Simon Crawford collects extremely rare plants, both wild and tame, around the world. From the high mountains of Nepal to the obscure markets of Europe to the botanical gardens of faraway South America, he tracks down new and interesting meadow plants as well as historic old cultivars from discarded breeding programs of companies that have long since closed. A bit like the old song collectors who travelled through Europe and the UK in the 19th century and the Lomaxes (father and son) who did the same in America in the 20th. Our relationship with Simon goes back to the mid 1980s. He runs all of our collection programs in the UK.
Here he has come across, not a rare plant, but an “unusually great” specimen of Verbascum thapsus—not in an exotic locate, but in the Happiness Garden here at our main research gardens just outside Philadelphia. It’s been a terrible season for most vegetables. However, it’s been a fantastic year for flowering plants.
Fordhook Farm is the new (since 2006) headquarters for Heronswood rare plant research and adaptation. It encompasses 15 gardens on a 60 acre estate that was once the home of the Burpee family as well as the site of the oldest continuously operated private research garden in all of horticulture. But now our emphasis includes trees, shrubs, vines, grasses and many other perennials as well as vegetables, herbs and annual flowers for Burpee and The Cook’s Garden. Our next Open House is Friday and Saturday, August 21 and 22. Please mark your calendars.
Simon is about 5′ 11″, so that puts this extraordinary mullein (in this unusual growing season) at well over 10 feet tall. This photograph was taken on July 14th, and the spire extended even a few inches higher until the nights began to cool as well as lengthen. Since perennials have extraordinarily fine senses to day-length, or sunlight quantity and quality, the “little fellow” as I call him finally lost verticality about six days ago. Now he bends, having lost just the amount of energy required to hold himself straight up.
It takes a lot to defy gravity, especially as you begin to lose your “food supply” at the same time your many young seeds that you carry around your sides begin maturing.