Wildflower nursery one of a kind in Maine

WEST PARIS – Mike Murphy has a passion for wildflowers, especially the unusual, endangered and rare. When Murphy and his wife, Barbara, decided more than two years ago that his wildflower passion had outgrown its hobby status, they created Wake-Robin Nursery at their home on Tuelltown Road in West Paris.

Since their opening in spring 2001, when Murphy discovered voles had feasted all winter on the roots and rhizomes of his prized collection of irises leaving no irises for opening day, they have made several improvements. A new greenhouse built from rigid, clear corrugated plastic is rodent-proof and the pitched roof allows snow to slide off. It’s a much easier place in which to do early spring potting and preparation, he said.

Wildflowers grow most often in wooded places, die back in the fall and re-emerge in spring, and Wake-Robin Nursery offers wildflower varieties from all over the world. From the mountains of Japan, from a climate similar to Maine, Murphy recommends a primrose, Primula sieboldii (Sakurasoh) as “probably the best primrose for New England gardens.”

They are highly esteemed in Japan where people join Sakurasoh societies, he said, to discuss, show and trade the many forms with colors ranging from white, blue, magenta and purple. People will grow them out and put them in special pots arranged for show in an altar-type setting.

Murphy said stories like this inspire him to grow them. “When I get them in a little baggie, they’re a little, tiny bud and a little piece of root that looks dead.”

He finds satisfaction in growing unusual and rare plant cuttings and seeds. Little information is available about how to grow these rare plants so he said it is important to learn as much as possible about the climate and soils where they were grown so he can try to replicate the conditions.

Some of the information comes from his communications with individual plant enthusiasts and some from his collection of reference books. The Internet has been an invaluable source, and he said he also finds information in unexpected places, such as a government bulletin from Croatia, written in English.

He first got the names of rare plant enthusiasts and journals through the North American Rock Garden Association. He described them as “plant nuts” who “get into plants in great depth” and grow the most challenging plants. Recently Murphy attended one of their conferences in Michigan; this one focused on comparing plant diversity of Asian forests to the rest of the world. For every species of woodland plant in the Appalachians, he said there are many multiples in Asia, and he wants to collect as many as possible.

Murphy remembers being enchanted since childhood by exotic-looking plants in seed catalogs. Now he has his own little catalog from Wake-Robin Nursery, which he will send if people call (207) 674-5185 to request it.

Wake-Robin is the only nursery of its kind in Maine and will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 3 and 4, 10 and 11, 17 and 18, and 24 and 25. Special arrangements may be made to come at other times upon request. The Murphys offer familiar native plants such as trillium, lady’s slipper and hepatica as well as rare and unusual plants from all over. He grows all plants from seeds or cuttings and discourages everyone from wild collecting.

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