What a Story to Tell!

What a Story to Tell!

by Danny Summers

Storytelling could be described as both a gift and art. Of course, there are different methods of storytelling. When considering the written form, names like Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, today's JK Rowling, and many others come to mind.

What we may not be considering often enough are the stories about the plants you offer every day. We could be challenged by questions like...

  • How was the plant discovered or developed and by whom?
  • Or why is the plant identified as something special or unique?

These questions are relevant for both legacy plants and more recent introductions. A neighbor of ours several years ago had the most magnificent holly. It was large, pyramidal in shape with large glossy serrated leaves and it was loaded with bright red berries that surrounded the stems. It was a perfect specimen.

I was puzzled by the variety of this beautiful plant but was determined to find out the facts. I even pulled out our copy of Dr. Michael Dirr's 'Manual of Woody Landscape Plants' (one of the industry's standard references) and while I had narrowed down options I was still not completely sure. A few months later two nursery friends who were woody growers stopped by the house and it gave me the chance to ask their opinion. The consensus was Ilex x 'Emily Bruner'. At last, I knew the name.

But then I wondered about how it was discovered or developed. I thought I remembered it being an introduction by Mr. Tom Dodd, Jr. of Tom Dodd Nursery in Semmes, AL. But the real story about the origin of the Emily Bruner holly was revealed in a book Dr. Allan Armitage and Linda Copeland wrote, Legends in the Garden.

The story of this plant begins with "Who is Emily Bruner?" Here's some text from Legends in the Garden...

Ms. Bruner was a well-known teacher of weekly horticulture classes for fellow garden club members in the Knoxville, Tennessee area in the 1950s. In 1960, as a favor to her friend James Swan - owner of Swan Bakery, a Knoxville institution and also known for its fine landscape, agreed to supervise a landscape crew at his business. While surveying the grounds, she discovered six unusual seedlings growing beneath a Chinese holly (Ilex cornuta Burfordii). In the area, she also found four large male Lusterleaf hollies (Ilex latifolia) and she soon became convinced the seedlings were crosses from the two, Ilex cornuta x latifolia. She planted them in her garden and they soon became handsome pyramidal specimens, all having glossy many-spined, dark green leaves and the females produced large red fruit. [Just like the photo above.]

The story continues three years later when Ms. Bruner, carrying an armload of cuttings, entered a University of Tennessee greenhouse where Don Shadow, currently a student, was working. She said she wished to propagate the cuttings. Don remembered seeing the plants in her garden earlier and was glad to root them for her. Later, Don requested and obtained the rights to the plants and in 1972, introduced the female as Ilex x 'Emily Bruner' and by the request of Ms. Bruner, named the male as Ilex x 'James Swan.'

Here are two plants today honoring a "keen plantswoman" and "a baker" whose influence reached far beyond Knoxville, TN, and continues some 70 years later.

For me, knowing the people for whom the plant is named makes a strong connection. Reading the story in Legends in the Garden and how Emily Bruner recognized the seedlings there at the Swan Bakery site, makes the specimens I see today come alive. This is a similar feeling to when someone gives you a plant... every time you see the plant growing in your garden you think of that person (I also learned about Nellie Stevens holly and Annabelle hydrangea).

The Story to Tell... can make a real connection. It can soon become an emotional connection. This emotional connection can be with the Story, the subject Plant, and of course, your Center!

A Message to Our Partners for Success and Sponsors... Recently our November GROUPtalk LIVE session focused on the Marketing Needs of our Centers for the future. This has spawned discussions with some of our Partners for Success and Centers relative to the amount of information available about each plant or product (including photos and more descriptions and relative content). The Group is working on ideas for more standardized profiles of this content that can be easily utilized by our Centers.

The Story to Tell on each plant or product, which could include who and why they selected or developed it and why it was given the name, can be extremely helpful to help create the connections.

Watch for more information on our Marketing Needs for the Future project. In the meantime, last Friday, I spoke to Allan Armitage about sharing his book. He was excited about how his and Linda's work can help our Centers create more connections to some wonderful plants. He suggested the combination of Legends in the Garden and Of Naked Ladies & Forget-Me-Nots ("Why is a dogwood called a dogwood? It has nothing to do with dogs. Is there really someone called Joe Pye, and why is the poppy the flower of remembrance?"). These two books can provide tons of ideas for...

Your Story to Tell!

PS: Allan sent a promo code for you for free shipping on your order... DANNY. (Honestly...I had nothing to do with the code creation). Dr. A hopes to be with us at our Best of MANTS Gathering in Baltimore. Thanks Allan!


Sharing is at the heart of The Group and your ideas are very important. If you have any trouble logging into The Group WebSystem, please let me know. Are you and your staff all subscribed to our eLists such as GroupEs, Retail-Grower, Retail-Landscape, Owners-Only, and a number of others? Need help subscribing? Let me know so I can show you how you can sign up.

Thanks for sharing!

Danny Summers
[email protected]
Tel: 678-909-7770
Cell: 678-761-7145

REMEMBER: Your interaction (by phone and email) with Group Service Providers such as Tim Quebedeaux, Sid Raisch, John Kennedy, Jean Seawright, and of course Danny Summers are included in your retainer!

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