Mounts Botanical Garden Nursery Fills Horticultural Niche

How does a small nursery compete with the big guys? If you’re like the Mounts Botanical Garden, you don’t even try.

“It’s not our mission to propagate species you can find at big box stores,” Director Allen Sistrunk said. “As a botanical garden, we owe it to the public to offer plants they won’t find anywhere else.”

Indeed, Mounts is one of the few places people can find rare and endangered Florida natives like seashore ageratum, grayleaf and shrub thoroughwort. But they’ll also find rare exotics that adapt well to South Florida conditions, such as tropical aster, tree dahlia and giant salvia.

“Everything you’ll find on our tables is growing somewhere in the garden,” Sistrunk noted.

One of best sellers at Mounts is the Louis Philippe rose. Also known as the cracker rose, it’s one of several heritage plants found at the garden. Louis Philippe is the perfect shrub rose, Sistrunk said. It has few pest and disease problems. It also needs less fertilizing and watering than finicky hybrid teas. Cranberry hibiscus is another heritage plant carried by Mounts. Its flowers are showy enough, but its calyxes have been used since colonial times for making jams, jellies and fruit drinks. Its true claim to fame is the delicious cranberry-like sauce that is also made from its calyxes.

At 60 varieties and counting, Mounts has one of the widest selections of herbs in South Florida. Many are tropical species that mimic the aroma and flavor of common ones. The leaves of Jamaican mint bush make a good substitute for spearmint, and those of Moujean tea actually smell and taste like Earl Grey. Banana mint, cinnamon basil and papalo are other unusual, hard-to-find herbs in stock.

Mounts doesn’t leave food aficionados out of the picture, either. It carries several tasty Asian vegetables that are unfamiliar to the American palate. Sambung tastes like green beans and can be used fresh in salads, as can the nutritious leaves of Malabar spinach, Okinawan spinach and moringa.

The Mounts nursery frequently posts recipes on its Facebook page, as well as stories and photos of plants in stock. The nursery is run by a small group of 12 or so dedicated volunteers who not only grow plants for sale, but also work closely with the Master Gardener program. Members conduct sessions on plant propagation, container planting and other subjects for new trainees.

“The Mounts nursery is truly a success story by offering cash-and-carry sized plants at amazingly low prices,” Sistrunk said. “We invite plant lovers everywhere to visit the Mounts nursery from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, as well as the first Saturday of every month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are also a limited number of plants for sale at the gift shop on weekends.”

With a mission to inspire the public, the Mounts Botanical Garden is Palm Beach County’s oldest and largest botanical garden, offering gorgeous displays, informative classes, workshops and other fun-filled events. The garden contains more than 2,000 species of plants.

Located at 531 N. Military Trail in West Palm Beach, the garden is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The suggested donation for entry is $5 per person.