Museum offers mecca for native plants, seeds

Described by Town & Country magazine as “one of the season’s best native-plant sales,” the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art’s Wildflower, Native Plant and Seed Sale takes place every year on Mother's Day weekend in the museum's courtyard.

Plants at the Brandywine Conservancy's sale are always tagged with relevant instructions.

Plants at the Brandywine Conservancy's sale are always tagged with relevant instructions.

Admission is free, and all proceeds benefit the conservancy's expansive wildflower and native plant gardens. At the sale, conservancy garden staff members and volunteers can answer questions, give planting instructions, offer horticultural advice, and even provide brief tours of the gardens.

Environmentalists routinely tout the benefits of using native plants in area landscapes. For example, adding milkweed benefits struggling monarch butterflies while winterberry holly assists birds. In general, native plants help support insects and animals that keep pests in check, reducing the need for chemicals. Many native plants are also drought-tolerant.

The plants in the sale are carefully nursery-propagated. None are collected from the wild. A large percentage are grown from seeds that are collected by volunteers from the gardens surrounding the Brandywine River Museum of Art, and from the conservancy’s adjacent meadows in Chadds Ford. Many of the plants are difficult to find in retail garden centers, one of the reasons the sale has become so popular, and all plants are ready for immediate transplanting.

Herbaceous plants (ferns, grasses, flowering perennials) are offered in a number of different pot sizes and typically range in price from $5 to $8 a pot. Woody plants (vines, shrubs, trees) are most commonly sold in one-, two- or three-gallon pots, with base prices typically at $19, $29 and $39, each.

Some plants even come with a bonus. A pot with a large foamflower may also contain a seedling wild columbine or wild geranium, and a Brandywine bluebell may include a Dutchman’s breeches. Customers only pay for the primary plant. Such combinations can be separated and planted individually or planted as one to grow as a group.

Nearly every batch of plants at the sale is presented with an informative sign, usually containing a color photo, to help customers better understand where the plant will grow best and what it can be expected to look like after it has grown a bit in your garden. To help customers remember that information, each plant has its own label, which includes the basic attributes specific to that plant: typical size, time and color of flower, its sun preference (full sun, part shade, shade) and soil moisture preference (wet, moist or dry) and, if there is room on the label, a comment regarding its value to birds, bees and butterflies.

Packets of the hand-collected seeds, cleaned and packaged by the garden volunteers, will be available during the plant sale as well as year-round in the museum shop. Seed packets are $2 each and $5 for a set of any three packets.

The sale will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, and Sunday, May 8. The museum is located on Route 1 in Chadds Ford.


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