Along the Wayside
One of the finest hardy geraniums in our estimation is Geranium sanguinium ‘John Elsley’. Refined and dignified, like its namesake, it provides great color now through midsummer…bright pink with a hint of purple. The dark green compact foliage holds up well even through dry spells. Selected by British perennial maven, Alan Bloom, the original marketing referred to it as ‘prostate’ rather than ‘prostrate’!
Whenever I see this cultivar, it reminds me of one of the great stories in local nursery history. The son of a Cleveland candy-maker along with a Dutch bulb salesman came together around 1920 to form Wayside Gardens in Mentor, Ohio. JJ Grullemans witnessed the growth and potential of local nurseries during sales trips from the family business in Lisse, Holland, founded in 1839. Elmer Schultz got his start growing and selling plants from a road-side stand in 1916. A good pair who did not always get along, one the Dutch marketing savant and able businessman, the other a talented grower with his hands in the soil, together they created the largest mail-order nursery in the world. By 1960 the world-famous Wayside catalog extended to 252 pages and 100,000 copies, representing an industry standard and used as a reference guide for new generations of nurserymen studying at major universities.
The Schultz family had left by then to form Springbrook Gardens, a mainly wholesale perennial operation. Surrounded by housing developments and a Walmart, their final property was sold to the City of Mentor in December, 2014, with plans to remain a ‘green space’. Grullemans survived into the 1960s, but by 1975 the Wayside enterprise was struggling. Assets were auctioned off and my brothers purchased a poly-house that still serves as our main propagation structure. The name was sold to George Park Seed Company in South Carolina, which continues the legacy to this day.
Over the years Wayside Gardens was a starting point for many growers who founded other operations, including Bluestone Perennials, Bentley Nursery, Antioch Farm and Beardslee Nursery. Under the Park Seed mantle, other great horticulturists followed, such as Vicki Ferreniea (who worked later for The Holden Arboretum), and…finally…John Elsely…who visited our nursery on several occasions during his time at Parks/Wayside.
Now that I’ve recommended it…I’m told by our container manager that we don’t have a lot of Geranium s. John Elsely to sell! But it’s still a great story! Get your cards and letters and orders in soon!