I felt like Rip Van Winkle as I walked through Denning's Greenhouse one recent afternoon. I pinched myself, and brought to mind the calendar. It was June. I was awake — if a bit drowsy in the high heat of the day.
But many of the tables of the greenhouse were bursting with color. Hibiscus, begonias, impatiens, portulaca. Few were the empty slots where a certain hot plant had sold out. Not at all like the usual trips to the greenhouse in June, when pickings are slim and you just hope to find an ivy or two for the frill you're missing in a particular pot.
I bought my first annuals of the growing season in April. But amid life and weird-weather weekends, I never finished shopping for them.
Apparently, I'm in good company.
"If we had to count the days that were nice, that were inspiring for spring planters, it would have been less than five," Jim Denning, owner of Denning's, told me.
Yes, someone has been counting.
"Then it was way too cool with frost threatening, cold, cloudy, windy days." I remember those. "People couldn't get enthused.
"Then suddenly it got really, really hot. I guess we're still waiting for spring."
Denning's is a good barometer because it stays open only while it has plants to sell from its original spring stock — it doesn't keep adding plants to stay open year-round.
Normally, Jim would be down to 2 or 3 percent of his stock at this point in June, but he's at about 10 or 15 percent now.
The weather's been playing with people, agreed Collin Campbell of Plant Kingdom Greenhouse Outlets. But he added: "With 8 million people selling plants now, I wondered whether it was a flooded market or the weather or a combination of the two."
There are indeed a lot of choices of places to buy plants, and it could be that some people, especially those of a particular nature, freeze merely at the thought of having to decide on a place to shop.
And of course more places to shop can dilute sales at any one place. I recommend that you base your decision of where to shop on love.
What garden centers do you always want to be able to visit? Which ones do you enjoy? Which ones are convenient? Which ones provide the best plants and the best service and the best price? Frequent the businesses that match your priorities.
The Plant Kingdom outlets are seasonal and, while it always depends on the weather, they generally are open until around the Fourth of July, though a couple may close a bit sooner. Two — at Harry and Woodlawn and at 3639 S. Topeka — stay open into fall with sales of mums and firewood.
"We have a feeling from talking to customers that they still have some gardening to do and are just waiting for weather that's conducive," Jim said.
When customers do wander in like Rip Van Winkle, expecting empty shelves, they've been happy to find that their plants have been waiting for them. And since the plants have been well-cared for and are bigger than they would have been if purchased earlier, gardeners aren't that far behind, Jim said.
I feel like I'm just getting into it myself, like Rip Van Winkle rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.
"As long as plants selected are heat-tolerant, go ahead and plant," extension agent Bob Neier says. "Be sure to go ahead and use organic mulches such as leaves, compost or straw to keep the soil cool. Water regularly as needed to keep them going."
It's not too late to plant vegetables, either. The master gardeners will be planting more tomatoes next week, and you can, too.
And you can "definitely plant sweet potatoes, because they love the heat and will take right off and grow," extension agent Rebecca McMahon said. Add to that beans, squash, cucumbers, peppers and okra.
"If they're really behind and not at the point where they're ready to plant even yet, they could get their garden ready and plant lots of things in late July and early August for a fall garden," Rebecca said.
Added Bob: "Not every day will be 100. On those days in the 80s, plants will brighten up and grow."
Today may be that day to seize, though I'm not waiting on the perfect day anymore.
Any old 102 will do.