Even though spring has been slow in arriving, seedlings are thriving in paper cups, peat pots and recycled yogurt cups in sunny windows throughout the area. A temperamental mother nature hasn’t deterred area gardeners preparing for the many fund-raising plant sales this spring.
Christine Ciccone has more than 1,500 seedlings lined up in front of every sun-filled window in her Naperville home to prepare for her annual Gardening For the Mind sale to benefit the National Association of Mental Illness DuPage.
Last year she raised more than $700 for NAMI. Customers lined up at 7:30 a.m. outside her home for the sale that started at 8 a.m.
“I couldn’t believe how many people came. I sold out by 11; so this year, I planted more. A lot more,” she says, gesturing towards a multi-teared rack filled with brilliant green sprouts.
During last year’s sale, Naperville residents Rich and Ann Tanaka offered to adopt some of her seedlings to expand her stock. About 400 plants are enjoying sunlight at the Tanaka home.
This year Ciccone has 30 different varieties of herbs, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. Over half the plants came from seeds she saved from varieties she grew last year, but she has added 13 new inspired varieties this year.
“Over half of these plants are well-known favorites, and the rest are well-researched experiments,” she explains.
Dozens of Black From Tula tomatoes were grown from seeds she harvested from a deep purple 1-pound-9-ounce tomato last fall. Pineapple tomatoes, a yellow tomato marbled with red veins with a sweet, full flavor, she discovered over the winter.
She also has planted Shishio peppers, a tender small pepper ideal for tapas dishes that she tried in a Chicago restaurant. During a snowy January day, she saw a farmer on a television show talk about his Hungarian peppers. After several hours of Internet research, she found the seeds for those Szegedi Hungarian peppers. They are now thriving in her windows.
Ciccone is just one gardener who can’t wait to share her specialties during plant sales. The Plain Dirt Gardeners have been getting their hands dirty for 25 years for their annual plant sale.
“This club’s name was intended to help distinguish it from the tea-drinking, flower arranging type of garden club,” says member Sue Robles. “We have starters — seeds that we save and start in a gallon milk jug. We cut around three sides and plant the seeds in the jug in February. We close the jug at night to keep the plants warm.”
Many of the plants at their sale are native varieties from members’ gardens, including wild ginger, lilies and jack-in-the-pulpits.
“We are nothing if not frugal in all that we do,” Robles adds. “If you are interested in a plant that is hearty, will increase in size, is bio-diverse, cheaper and ecologically sound, come see us.”
Then there are the Hilltop Gardeners. The group’s plant sale started 48 years ago, Oswego resident Carol Hayner says. Local gardeners “had so many plants, they needed to share them.”
All of the plants are naturally grown without pesticides and are varieties that are “tried and true,” Hayner says. “We have lots of hostas and other things from people’s yards. There is always a line because people know that this is the place to go for good plants at great prices with lots of good advice.”
Offering learning opportunities is a big part of many of the sales.
“Our gardeners are very passionate and ready to give advice,” says Mark Mayszak, president of the Naperville Community Gardeners, which also hosts a sale. “Members are bringing unusual varieties and heirloom plants that they are familiar with. If you are trying to establish a garden, this is the place to go for both plants and help.”
So, if you haven’t started your own seedlings yet, there will be plenty to go around at area club sales. But you better get there early.
Here is a list of the upcoming area plant sales that will provide interesting varieties as well as opportunities to support charitable organizations. Be sure to shop early since many of these events sell out quickly.
9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, May 9; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 10 — Forest Preserve District of DuPage County native plant sale, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook. Over 130 native species of flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees are brought in for this sale. Funds raised benefit educational programming for the forest preserve.
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10; and noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, May 12 through 14 — College of DuPage spring plant sale, Fawell and Lambert, southwest of Tech building, Glen Ellyn. Plants have been grown in the college’s greenhouse by students and staff. The selection will include bedding plants, herbs, vegetables and perennials. Proceeds go toward college programs.
5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 9; and 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 10 — Rosary Sports Boosters plant sale, Rosary High School, 901 N. Edgelawn, Aurora. Plants are supplied by Schaeffer’s Greenhouse, and include bedding plants, annuals, vegetables, hydrangeas and other varieties. Funds support Rosary High School sports programs.
9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 10 — The Hilltop Gardeners Plant Sale at the Little White School House Museum, 73 Polk St., Oswego, will include perennials from members’ gardens, annuals, vegetables and flower baskets. The majority of the items come from members, but there are some items sold from professional growers. Proceeds from the sale go to support community beautification projects.
9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 10 — Batavia Plain Dirt Gardeners Plant Sale, Bethany Lutheran Church, 8 S. Lincoln St., Batavia, offers a great selection of native plants from members’ gardens as well as bedding plants. This group maintains the wildflower sanctuary on the north end of the city hall complex. Funds raised support this effort and other community beautification projects.
7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 10 — Naperville Community Gardeners annual plant sale is in the gravel parking lot at the north end of the West Street Garden Plots west of Naperville Central High School and Edward Hospital. Most plants are provided by members, but there are also some nursery supplied plants. Funds raised are used for community projects, scholarships and club activities.
8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 11 — Gardening For the Mind plant sale, 634 Willow, Naperville. Christine Ciccone has four varieties of basil, four varieties of hot peppers, six varieties of sweet peppers, two varieties of eggplants, 13 varieties of tomatoes and one type of decorative pepper plant available. Funds raised are donated to NAMI DuPage. In case of rain, check www.facebook.com/GardeningForTheMind for a details.
8 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 17 — Fox Valley Garden Club gardeners sale, Aurora Transportation Center, 233 N. Broadway St. Aurora. This sale is being combined with the Aurora Farmers Market preview, so there will be many garden club members selling plants grown from seed and dug from their yards along with area farms, bakeries, cheese makers and coffee roasters. More than 80 vendors have signed up for the event. Mike Nowak, a WCPT radio garden show host will be giving presentations from 10 until 11:30 a.m. along with signing and selling copies of his new book on the perils of organic gardening. Funds raised by the garden clubs go to various community projects.
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 17 — West Chicago Garden Club Plant Sale, corner of Galena and Main streets, downtown West Chicago. This plant sale mainly features plants grown by garden members or dug from their own gardens. The event is part of the city’s annual Blooming Fest, so there are also arts and craft sales, food vendors, entertainment, a car show, and exhibits and demonstrations.
Don’t see your garden club event here? Email community news editor Heather Pfundstein the details at email@example.com