Despite cold temperatures and damaging fungus, local nurseries are getting ready for gardening season

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 27, 2013

 From annuals to perennials, there will be plenty to choose from this year at local nurseries. These native plants were available for purchase at last year’s annual Garden Walk in downtown Franklin.

From annuals to perennials, there will be plenty to choose from this year at local nurseries. These native plants were available for purchase at last year’s annual Garden Walk in downtown Franklin.

File photo by Tiffany Esshaki

Though spring seems to have lost its way en route to Michigan, it won’t be long before temperatures finally rise and the ground thaws to welcome new plants and flowers into eagerly awaited gardens around metro Detroit.

Just like in fashion boutiques, there will be lots of trends that customers will be clamoring for at their local nursery this year as they plan their landscape design. According to Erma Rhadigan, co-owner of Ray Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb Township, this year’s most popular bloom choices are going to be bright, warm colors.

“I’m seeing a lot of corals and fuchsias with New Guineas and geraniums,” said Rhadigan, who said she gauges what’s most popular by what she sees planted in warmer states, like Florida, where the planting season begins early.

Typically, such bold colors in flower beds are executed with the ever-popular impatiens. This year, however, it could be a little tougher to find the usually abundant blooms, according to master gardener and longtime Detroit News columnist Nancy Szerlag. She explained that, last summer, a disease called downy mildew made its way to the state and crippled countless flats of impatiens, leaving customers frustrated and stores scratching their heads as to how the fungus can be prevented.

“This mildew can live throughout the winter in the soil and can also be airborne, so the major garden centers in metro Detroit aren’t going to be selling impatiens this year,” said Szerlag.

Rhadigan said that her store is one of many that won’t be selling the flowers until a cure is found for downy mildew. So far, no effective treatment is available. 

“It’s a mess. I heard about it in Florida, but I never thought it would reach Michigan,” she said. “I’m just not going to carry them because I know it’s going to happen again, and I know I’m going to have unhappy customers.”

English Gardens is joining the boycott, as well, vowing not to sell impatiens until the fungus is eradicated. But according to English Gardens Marketing Manager Jennifer Youngquest, there will be plenty of downy-safe options for customers to try this year that will give them the lush, colorful flower beds they look forward to each summer.

“Begonias in a shady spot are a good choice. New Guineas and Coleus are great options. Coleus doesn’t have flowers, per se, but the foliage is spectacular,” said Youngquest. “Sunpatiens are really good for sunny areas. Torenia, for shade. That’s a blue flower, too, and that’s pretty rare.”

To help customers navigate their gardens without impatiens, English Gardens is hosting a Garden Party weekend April 6-7 with presentations, displays and more to get customers into the spring spirit. At varying times during that weekend, each of the six English Gardens locations around metro Detroit will host a seminar titled “No Impatiens: What Now?” The idea, said Youngquest, is to help gardeners learn about all the bedding flower choices available this year besides impatiens, and that there’s no harm in straying from the norm and trying something new.

New plants are what Rhadigan is most excited about, this coming planting season. She said Ray Wiegand’s will have a number of products on hand that will appeal to growers of every skill level.

“We’re doing a program this year with HGTV plants, with plants from all of the top-of-the-line cultivars from ‘Home and Garden Showplace,’” she said, adding that the featured flowers and plants will begin arriving at the store soon, and HGTV shrubs will arrive in July. “They’ll cost a little more, but it’s supposed to be the best-of-the-best growers growing these plants.”

Rhadigan went on to explain that vegetable and fruit gardening will be especially popular this season, with new products designed just for growers without the luxury of large gardening spaces.

“We’ll have hanging planters, ones with strawberries or herbs, and also stackables this year. You can still do gardening in a small area, even if you live in a condo or apartment,” she said. “We’ll also have BrazelBerries — raspberries and blueberries for containers. They’re really cool. They’re going to stay small, so you can grow them in a container on your patio.”

For growers who want to scale down their gardens even further, Rhadigan said that Ray Wiegand’s has, in recent years, seen a huge influx of customers looking to build fairy gardens. The small, whimsical spaces designed for mythical fairies often include tiny furniture alongside miniature plants or walkable plants like creeping thyme or mini hostas.

“You can do them on a small scale, like an 8-inch-by-8-inch space, or a 12-inch-by-12-inch space, or even 20-by-20. We have several different vendors we get things from, and we can show customers how they can do it,” said Rhadigan.

For more information about Ray Wiegand’s Nursery, visit For more information about English Gardens, visit