You have to like a man who starts a mail order nursery called Plant & Gnome and who assigns himself the title Chief Executive Gnome. It’s just part of Chris Higgins’ dry, British sense of humor, which he’s transported, intact, to West Virginia.
Chris came to Charleston in 1998, after meeting his wife Shana in Ireland. A native of Glenville, Shana was working as a volunteer on an organic farm. Chris was working for a large tree nursery in Ireland. In Charleston, he went to work for TerraSalis Garden Center, but when their daughter Claire was born, he decided to stay home with her. A year later, he started a plant nursery in Glenville. A year after that, son Seamus was born.
Chris has a nice selection of inexpensive, starter-sized trees, shrubs and perennials, that he sells through his website: www.plantandgnome.com. He also attends a few fairs and festivals each year. You may have met him yesterday at the Garden Festival at the Cultural Center in Charleston. He also sells plants at the WV State Folk Festival in Glenville in June and the Stonewall Jackson Jubilee in Weston in September.
His best plant selection is naturally, on-line, and the website is easy to negotiate. He likes plants with interesting bark, twigs or sticks, plants that berry, plants with fragrant flowers with long bloom times or bloom at unusual times of the year, and plants with interesting foliage.
He likes white flowering plants in summer and he loves plants that make a garden interesting in the bare winter months of the year. He’s been surprised by how much hardier some plants are than they’re rated for. Chris has found some beautiful, large crape myrtles growing well in Glenville, which is zone 5. The hardiest of crape myrtles are rated only to zone 6. There are also some nice seed-grown large Southern magnolia trees in Glenville, again, only supposedly hardy to zone 6.
Chris is hard-pressed when asked to name his top five plants, but he gamely has a go at it anyway. Japanese fantail willow is a childhood memory plant for him. He loves the early spring pussywillows and the contorted branches. He also says it’s longer lived than most of the willows in our area.
Any variety of oak leaf hydrangea is on his favorites list due to the long bloom time, the beautiful fall burgundy foliage and the ability to hang on to its leaves into early winter. He likes the peeling bark on paperbark maples. His current favorite evergreen is Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’, a graceful, weeping evergreen tree. As for perennials, he likes the blues–summer blooming Agapanthus ‘Headbourne Hybrids’, another plant that’s hardier than rated, and fall blooming monkshood, both having blue flowers.
I got a couple of interesting plants from his nursery, one I’ve grown before and one that’s new to me. I’ve grown winter honeysuckle before, but lost mine inexplicably. I’m trying again as this is a shrub that blooms in February and March, and has intensely fragrant flowers with a strong lemon scent. It gets quite large, about seven feet tall and as wide, and does well in a range of soils in sun to part shade. Despite my loss, I’ve found it to be a tough plant in other people’s gardens and a reliable bloomer. It’s a late winter spirit lifter, like witch hazel and snowdrops.
The new to me plant is a Fragrant Abelia, Abelia mosanensis. The abelias I know have tiny shell pink flowers and bloom for months on end from late spring well into fall. They are common sights in interstate medians as you head south to the beach. I’ve not known any to be fragrant.
I’m interested to try a plant that Chris describes as having a “sumptuous fragrance”. Its pink flowers bloom in May in sun to part shade. In summer, it has glossy green foliage that turns a bright orange-red in fall. He says that even the greyish-white winter stems are attractive. It will get five feet tall by five feet wide at maturity.
There are many other interesting plants to try from his nursery. Plant and Gnome also sells interesting cut branches for floral crafts and Christmas wreaths in late fall.