personify it–the specialness, I mean.

Check out the pictorial display.The ultimate winter flower…Hellebores.

Chris talked about Rockstar Gardener Tony Avent, but here is my take on him and his operation.  First of all, the place is secret, or at least it feels that way.  It only opens 8 weekends a year (limited access). It seems only insiders know about it (Chris is such an insider and she shared it with me). And when you try to find its location…GPS will NOT get you there.  It is in a place called Juniper Level, who ever heard of that.  Enough about Tony…on to the garden.

So the field trip…WOW is the word that comes to mind.  There was an extravaganza of Hellebores, or Lenten Roses…and not your grandmama’s Lenten Rose…no, exotic ones: green with red lining, Deep Purple blossoms, White with purply, pink speckles, double flower, triple ones…I over heard a lady describe them…they are a “humble beauty.” It is one of the very few plants that bloom throughout winter up until April. Wonder indeed.

We walked the grounds and there he was, on his groovy cool patio.  He was wearing a flannel shirt and a tobagan.  He looked so normal…certainly not a world reknown landscape artist, cultivator, plant preserver….oohh…I wish I had my Sharpie…Chris actually talked to him…I have video…but you will have to wait.  Enjoy the pics of the rare Helleboress for now.

…to be continued…

Happy Gardening.


P.S. Definitely go on more field trips!

I grow a lot of old-fashioned flowers.  I like their hardiness, height and they are often sweetly fragrant.  But plant hybridizers (the people who breed plants to create new and improved varieties) have won me over with all their work on Lenten Roses. 

When I first started growing  Helleborus orientalis (common name–Lenten Rose),  flowers were mostly greenish white with a few purple spots.  Now, you can get all sorts of colorful  blooms.   (See the photo above, taken on Saturday in my garden).   You can even find varieties with double flowers.   And you can find them nearby.  This is Helleborus country.  Our climate suits them and some of the top breeders and growers live in the area. 

Pine Knot Farms, just across the Virgina border in Clarksville are world-famous breeders.  I’ve never been to one of their open nursery sale days but I’ve heard they are a mad house (in a good way) with all sorts of  top of the line gardeners clamoring for the latest plants.  

Maybe this is the year I will finally get there.  The Pine Knot sale starts this weekend and Clarksville is not that far. 

Meantime–Melissa and I plan to do some  Helleborus viewing even closer to home at Tony Avent’s open garden. Tony is  a rock-star among gardeners.  A Wake County boy with an international reputation, his open days and garden lectures draw visitors from all over.  I kid you not–people book hotels to see Tony’s garden.   It is just that stunning.  A must see.  

If you are lucky, you will run across Tony as you wander though his garden.  He is super-knowledgeable,  forever young and will always take a question. ( Melissa and I both have crushes on him.)

If you don’t know Tony’s nursery, Plant Delights, check it out  The catalog (usually free to all at the open garden) is great for reading and reference. The pictures are beautiful.   But  Beware.  My friend Kristen,  home recovering from surgery and perusing the Plant Delights catalog, ended up with 800 dollars worth of stuff in her shopping cart.  Tony is passionate about plants and sells their merits very, very well.   (And yes,  Kristen put some back)

Which brings us back to the beautiful new Helleborus hybrids which are also pretty pricey.  I can’t afford many of these lovely plants in my little shopping cart.  But the story has a happy ending.    Once established,  Helleborus drop hundreds of seeds every season.  And those seeds make new plants.  

So check out the high-priced hybrids but don’t feel compelled to buy.    If you’re new to Helleborus, do what Melissa did.  Find a gardener who already grows them, and take home a few baby plants to try. 

Helleborus love to live under tall deciduous trees in my little North Carolina forest.   I give them good soil (improved) , organic fertilizer every March (Plantone)  and water when they are flattened by drought.   In return, they give me glossy foliage year-round and months of late winter bloom.  What a deal.

A long-time gardener and a passionate beginner share the dirt on their NC gardens-

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