The story below is an excerpt from our March/April 2017 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
Barry Glick started out in the mountains of West Virginia as a “back-to-the-land hippie homesteader.” These days he supplies plants and plant advice to the region and the world.
It may not be a rose in the classical sense of the word, but to Barry Glick Helleborus x hybridus smells just as sweet. On this windy March day, he’s standing above six acres of blowing blooms listing the qualities that make Lenten roses the perfect flower for any garden. He ought to know. He’s been growing, studying and experimenting with them for over 40 years.
Glick grew up in Philadelphia, but when he was 22 he read an ad offering cheap land for sale in a remote, mountainous corner of West Virginia. He had always dreamt of growing things, so “too naïve to be afraid” of such a momentous decision, he left everything familiar behind and purchased 58 acres of deep valleys, steep hills and sweet springs.
As he relates this story to me, Barry points to a small meadow. “I thought that was all of it. That’s how much I didn’t know. When neighbors informed me that I also owned this mountain, I was ecstatic. It was like someone had given me 50 acres for free.”
Glick was part of a wave of “back to the land hippie homesteaders” in Greenbrier County. He said he planted every seed he could get his hands on. “We all figured we’d never have to buy food again. The only thing I couldn’t figure out how to grow from seed was bananas.”
Glick consulted the USDA about what to do with the rest of his steep ground and they suggested white pines. He rejected that plan, but it wasn’t until a red flower poked its cheerful face out from under a snow drift in the middle of a hard February that he discovered his life’s passion.
“When I saw that beautiful flower, I thought ‘holy crap what is that?’” It turned out that Glick had planted a Lenten rose, sent to him by a friend who owned a greenhouse in Georgia. That little flower was the start of a dream that soon spilled down the side of his mountain and out into the world beyond.
Now, at his farm, visitors can choose from several paths that descend through the cascade of Lenten roses to a mountain stream below. In full bloom, they are a pink, purple, rose, magenta and green carpet under a cathedral of soaring trees.
While Lenten roses were the beginning of his lifelong obsession with growing what he calls, “idiotproof plants,” Glick soon turned his attention to plants that have origins in the surrounding Appalachian Mountains.
After my hike through the blanket of blooms below his house, he and I climbed to the outdoor laboratory where Glick has created a checkerboard of test plots for native plants. We wound our way through beds of skunk cabbage, marsh marigolds, Mayapples, liverleaf, shooting stars, spider lilies, trillium and dog tooth violets. I tasted ramps. I learned which plants are medicinal, which are useful for restoring wetlands, which were used by the Native Americans and which ones are easiest to grow and propagate.