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Peddling petals: Hundreds of plants to go on the auction block at park

Photo by Brandon Hicks

Keith Hart and Tonya Stevens display some of the plants that will be available at the plant auction.

The ground where Tennessee history took root will be the temporary home of hundreds of plants – roots, leaves, branches and all – when they are auctioned this weekend.
The East Tennessee Nursery Association, the University of Tennessee Extension Service and the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce will hold their annual plant auction this Saturday at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.
This year’s auction will feature around 800 plants. The plants in the auction are not native to the area, and cannot be found in local nurseries.
“We will have a huge array of plants to choose from,” said Keith Hart, extension agent and county director of adult agriculture at the Carter County UT Extension Office. “We will have plants that can’t be found around here and we will have a large variety of greenhouse plants and different flowering plants.”
This year’s auction will feature exotic plants from China and Japan, along with a wide assortment of apple trees, perennials and other shrubs and flowering plants. The auction will have Chinese fringe trees, Kousa dogwoods, Japanese Stewartia, quince shrubs, rhododendron elegans, Forsythia, red-veined enkianthus, pear trees and others.
Some high school vocational agriculture classes provide hanging basket plants, and the auction will also offer bushes, shrubs, other varieties of trees, perennial flowers and others.
“We will have it all,” Hart said. “Some of the plants will be ‘high dollar’ and others will not. It just depends on what people are interested in. Our goal is to have everyone leave with a plant.”
Plants in the auction are donated from local nurseries and collectors of unique plants.
Because the auction is also an educational opportunity, whoever purchases a plant will receive instruction on how to care for the plant to help ensure it will have a healthy life.
“We have enough people who know plant matter on hand to answer any question that may arise about the plants,” Hart said.
Money raised from the auction is used to introduce new plants, particularly the new and unusual, to East Tennessee. A portion of the money raised is also donated to the Friends of Sycamore Shoals and is also used for education opportunities for students.
The auction has been held for more than 15 years and has always been held at the Sycamore Shoals park. Hart said that on average, 85 to 125 people attend the auction every year, and that 60 percent are returning customers.
The auction will be on Saturday, May 3, and will begin at 9 a.m. Customers can arrive as early as 8:15 a.m. to look over the plants before the auction begins.
Plants will be auctioned by Bobby Alley of Valley Realty and Auction, firm No. 2063, and Rainbow Realty and Auction, firm No. 5516.