Another beloved spring tradition for my husband and I is the plant sale/auction at the Ohio State University. It is held to benefit the lovely Chadwick Arboretum, which is located on west campus. Held on Friday and Saturday, there are booths from different local nurseries, agricultural and botany student groups from the university, and the local Master Gardeners. They sell a variety of great things: the ag. students usually have all sorts of interesting heirloom tomato plants, the Master Gardeners have great starter veggie plants (we usually get our pepper and okra plants from them), and one student group, plant pathology majors, have interesting native plants that are increasingly challenging to find otherwise. And the prices can’t be beat: the heirloom tomato plants were $1 a piece.
One of our favorite parts of the whole thing is the auction. The Friends of the Arboretum coax a bunch of nurseries into donating shrubs and trees, often rare, new, or unusual specimens, and then auction them off with 100% of the proceeds going to the Arboretum. There’s a member’s only auction on Thursday in the evening, then there are public auctions on Friday and Saturday. We have added many interesting trees and shrubs to our garden over the years by attending the auctions. It’s always exciting and fascinating: in addition to the auctioneer, there is always an OSU professor on hand to act as an emcee. For each item, they explain what the plant will do, what sort of conditions it wants, share why it is special or unique, and then pass the microphone over to the auctioneer and the bidding begins. I always learn something new, and at this point it’s also fun to chat with many of the volunteers who recognize us from past auctions.
This year my husband had Friday off and I had Saturday off , so we got to attend both auctions. Between the two of us, we purchased several new plants to add to our garden:
- a Red Feather Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum ‘JN Select’ Red Feather)
- an Arnold Promise Witchhazel, grown on a standard (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’)
- a Winter Lightning Box Elder (Acer negundo ‘Winter Lightning’)
- a Rotfuchs Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Rotfuchs’)
- a Cutleaf Lilac (Syringa x laciniata)
- a White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
- an Orange Rocket Barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’)
- and, on a total whim because the bidding was so insanely low, a Velvet Pillar Flowering Crabapple tree (Malus ‘Velvetcole’. A 14 foot tree for $40? Of medium height yet with a compact columnar form? I couldn’t resist, we’ll find a spot for it somewhere!
That sort of serendipity is part of what I love about the auctions. We have all sorts of interesting plants and trees in our yard in part because we don’t have a strict idea of what should be there. We have ideas for where we’d like to put a shade tree, or to slot in a tree with a columnar form as a vertical accent, but we usually don’t have a hard-and-fast idea of exactly what those trees should be. This leaves us open to gathering interesting specimens for good prices at things like the OSU plant auction.
Although, the more I see of this particular tree, the more I really want one. Bad. This is one we may have to just seek out rather than waiting for serendipity to bring it our way. I’m crazy about tricolor beeches, this one is in the Arboretum’s collection:
At two points during the auction that I attended on Saturday, the auctioneer had to take brief, abrupt breaks because everyone was distracted by the sight of elephants (!!!) walking around across the street.
The circus is in town (how old-fashioned does that sentence sound?) and performing at the Schottenstein Center on campus. The elephants are seen above heading into the Schott for a performance. Later, we saw them coming out and headed back to their temporary stables.
Sorry my pictures aren’t great, it was very startling and unexpected to see random elephants. Also magical and surreal. I’m not sure I feel great about elephants being circus performers, but seeing them walking around was really special and wonderful. A friend of mine from college once shared with me her theory that if you can believe in elephants, it isn’t that hard to imagine that there might be aliens. I can’t say that I think she is wrong.