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The Wilson Botanical Gardens greenhouse is small as greenhouses go, but the plants growing inside are from all over the world.
These are not your garden variety vegetables or ordinary ornamentals.
“We like to have something different,” said Julie Newton, Wilson County Master Gardeners member and greenhouse manager. “If you want something run-of-the-mill, you can go to a big-box store and get that, but we like to have more interesting things.”
The Wilson County Master Gardeners are preparing for their annual spring plant sale at the Wilson Botanical Gardens from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
“We are growing five different kinds of tomatoes, four different kinds of peppers. We have some eggplants and other vegetables and herbs and also some ornamental flowers,” Newton said.
There is the Tulsi basil, which is a traditional healing herb from India.
“It has kind of a bubblegum smell to it,” Newton said.
Then there is the Ping Tung eggplant, which is a long, skinny Asian eggplant that is reportedly very tasty.
“They are less seedy than the Italian eggplants,” Newton said. “That’s why I like them. It’s all about the food for me. That’s why I like them the best.”
Ajvarski peppers are among the exotic seedlings available.
“They are a Serbian pepper that are kind of a sweet, hot, smoky pepper that’s used in a really particular Slavic eggplant and pepper recipe that is famous throughout the world,” Newton said.
Where did all of these exotic seeds come from?
“Some are things I grew at home and was interested in,” Newton said. “I like different kinds plants. My father was a landscape architect, so I grew up with plants.”
Exotic chocolate cherry tomatoes or giant Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are sprouting up.
Newton grew Mortgage Lifters at her home last year and had one tomato that weighed almost three pounds.
Amana orange, another heirloom tomato, also produces big tomato fruits.
“The lighter colored tomatoes, yellow and orange, are lower in acid,” Newton said. “Those are nice for people who can’t take regular tomatoes.”
Newton loves interesting plants, and plants with a story.
“We’ve have fish peppers, which are an interesting pepper,” Newton said. “They are an African-American heirloom pepper that have variegated white and green foliage and fruits.”
The peppers were developed by the artist Horace Pippin and used in the Maryland area in seafood dishes, according to Newton.
“It’s great to be the greenhouse manager and get to select the varieties that are grown in the greenhouse,” Newton said.
Some of the plants for sale don’t produce fruit, but still have unique qualities.
Mimosa Pudica, which is also called “the sensitive plant,” recoils when its leaves are touched. It is a native of South America and produces a purple flower
“When we water them, they all close up,” Newton said. “I don’t know why they do that. It’s some sort of evolutionary adaptation I would think. We had an intern at the botanical gardens that was originally from Puerto Rico and she thought it was hilarious that we were growing these because they are weeds where she comes from, but they are such a fun plant because it is fun to watch them move.”
Chamomile has blossoms that can be dried and made into tea.
“It’s a calming herb, something we could all use a little more of, I think,” Newton said.
Lion’s ear, an interesting ornamental plant in the mint family, is a native of South America.
“It grows on a tall stem and it has balls of flower buds that occur about every foot and a half,” Newton said.
Saturday’s event is a fundraiser for the Wilson County Master Gardeners and the Wilson Botanical Gardens.
The Master Gardeners organization started in 1983 and has about 40 members. Volunteers who tend to the greenhouse include Judy Zampella, Linda May, Tap Tapie, Jane Allman, Judy Buzard, June Edmondson and Karen Blume.
Included in Saturday’s sale will also be interesting perennials, trees and shrubs contributed from the gardeners’ yards.
“If you come early, then you are able to get the best selection,” Newton said. “The botanical gardens don’t receive any funding from the state or the city. We raise all of that money ourselves,” Newton said. “The Master Gardeners take care of the Wilson Botanical Gardens along with help from other community groups.