Its purpose is twofold, said publicity chairwoman Margaret Sanders. It gives gardeners a chance to choose plants - some of them rare and unusual - for next year's borders and beds, and it's a lucrative fund-raiser for the arboretum.
The sale raises almost $40,000 for Scott Arboretum's educational programs and workshops, Sanders said.
For many customers, the sale is a reunion of kindred spirits, sale chairwoman Donna Edwards said. Plant-seekers begin milling around outside the fence, eager to browse, on the sale's first day, while volunteers finish arranging and tagging flowers, trees and shrubs inside the arboretum.
``They know they have to get here early in order to get choice plants because things sell out very quickly,'' Edwards said.
Between 10,000 and 11,000 plants are for sale this year, including 170 types of perennials - plants that bloom every year - and 140 types of trees, shrubs and vines. Costs range from $7 to about $40, Edwards said.
Some of the plants are varieties propagated at the arboretum, Sanders said, and some are unusual plants not found in commercial outlets.
This year, garden sculpture and artifacts - lanterns, birdhouses, arbors and furniture - also will be sold.
On Tuesday morning, volunteers began setting up tents and tables for the sale. Barbara Calkins, a Wallingford resident who has worked at the plant sales for 10 years, said she looked forward to helping customers choose the plants they need, whether for sunny or shady gardens.
``Most of them are perennial enthusiasts who are looking for unusual plants,'' said Calkins, one of 170 plant sale volunteers. Some ask for advice about which kinds of plants will thrive in their gardens and how to care for them.
Edwards said many of the volunteers were knowledgeable gardeners and can provide tips on growing.
Among the perennial varieties for sale are salvia, lobelia, rudbeckia, sedum, scabiosa, vinca minor, liatrus, canna, hosta, aster, lamium and a number of ornamental grasses. The woody varieties include yucca, rhododendron, viburnum, clematis, juniper, magnolia, berberis and ginkgo.
``It's wonderful to handle them all and dream about what you might put in your garden,'' Calkins said, gazing at a guara full of delicate pink blossoms. Behind her, Russian sage burst with beautiful purple flowers.
Like most gardeners, Calkins said, she is fickle. ``Each season something that's in bloom is my favorite.''
FOR MORE INFORMATION * For information on the plant sale, call Scott Arboretum at 610-328-8025.