For the past 40 years, Arnold’s Greenhouse has been the go-to garden center for amateur green-thumbs and lifelong plant addicts alike.
The operation, which started as a hobby in a small outbuilding on a wind-whipped plateau in rural Le Roy, now includes, among its many modern features, a greenhouse the size of a football field — with a retractable roof no less — and one of the most dazzling inventories of plants in the entire Midwest.
Late last month, co-owner Rita Arnold addressed a packed room at the Chanute Public library.
“These are busy days at Arnold’s Greenhouse,” said Arnold, firing up her PowerPoint lecture. The talk was called: “Exciting new perennials, roses and shrubs for 2017!”
And it was exciting! Arnold took the group on a guided tour from Begonias to Zinnias and back again. In total, she described in unflagging detail more than 120 perennials, roses and shrubs — attending to the size, color, preferred climate and specific personalities of each variety.
Arnold told, for instance, how the Rex Begonia (“Jurassic Red Splash”), with its burgundy and silver foliage, can brighten up a shady area of your garden thanks to its “iridescent foliage which [has a way of attracting] the occasional beam of sunlight.”
Or how the Coleus “Fancy Feathers Copper,” with its long russet-colored leaves, just looks so “adorable in a 4-inch pot” but how the same plant also “drapes beautifully in a 10-inch hanging basket.” Coleus, said Arnold, are “an excellent replacement for Impatiens!”
If olfactory delight is what you ask from your blooms, try the shade-tolerant Heliotrope (“Atlantis”). The purple flowers that cluster around this plant’s dark green leaves “have an intoxicating, vanilla fragrance that is,” said Arnold, “irresistible.”
But if it’s simple eye-candy you’re after, it’s hard to beat Cosmos bipinnatusˆ (“Xanthos”). This lemon-curd-colored flower, said Arnold, will “light up beds, borders and containers with seriously sensuous, eye-caressing yellow blooms…. Whether planted en masse or mingled with other vaseworthy flowers in the border, ‘Xanthos’ promises a summer of florific rapture.”
Shifting from the sacred to the profane — of this next flower, warned Arnold, “well, it’s certainly a conversation starter.”
In early summer, the Ascepias Physocarpus produces special-looking pairs of seed pods. The pods are, essentially, round inflated capsules, each one covered with tufts of downy filament, whose pendulous appearance has earned the plant its regal nickname: “Hairy Balls.”
According to Arnold, the plant is a huge butterfly magnet, and so don’t be surprised if, by midsummer, your hairy balls are “covered in caterpillars.”
Pushing the gender pendulum in the other direction, meet Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, aka “Hollywood Best Friend”: “She’s a party favorite,” said Arnold, “with her big, tangerine-colored blooms with scarlet highlights and a cheerful pink center.”
Of her cousin “Hollywood Jolly Polly” — whose “positivity is contagious…[and whose] cheerful hot pink blooms make every glass seem half-full and every cloud lined with silver” — Arnold has nothing but nice things to say. (Arnold may have been borrowing here from the marketing material supplied by the Hollywood Hibiscus Co., of Grand Saline, Texas.)
If your loins aren’t tingling by now, try the “Lime Sizzler” (Hamelia patens) on for size. Gardeners everywhere, explained Arnold, have “gone gaga” for this “firebush” plant. “The shocking green and yellow foliage would probably be enough to make you lust over the plant but then add the trumpet-shaped red/orange flower so loved by the pollinators….” Well. Be still my heart.
Should you labor under the misapprehension that the rewards of gardening are merely aesthetic, Arnold reminded attendees of the many fruits and vegetables that populate a plot.
Okra, squash, melons, kale, fennel, strawberries and the hot pepper used to make sriracha sauce, sometimes called “rooster sauce.”
“Sriracha sauce,” Arnold explained, displaying a level of hot sauce knowledge that few in attendance could possibly have equalled, “ranks in the 1,000 – 2,500 heat units range, above the hot banana pepper and below the jalapeno pepper, on the Scoville scale.”
Arnold concluded her lecture on plants with a Chinese proverb that anyone who has ever been married will surely understand.
“If you want to be happy for an hour, take a nap;
If you want to be happy for a day, go fishing;
If you want to be happy for a week, take a vacation;
If you want to be happy for a month, get married;
If you want to be happy for a year, inherit a fortune;
If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, plant a garden.”
Anyone within driving distance of Arnold’s Greenhouse and its 80,000 square feet of Edenic splendors, would be missing out not to pay the place a visit.
Whether you’re looking for simple “filler-spiller” or 20 varieties of “ornamental grass,” Arnold’s has it.
Arnold’s library lecture was sponsored by the K-State Research and Extension Southwind District.
The Register will be honoring Arnold’s 40th anniversary with a more in-depth story in the coming weeks.
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