Cranbrook shows off native, heirloom plants at annual sale

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 24, 2013

 Many of the flowers, herbs and vegetable plants that will be on sale May 14-15 at Cranbrook’s greenhouse conservatory have been raised organically.

Many of the flowers, herbs and vegetable plants that will be on sale May 14-15 at Cranbrook’s greenhouse conservatory have been raised organically.

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Planting season is close at hand, and the talented growers at Cranbrook Gardens are digging up the fruits of their labor in preparation for their annual Spring Plant Sale.

The sale, now in its 41st year, has long offered customers a variety of plants, herbs and vegetables to take home, all of which have been cultivated in Cranbrook’s own conservatory greenhouse. Many of the items up for sale during the event May 14-15 have been carefully grown from seeds, cuttings or division by conservatory propagator Karen Sansone and other volunteers.

“I absolutely love it. I’ve been doing it all my life, but intensely for the past 25 years,” said Sansone of growing plants.

She explained that guests can find just about anything they can think of to plant in their gardens at the sale, including annuals, perennials, heirloom plants and more. While customers can certainly go to big-name retailers for their plants, she said many people in the community come to Cranbrook’s annual sale because they know they’ll be getting something a little more special.

“First of all, you’re supporting Cranbrook, and the money we make from this sale goes to support the House and Gardens and the greenhouse for the year,” she said. “And instead of going to the big box stores, where they really don’t care, we do. We coddle them, we care for them, and it’s very personal. These plants are our babies.”

Sansone highlighted the heirloom tomato plants that will be available, which she said are true heirlooms grown organically from organic seeds — a claim few can boast, especially larger retailers. Last year, the greenhouse nearly sold out of its supply of 133 heirloom tomato plants. This year, Sansone said, they’ll have almost 250 on hand for customers.

Another favorite amongst loyal sale-goers are the native Michigan plants. According to Johanna Schurrer, co-chair of the Cranbrook Conservatory Greenhouse, the native plant selections available to buy at the sale were either grown in the greenhouse from young plants or, in some cases, were rescued from other areas as part of a rescue conservation effort.

“Wildflowers, or native plants as we’re calling it now, that’s probably our biggest seller, to be truthful,” said Schurrer, who explained that the rescue team heads out to properties slated to be developed and harvests native plants before they’re wiped out during the construction.

“They can tolerate whatever the weather brings, because they’re native. And this is the only time you can get them really, (is) if you buy from somebody under this rescue system.”

As customers peruse the selections of green dragons, ferns, trillium, bellwort, hellebore and more, Cranbrook greenhouse volunteers like Sansone and Schurrer will be around to give guests expert advice on how to keep their new plants healthy and strong. And though the plants have received top-notch care, Schurrer said the prices will rival any other local nursery.

“As far as the greenhouse goes, we do have some special things that go up to $100, but that’s very rare. Most plants are $4 and maybe up to $20, and vegetables and things are maybe $8,” she said, adding that rare native plants could be priced slightly higher. “Perennials are priced pretty competitively.”

To accommodate crowds, shuttles will run from the parking lot of Christ Church Cranbrook to take customers to the sale and back. Wagons will be available to use, and volunteers can assist with loading purchases into cars.

The free 41st annual Spring Plant Sale will be held 10 a.m.-7 p.m. May 14 and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. May 15. For more information, visit

Cranbrook House and Gardens is located at 380 Lone Pine Road in Bloomfield Hills.