Duo offers plant-collectors’ delight

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June 8, 2013

Pursuing the Wild: The Sichuan Botanical Expedition
Guest Speakers Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson
Sponsored by Finnerty Gardens Advisory Committee

Reviewed by Susan Hawkins

Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest often favour eclectic kinds of gardens. Our temperate, water-abundant environment supports a dizzying array of unusual plants, both indigenous and exotic. Recently, in the University of Victoria’s David Lam auditorium, rare plant collectors and breeders Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson treated local plant and garden enthusiasts, a group in which I include myself, to a presentation that featured both rare and exotic. Milliken and Dodson are of that unusual breed of phytomaniacs, the plant collector. Plant collectors are intrepid explorers–men and women who traverse often-inhospitable terrain to be the first to find, document, collect and botanize previously unknown plant specimens.

Milliken and Dodson are the proprietors of Far Reaches Farm, a rare plant speciality nursery located in Port Townsend, Washington, where they grow and market a wide variety of plants that are particularly well suited to regional growing conditions. Their most recent plant-collecting excursion, joined by well-known plantsman and plant hunter Peter Cox, led them to the misty mountain ranges of China’s Sichuan region, seeking seeds and cuttings from a variety of new or uncommon species of rhododendrons, primulas and ferns. Their presentation paired over one hundred images with fascinating stories of botanical exploration and inspired a number of collective oohs and aahs from the enthusiastic audience. In addition, Milliken and Dodson work closely with the Friends of Finnerty Gardens, providing new plant stock for the ever-expanding rhododendron and plant collection.

Currently, the native habitat for rhododendrons is disappearing fast, and the status of many species in the wild is uncertain. As part of their occupation and nursery, this dedicated couple work to preserve rare plant species and their threatened habitats.  Milliken and Dodson’s passion for plants was both contagious and inspiring. Their presentation was immensely informative and conveyed an understanding of the value for preserving rare plant species and the habitats that sustain them.

The rhododendrons are currently in bloom in Finnerty Gardens; I highly recommend a visit to view some of the rare and exotic species first hand.

Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson can be reached at: Far Reaches Farm, Port Townsend, Washington.

Susan Hawkins is a trained gardener completing her History in Art PhD. 

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