Sunshine Farm nursery owner extols virtues of hellebores


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"Turn on, tune in, drop out," said Timothy Leary in 1966. Barry Glick took the drop out part literally. The self-described Jewish boy from Philadelphia who loved to grow things now owns Sunshine Farm and Garden, a purveyor of interesting natives as well as a fabulous collection of hellebores located on top of a mountain in rural Renick, W.Va.

When asked how he got there, "In a 1961 orange VW van" was his cheeky reply.

He isn't driving a VW van these days, but he and his plants will be in town April 6-8 for the Garden Club Federation Convention at the Doubletree by Hilton in Monroeville.

But back to his story and 1972.

"I was sitting in a friend's house waiting for them to go to the beach, and I happened to glance through the Philadelphia Inquirer [newspaper]. I saw an ad that said 'Remote mountain farm for sale, 60 acres, pristine land, $6,000.' I thought it had to be a mistake."

Following a map drawn on a paper bag, he and a friend and "some dogs" drove eight hours to the very remote location.

"I met some of the local people, and this old moonshiner showed me the boundaries," he continues. "I went back to Philly and plunked down the money."

He then built a rudimentary house on the property and has been adding on to it ever since.

"I was thinking of self-sufficiency. ... How naive was I?

"After a fight with the bears over who owned the beehives, and hauling 5-gallon buckets of maple water, and [then] canning hundreds of quarts of tomatoes and being out at 11 at night cutting up my fence to burn for heat, reality hit."

While reality may have hit, the horticultural bug he picked up as a child never left him. Mr. Glick says he has a degree from the School of Hard Knocks. Whatever his education, nobody can deny that he has become quite the expert on the plants he sells. Hellebores, also known as Lenten roses, are of special interest.

"A friend gave me a plant. He had a little nursery in Georgia, and I would send him 300 bucks a month and he would send me a bunch of plants. One of them turned out to be a plant that bloomed in a window in December. I called him for more information. It was a hellebore. He gave me names in Germany and England [of people who grew them]."

He began collecting seeds from all over the world. He also began reading voraciously.

"I spent thousands of dollars a year on books. I have 10,000 books in my bedroom. When I found an interesting book, I would call the author, and you'd be incredibly surprised at how approachable they are. I rub elbows with all the garden writers in the world."

He's not kidding. He has become friends with such horticulture luminaries as Allan Armitage, Michael Dirr, Adrian Bloom, Graham Stuart Thomas and the landscape designer to the British royal family, Veronica Adams.

But it is the plants that drive Mr. Glick. He describes his enthusiasm for hellebores this way:

"They live over a hundred years. They bloom when nothing else blooms, make incredible cut flowers, are 100 percent deer-proof, have no insects, pests or disease problems, and are idiot-proof to grow."

And yes, Mr. Glick has plenty of deer. "The deer will eat the paint off my truck but won't touch my Hellebores."

In a "normal" winter, the plants start blooming in February, through the snow. Although this has not been a normal winter, and the plants are slow to start growing, they should easily survive the cold, he says. He has reported a low of minus-16 this winter on his mountain top, which is about 260 miles south of Pittsburgh.

"With 6 acres of them and several hundred mature plants, there isn't day when some are not blooming."

He credits Martha Stewart for making hellebores a mainstream garden plant.

"Once Martha Stewart gave them credibility by putting them on the front of her magazine ... hellebores came out of the closet, lost their cult status and now they are everywhere."

When you buy hellebores from White Flower Farms, Bluestone Perennials and Spring Hill, you are in fact, buying Mr. Glick's plants. He wholesales to these well-known nurseries. But why go there when you can purchase plants directly from the grower? He sells direct on his website, www.sunfarm.com, and at his lectures.

While hellebores are the big draw, he also sells many other types of plants:

"The tried-and-true Jack-in-the-pulpit, hepatica, trillium, Virginia bluebells, a whole smattering of unusual ferns -- these are really cool ferns. Nobody else is producing them."

Mr. Glick will be selling a selection of his plants from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 7 at the Garden Club Federation Convention at the Doubletree by Hilton in Monroeville. He will have a table in the vendors area, which is open to the public. The rest of the conference, including his lecture, is open to federation members only. A selection of his plants will also be available at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden plant sale May 10 at Chartiers Country Club, Robinson. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.


Post-Gazette garden editor Susan Banks: sbanks@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1516. First Published March 28, 2014 9:31 PM

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