Although this could very well be a picture of me finding a new treasure at a favorite nursery, it's actually an illustration by David Catrow for a children's book called Plantzilla.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Far Out Fun at Far Reaches Farm Part One

It will come as no surprise to you that I, like all gardeners, love nurseries, garden centers, a plant section at a grocery store.  You know, any place that offers the object of plant addiction.  Sometimes drinking ripple from a paper bag has to suffice, other times, we're lucky enough to sip forty year old scotch.  How lucky a lush am I to live in a region rife with horticultural explorers, fine breeders and growers?  Today we have the pleasure of visiting Far Reaches Farm, the nursery of Sue Milliken & Kelly Dodson who are all of the aforementioned. So, don your smoking jacket, fetch a brandy snifter, and prepare to sample some fine cognac.

Do you also get a bit giddy at the thought of  visiting nurseries where you know you'll learn something, see plants new to you, and get to chat with the people who discovered or bred them?

 Tables overflowing with fabulous flora.  

  Roscoea purpurea f. rubra syn. 'Red Gurkha'

"Fantastic Roscoea only discovered in the 1980's  in Nepal and still scarce as hen's teeth in the nursery trade and always commanding very high prices.  Why is this so good?  It represents a color break in Roscoea with large red flowers which resemble some exotic orchid except this is easier to grow!  It's a show-off plant for sure.  In the trade as 'Red Gurkha' but recent nomenclature based on determining that this represents a naturally occurring variation of the species in stable wild populations in Nepal eliminates the perfect clonal name which everyone is still going to use."

Roscoea 'Family Jewels' hybrids

"We have not named many plants despite many opportunities to do so but this is one we are fairly puffed up about.  We love Roscoea for their durability in the garden and their exotic, almost orchid-like flowers.  We were pleased to offer the famed red-flowered Roscoea purpurea f. rubra known as 'Red Gurkha' for the first time in the US whose flowers are indeed luscious and our only quibble is that the plant is a bit short.  We wanted to get the vibrant red tones of Red Gurkha carried on into a sizable flower on a taller plant with ideally some color to the foliage.  We cranked up the in-house hybridizing using a number of parents and one cross in particular showed excellent promise.  The next year saw us focus on replicating that cross with good success and the resultant seedlings were lined out in our trial bed two years later.  We were able to judge that bed with a dispassionate and calculating eye when every plant came into flower and the resultant evaluation received a positive check mark on the new category we had to create of Hell, Yeah!!!  Vigorous plants with foliage variously shaded in coppery hues and flowers that defy easy description.  The flowers in mid to late summer bewitch with prism jewel tones of ruby and amethyst which shimmer with an entrancing depth of color.  This is a seedling group and not clonal so there is some small variation but pretty darned consistent.  We hope to sell enough to defray chiropractic shoulder treatment from repetitive injuries stemming from patting ourselves on the back."

My picture didn't capture the delicious color of this.  I got the one in the background with the cinnamon-colored stems and undersides of the leaves.  It's quite a looker!

The plant that many of us fell in love with when we visited Bella Madrona during the Portland Garden Bloggers' Fling, Itea ilicifolia.  Speaking of flings, Far Reaches Farm is a sponsor of the 2017 GBBF in Washington D.C.  Seems that Tammy, our Washington host had just talked with Kelly over the phone the very day of my visit.  Thanks Kelly and Sue, for supporting this fun event!

Treasures in the shade house.

Oh, to have space for another tree.

Looks like it might be a bit tender too.

In the shade garden, a polygonatum with purple stems. 

Maianthemum oleraceum in fruit.  "Perhaps the penultimate perennial in our shade garden. This Asian False Solomon Seal species reaches the pinnacle of expression in this pink-purple flowered form. In time, this will develop thick stems variably black or green and less commonly coated in a subtle pale peach fuzz of small hairs. These impressive shoots arise from the soil in spring as if the imaginings of some wild fever dream about asparagus. At full maturity which will take some years, these will be pushing 6' in height and when in flower will render even the most consummate gardener speechless. (David Culp, author of 'The Layered Garden', was not without speech when he dropped to his knee upon seeing this blooming but the words were disconnected and for the most part unintelligible. He said almost a year later in conversation "You know, that was was just one of those moments in your life"). The large panicles of small pinkish purple flowers appear usually the first week of June for us and own the shade garden. We have many striking plants in the garden but when Martha Stewart Living wanted to know when to come out and shoot the garden, we said "First week of June - Maianthemum oleraceum will be blooming". These are young plants at 3-4 years old and will have stems perhaps the diameter of a pencil. It will be a few years before these become contenders for the best thing in your garden but if ever a wait was worth it, this is that wait."

Ajuga incisa 'Bikun' has pretty foliage but when it produces cobalt flowers, stand back, it's incredible!

Gentiana asclepiadea (guessing)  This garden and nursery are so rich with unusual plants and Kelly and Sue so knowledgeable that my small brain often forgets some of what it hears.  

And yet another gorgeous tree!

Great combinations in the borders abound. 

Love this use of allium seed heads. 
There's more to come from this visit to plant nerd heaven.  Stay tuned for part two!

Fortunately, Far Reaches has a fabulous website from which even those not fortunate enough to shop at the  nursery in person can order online.  


  1. Thanks for transporting us all to this fabulous nursery via your photos! Such cool news that they are sponsoring next year's DC Fling. I wonder how drought tolerant that Itea is, once established? I get so sick of watering all summer. My Garrya, which has similar hanging flowers, never seems to need water.

  2. Oh heavens, another one to add to my list! Haha I want to go to Dancing Oaks. Have you been there?

  3. Love Far Reaches, and fondly remember my only visit there - in September of 2013 with you and a bunch of other bloggers. Such a fun trip, although that beastly winter that followed made short work of many of the goodies that came home with me. Oh well, will have to try again... Coincidentally, I just bought a Roscoea yesterday, out at Joy Creek. Mine will have cream-colored flowers though, but no matter. I mostly bought it because of its foliage, and that it does well in shade. What it doesn't have is those delicious cinnamon-colored undersides and stems, though... Nice!

  4. How fabulous that Kelly and Sue are supporting the 2017 Fling! I haven't visited since that September trip that Anna references. Time to get my plant loving self back up there!

  5. Great post. First paragraph especially amusing. Many exotic plants hitherto unknown to me, but, in the end, I still like the combination of the dahlias, sages, and bulby thing like crocosmia in the borders best.

  6. I meant to visit this summer and never did manage to set aside the time. What is wrong with me? Thanks for providing a virtual visit. I would have snapped up that 'Red Gurkha' in a heart beat. It's been on my wishlist for years. Darn! And that purple-stemmed Polygonatum is absolutely luscious. I've never been that impressed by 'Bikun' before (very odd, given my love of blue flowers), but your photo has me salivating over it.

  7. I've been looking to see if I can squeeze anything more into my garden and these photos sure make me want to find room. I love what I ordered on line this year but it would be heavenly to visit and shop in person as you say.

  8. Your nurseries are unlike anything we have here.

  9. Giddy would be a polite word for my reaction to great nurseries. I used to get incredible stomach distress every time I visited Western Hills in Occidental, CA. Thanks for documenting your visit. FRF certainly knows how to rock a catalogue description!

  10. I wish they shipped internationally. What gems!

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  12. These are amazing and unusual colors. Are you sure there weren't special hidden lighting going on? I can imagine that Acer sikkemense at full size; it would make a stunning conversation piece in the garden.

  13. This is your kind of place, all right.

  14. This is a good time of the year to explore plants and trees at garden marts now that the flourish of summer flowers is now past. We do have 4 places near by but after visiting one outdoor center I was sorta disappointed. You seem to have found a winner. The allium seeds has much interest...thinking because I will want some new additions next spring or maybe this fall.

  15. They often come down to do a seminar at JC. Kelly is quite the entertainer...and OH, the plants!


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I love to hear your thoughts.