By DENISE FEDOROW
NAPPANEE — Benedict’s Nursery, 5623 W. 1300 North in Nappanee, offers some unique options in gardening other than the usual bed of annuals like marigolds and zinnias.
Benedict’s has a tufa crevice bed. Tufa is a very porous rock that resembles lava rock. Alpines and ferns are grown in the tufa crevice bed.
“It’s the perfect growing condition for them,” explained Esther Benedict. “Any plants that like well-drained, moist soil will work well.”
Benedict’s has numerous trough gardens and most of its trough gardens are made from hypertufa, a man-made material that resembles tufa rock. Benedict’s also makes its own Hypertufa troughs. Esther plants many alpines in the trough gardens and she has some theme gardens, like the desert theme. She also creates and plants some fairy gardens in the troughs, enjoying the natural look.
Esther said she doesn’t really remember how she got started in this business.
“I saw a picture of Alpines in a magazine,” she said. “I made my first trough garden about 15 years ago.”
Esther explained that trough gardening is an old form of English gardening. Esther does a lot of seed starting and propagating — about 500-600 a year, she said.
She also has bog gardens with carnivorous plants, including Venus fly traps and several others that only like being watered with rain water. Esther collects and stores rain water for those dry spells.
Benedict’s has ponds with aquatic plants that are also sold. Most of Benedict’s plants are perennials. Esther prefers them because they return every year on their own and they are very low-maintenance. Perennials can at times be costly, so that is why she began starting her own plants from seed. She belongs to several societies that conduct seed exchanges.
The nursery business is a family affair. Esther’s husband’s specialty is the normal-sized trees. The Benedicts also graph specific conifers and Japanese maple trees. The children help out, too, but as they are growing up, Esther said she is going to concentrate on just growing and selling unique items.
She also has several sand beds that work well as rock gardens here in the Midwest. Esther said you can stretch the hardiness zones by one or two zones. Sand beds provide good drainage for alpines. Alpine plants can be defined as plants that are found in mountainous/alpine regions where there is a short growing season, good drainage and poor soil. The plants tend to be small because of the short growing season.
Esther’s sand beds include such plants as Dianthuses, Pasque (blooms early in the spring), mini tulips, mini iris, mini columbines, campanula and one of her favorites—the Daphne shrub. There are also many varieties of hens and chicks.
“Everyone knows about hens and chicks, but a lot of people don’t know how many different kinds there are,” she said.
There are red, green, white, bluish-purple colors, some with very tight rosettes and some with large, open rosettes and a variety that forms small balls called “rollers” because they just roll away from the plant.
Late in the summer a chocolate daisy blooms in the sand bed.
“When the sun hits the flower,” she said, “it smells just like hot chocolate.”
Sand beds need very little watering, mostly during extended dry spells because they grow high root systems and there are very few weeds.
Esther has mini Hostas growing in trough gardens under a shade tree and other unique plants include Lenten Rose, bleeding hearts, Heliopsis Loraine Sunshine and new millennium delphinium, bred to handle the heat and humidity of our summers. She also has some unique ferns — a hardy maidenform grown from spores and hardy cacti, including a mini prickly pear and many varieties of sedums.
“People are really into succulents now,” she said.
Esther said she tends to grow just what she likes and is patient enough to wait years for results. She planted orchids in a baby food jar back in 2008 and they just bloomed this year.
Benedict’s Nursery holds workshops on fairy gardens in the spring and making Hypertufa troughs in the fall. Visiting the beautiful display gardens is enough to motivate even the most amateur of gardeners to try one of her unique gardening ideas.