Posted on 16 Comments

Back to Black Creek

[This blog has no affiliation with Black Creek Greenhouses, and I cannot provide their current hours or contact information.]

Black Creek Greenhouses

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Black Creek sign

Ah, the rituals of spring: spotting the first green sprout, finding the very first flower, delighting in the first daffodil. And, best of all, plant shopping! I have a few favorite local places for my regular shopping, but at least once each spring, I take a road trip to a place I consider a plant-shopper’s paradise: Black Creek Greenhouses in East Earl, Pennsylvania. Located about a half-mile off of Route 625 in eastern Lancaster County (also known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country), this glorious range of greenhouses has it all: a beautifully organized facility, incredible prices, and an amazing selection of both old favorites and cutting-edge new cultivars. So, let’s grab a cart and start shopping!

Black Creek entrance

Our first sight on entering the greenhouses is a variety of attractive and creative garden and container displays. (To be honest, I usually barely glance at them, because I’m focused on shopping. But I have noticed that they – and a collection of strategically placed benches – seem to be popular with bored spouses waiting for their partners to finish filling their carts.)

Black Creek greenhouse display

Ok, that was pretty. Now, let’s turn right and head for the corner so we can start shopping systematically. This route takes us through the aquatics area. Not being much into water gardening, I usually zip through this part, but it’s fun to take a peek into the tubs of different fish for sale.

Black Creek water-gardening area

Now, we’re finally to the plants. First are the benches of aquatic plants, with pots sitting in about an inch of water and plastic bags handy if you don’t want your chosen pots to drip into your cart. I make a point of checking these benches carefully, because some of the plants, such as variegated St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum ‘Variegatum’), adapt just as well to normal garden soil.

Black Creek aquatic benches

Continuing down the first aisle, we have lots to choose from: mainly good-sized potted tender perennials and vines on the right and thousands of veggie seedlings on the left.

Black Creek veggies

Cruising the next few main aisles, we get to the serious business of choosing from the annuals and tender perennials. At these prices (2 pots for $2.89), it’s hardy to resist just about anything!

Black Creek annual benches

Two especially exciting finds: variegated purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’) and variegated scarlet sage (Salvia splendens ‘Dancing Flames’).

Pennisetum 'Fireworks' and Salvia 'Dancing Flames'

JamesbritteniaAnother oddity: Jamesbrittenia ‘Britney Grand Pink’. Remember when the little white-flowered bacopa first got popular a while back? Then we found out that we could still call it bacopa, but it was really a Sutera?  Well, apparently Jamesbrittenia used to be part of Sutera, and it’s also being called bacopa. At this point, I’m totally confused. You too, huh? I picked up one and will report back if it does anything interesting.

Ok, let’s keep shopping. By the time I reach the herb section, I’ve usually filled both levels of one cart and started on a second. And now…the perennials! Um…better grab another cart, I think.

Black Creek perennial houses

Part of the fun of checking out the offerings is spotting interesting combinations, such as this display of Persicaria virginiana ‘Lance Corporal’, with maroon-marked green leaves, next to the red-and-silver foliage of P. microcephala ‘Red Dragon’.

Persicaria 'Lance Corporal' and 'Red Dragon'

It’s also a good opportunity to compare cultivars. Here is ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) in front and P. caeruleum ‘Brise d’Anjou’ in back. On the bench, it’s tough to tell them apart; they look quite different in the garden, though.

Polemonium 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Brise d'Anjou'

And best of all, the large blocks of both annuals and perennials provide perfect conditions for what cool-plant guru Dan Heims refers to as “sport fishing”: in other words, looking for interesting mutations. The trick is learning which are worth acquiring and which aren’t worth bothering with. It’s pretty common to find variegated seedlings among the snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) and flowering tobaccos (Nicotiana), for instance, but I find that they usually don’t do much once I get them home. My experience with oddball perennials is much more positive, and this year, I think I snagged some great ones.

Helleborus niger 'HGC Josef Lemper' with variegated foliage

For instance, Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) generally hates me, but I had to buy this ‘HGC Josef Lemper’ (above). Almost every plant showed a bit of variegation in one or more leaves, and I don’t think it’s supposed to have markings like this.

Delphiniums don’t like me much either, but this block of ‘Summer Blues’ included several variegated pots, and three of them jumped into my cart when I wasn’t looking.

Delphinium 'Summer Blues' with variegation

Below are several more mutants I found irresistible: a hybrid delphinium with a few white-splashed leaves; a yellow-streaked clump of what’s supposed to be Polemonium yezoense ‘Purple Rain’; and several pots of Lobelia ‘Fan Burgundy’ with white-frosted foliage.

Variegated delphinium, polemonium, and lobelia

One challenge of sport fishing is accepting that not all out-of-the-ordinary foliage is safe to buy. This flat of yellow-mottled red valerian (Centranthus ruber) caught my eye, and I almost grabbed a bunch before realizing that I was looking at a virus problem.

Virused centranthus

Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold'Overall, I was thrilled with the neat new cultivars I found among the perennial offerings. Here are some highlights:

Caryopteris ‘Hint of Gold’: Supposed to be a selection of C. x clandonensis, but it looks very much like C. incana. It’ll be interesting to see how it compares to C. incana ‘Jason’ (Sunshine Blue).

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Sunbeam’: A sport of ‘Moonbeam’, apparently.

Phygelius ‘Croftway Purple Prince’: The genus usually isn’t hardy for me, but I’m willing to try again, because the tag picture looks fantastic.

Eryngium ‘Jade Frost’: White-edged green leaves with pink markings too: just lovely.

Um…I think we’d better head for the checkout now.

The final challenge (after paying for all this leafy joy) is figuring out how to pack everything into the car.

Filled carts at Black Creek

Whew – it fits. In fact, I could probably squeeze in another flat or two. Or, maybe I’d better call it a day. Time for lunch, and then a long drive home. Thanks for joining me!

Filled car at Black Creek











Posted on 16 Comments

16 thoughts on “Back to Black Creek

  1. Wow, your purchases look great. I usually make a few trips like that also. I’m lucky to have some really great greenhouses and nurseries nearby. It is always one of the best days of the season for me. Buying plants far outweighs mall shopping. There’s nothing like it.

    Welcome, Jane Marie! I’m with you: I’m not much of a shopper for “stuff”, but buying plants is a whole different matter.

  2. Wow that looks like a great place. I’m so jealous of all these gardeners that have these wonderful greenhouses and garden centers near them that look amazing. None of the nurseries/garden centers I have gone to compare to any of these. I’ve never really looked for variegated mess ups in bunches, but now I will. It looks like you pick out a tons of great choices.

    Now Priscilla, you’re telling me there are *no* lovely plant-shopping places within a 90 minute drive of where you live? Sometimes they’re just well-kept secrets. I remember learning the secret of Black Creek from some Hardy Plant Society members 20 years ago, and it was like being told where to find the Holy Grail. (Who needs an old cup, anyway? Plants are far more important.)

  3. Nan, you are a shopkeeper’s dream. That is really a lot of stuff you bought, but i guess since you can’t just run down ther whenever you want, best to do it all in one trip? One trip, right, for the whole season? Didn’t think so. You sure are drawn to the variegated foliage. I like some, but not all, that delphinium is just wrong. ;->

    Oh yes, Frances, it’s pretty much a once-a-year treat for me, so I have to stock up when I have the chance. It’s like everything is on sale, you know! I agree the delphiniums are wrong. Don’t worry, they’ll die anyway. I may as well have saved time and simply buried a few dollar bills in each hole. Ah, well.

  4. Wow, what a wonderful nursery! Your trunk looks well satisfied. :)

    I think it would have been even more satisfied with a few more (dozen) plants. Oh, wait, that would be *me* being even more satisfied! Well, I’m thrilled with what followed me home, anyway. Thanks for your comment, Nancy!

  5. Ha!!!! How priceless!!! (Or, well, not too pricey, considering those incredible bargain prices.) Loved all your finds! Guess I’d better haul myself down there if I can figure out how to find it.

    You *definitely* need to go. I think it would be an even shorter trip for you. If you want to Mapquest it, their street address is 211 E. Black Creek Road, East Earl, PA 17519. Phone is 717-445-5046.

  6. Holy cow! That’s a lot of plants. Of course those are great prices. Things are much more expensive here in Chicagoland. I’d have a hard time resisting them too.

    Believe me, the prices are much higher at my local nurseries too. The pots I paid about $1.50 for at Black Creek would easily sell for at least $4.00, and usually more. Kind of makes me wish I had a *much* larger vehicle. Hmmm, maybe I could rent a van for the trip next year….

  7. Hi Nan!
    I want to be with you this day, it is so fun to go shopping plants.
    This nursery that you’ve gone to seams to be a great place.
    I hope you have a nice time when you get home and find some new places to put your plants in, if you have some ;)

    I think the only thing more fun than going on my own would be going with a whole group of plant nuts. Usually, a friend and I meet there, wave at each other occasionally as we shop, pack our cars, and then finally say hello properly over lunch. And you bet: Getting home and unpacking the crates is one of the best parts. Half the time I don’t even remember what I actually bought until then.

  8. This greenhouse looks so wonderful! We’ve got a few snowflakes swirling around our house this afternoon – it would be heaven just to walk down the isles and drink in all those lovely plants. I didn’t think you could possibly fit everything in your car, but you managed very nicely :) Happy planting!

    Hi there, Amy! Oh, snow? Say it isn’t so. Sounds like you really need to sniff some greenhouse air to lift your spirits. I hope you too can play outside soon!

  9. Oh Phooey. I just had to google this location since I’m picking my daughter up in Easton tomorrow. Unfortunately it’s the wrong direction for us :-( Guess my daughter will be happy about that!

    I can’t believe those prices, tender plants are $5.49 each here and forget about those perennials, I’d be shocked to find them under $9.99.

    I’m so sorry, Melanie. But really, your daughter and her stuff would probably take up too much space anyway. You really need to come back on your own. There are many other fantastic nurseries to explore in Lancaster County!

  10. Nan, Nan, Nan. We all know that you can easily get MANY more flats if you tie them down to the roof. The only issue is wind sheer, which I counter by going 15mph all the way home waving politely back to other people waving not so politely to me. Seriously, I think from now on I will photograph every plant purchase since some are wonderfully / rightfully insane like this–especially at those prices.

    I like the way you think, Benjamin. I could definitely do that. Um, except that it would take me about 6 hours to get home. But really, sometimes one has to make sacrifices for one’s plants.

  11. Nan !!
    You got the mystery plant for me girl !
    As soon as I looked your suggestion up it all fell into place .. Phlox subulata ‘Laurel Beth’.. wow !
    I have to write that down some where now so I don’t go through this whole crazy period of “what the heck is THAT ?” thing again.
    I had a quick look at your new plants (I just said to hubby .. “you think I shop for a lot of plants?” haha
    That would have me on a plant”high” for ages : )
    Looks wonderful !
    Thanks again Nan .. much appreciated !

    You’re most welcome, Joy! Glad I could help. A friend once referred to me as an idiot savant of variegation. (I *think* that was supposed to be a compliment.) I can’t always provide an ID, but my stats are pretty good to date. And hey, if I can be used as an example of how easy it is to get carried away with plant shopping, to prove that you are in fact quite restrained in your own acquisitions, then I’ve served my purpose in life.

  12. Oooh… I could get into SO much trouble there! And I’m still giggling about how “three of them jumped into my cart when I wasn’t looking.” Plants do that to me, too… do they somehow know that we’re softies about plant strays?! ;)

    I do think they must know, Kim! I hear all the poor little mutants calling “Nan, take us home, everyone else thinks we’re just ugly.” What am I supposed to do? I *am* relieved that I resisted buying the flat of virused red valerian, even though I was starting to work out chartreuse companions that would complement the yellow mottling.

  13. You really know how to shop. What fun!

    Oh, you know how it is, Layanee: It just takes lots and lots of practice!

  14. It’s always nice to shop at a clean and tidy establishment. I’ve never shopped there, but I will definately put them on my list of nurseries to visit.

    Oh, I hope you do get to go; it’s really worth the drive!

  15. Oh my gosh, I am salivating just looking at all of these choices. My Sister and I are going to an out of the way place we trek to every spring to shop. It is an hour fortyfive minute drive from my house so you can imagine she has lots of different plant offers. The prices you showed are better than any I will see I would imagine. Lets see, it is ?? hours of driving to Penn…

    I can’t wait to see the post on your own expedition, Lisa. Don’t forget the camera!

  16. Excellent post and photos, too.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting, Barbee!

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