Exploring The World Of Exotics And Natives
Barry Glick’s Sunshine Gardens is at the forefront of the unusual plant market.
September 28, 2012
On a mountain aerie in West Virginia is an unusual plant collection that would likely satisfy the desires of the most ardent gardener. It is called Sunshine Farm and Gardens, and it is spread over the mountain, in hoop houses and along ridges and valleys where the varied microclimate fits the different species and cultivars.
The proprietor is as unusual and rare as his plant collections. His name is Barry Glick, and he is a self-acknowledged nut about plants. “I was born that way,” he says. As an eight-year-old living in Philadelphia, Glick would ride his bike to Longwood Gardens to track new species for his collection at home.
A Modern-Day Flower Child
In this day of smart phones and computers when interest in gardening seems to be declining, it is interesting to note that a demonstration of how to root a cutting in a glass of water on television kindled Glick’s interest in plants. As a little boy, Glick did the same thing with one of his mother’s prized coleus plants. He was hooked for life. It also did not hurt that flower children were all the rage; Glick became a flower child. He is still a flower child at 62 years old and combines a Barnum-and-Bailey knack for promotion with a sharp intellect and prodigious memory, all wrapped in a counter-culture, hippie-like persona.
In 1972 when Glick needed (lots) more room, he purchased 60 acres in Greenbrier County, W. Va., where visitors need the instincts of a mountain climber to find his plot of land. The impetus for this move was an advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer promoting the sale of the land at $30 per acre, which the young Glick could barely afford. He followed the advice of the poet who said, “Listen to your heart; when you jump off the cliff, sprout your wings on the way down.”
Finding Success In The Plant Market
He sprouted his wings by purchasing 500 apple trees from nearby Adams County Nursery and planting them in an orchard — an organic orchard, of course.
Today, Glick has well over 10,000 perennials, annuals, bulbs, trees and shrubs from every corner of the globe. He exchanges seeds and plants with people in nearly every country of the world, and he travels to many of these countries, as well. He has travelled to China, India and Russia on plant collecting expeditions. He is acquainted with many plant collectors and is on a first name basis with all of them. Glick loves to talk, which helps make him a popular lecturer. He even puts on workshops in plant propagation and is enthusiastic about anything that will promote knowledge about the plant kingdom.
In early May, we spent a misty, cool morning with Glick and his dogs and saw enough plant specimens — ones that would fit in different types of climates and situations — to satisfy our appetites. These specimens included a prized Styrax japonicus (Japanese snowbell). Planted in 1993, this plant was loaded with blooms. We also saw a rare, variegated Zelkova serrata ‘Goshiki’ grafted on elm rootstock, and a weeping European beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Tortuosa,’ easily 20 years old and thriving beside Glick’s house on his mountaintop. On a tour of the gardens, we saw a multitude of native plants in their spring splendor, along with a few experimental species. Some were wonderful, while others were not, which happens so often with all of us who love to try something new.
“The Pleioblastus distichus, or dwarf fern-leaf bamboo, has taken over everywhere,” Glick says. According to him, the variegated version is not as vigorous and has less chlorophyll, making it less overpowering in the garden.
Glick says there is a good reason why natives are all the rage these days: Tending to plants that are naturally well-suited to our gardens and landscapes saves time, water and energy. These plants also provide a healthy environment for native birds, insects and other wildlife. With these perks, it is easy to see why this trend has taken off in recent years and why more gardeners are going native.
Hellebores And More
Next door is a healthy patch of Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum, also known as yellow lady slipper, alongside a marbled-leaved, yellow hellebore of Glick’s named Helleborus ‘Sun Marble.’ Other nearby plants included:
• Hexastylis virginica, a beautiful ginger bloom with marbled leaves of green and silver
• Caulophyllum thalictroides (blue cohosh)
• A native Delphinium triflorum
• Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-pulpit)
• Disporopsis pernyi
• Arisaema dracontium
• Aceriphyllum rossii
• Primula meadia ‘Alba’ (syn. Dodecatheon meadia ‘Alba,’ also known as pride of Ohio or prairie shooting star)
• Helleborus niger
• Jeffersonia diphylla (twinleaf), a charming plant with a charming history
• A spring-blooming aconitum, which shows off white flowers in early spring
As we walk, Glick keeps us entertained with nonstop stories about his tours and speaking engagements around the world, collecting plants and the people that he contacts regularly.
Our original quest was to find the Helleborus ‘Sunshine Selections’ bred by Glick. This hellebore is a product of more than 30 years of propagation, selecting true F1 hybrids. It occupies more than six acres on his part of the mountaintop in West Virginia. Despite our original intent, we found much more than the hellebore to capture our interests and fuel our
In the greenhouses, we found Asclepias quadrifolia, Hexastylis arifolia and many varieties of ginger from around the world, each with leaves more spectacularly designed than the next. A native scutellaria (skullcap), hardy ginseng, a very unusual Hexastylis contracta, Prosartes maculata (syn. Disporum maculatum), carex of all shapes and sizes, Viola tripartita and Viola palmata have also taken root in the greenhouse. The list is truly endless, and with his passion for native plants, it’s no wonder Glick enjoys sharing his knowledge and living treasures with everyone.
Richard T. Meister is chairman emeritus and editor-at-large of Meister Media Worldwide.Debbie Fitzgerald is a freelance writer and horticultural enthusiast.