Happy birthday George!

Before I begin this week’s column, I want to take a moment to wish my former father-in-law, George Story, the founder of Story’s Nursery in Freehold, a very happy 101st birthday.

That is not a typo or a misprint. George was born more than a century ago on Feb. 22, like his namesake George Washington, who he was named after.

He has been an inspiration to generations of horticulturalists, including his seven children, numerous grandchildren and now great-grandchildren.

You can add me to the list of people he has inspired over the decades. I saw George last summer at the nursery, where he was watering and primping bedding plants. If there ever was an appropriate use for the phrase “he forgot more than I will ever know” it applies to George compared to most horticulturalists.

The nursery he established in the early 1950s remains as one of the premier garden center/greenhouse/nurseries in the Northeast.

If you have not visited Story’s nursery, I encourage you to do so on one of these dark, miserable, never ending days of the winter. It is located on County Route 67 in the hamlet of Freehold, Greene County.

I guarantee that strolling through one of the greenhouses will lift your spirits and get you thinking about the upcoming spring weather. They offer far more than just plants, so if you are shopping for a special gift for someone, you will likely find it there!

I called Story’s recently to see if they carried a perennial plant called “Edelweiss.” The manager, Rachael, told me a large flowered variety was being ordered this year, so I plan to try it out. Edelweiss (Leontopodium nivale) is an alpine perennial in the daisy family, native to European mountains and steppes of Asia. When I Googled a picture, the white flower did not resemble any sort of daisy I have seen. They are classified as short-lived perennials, which produce fewer and fewer flowers over time. Edelweiss is a classic flowering plant whose name means “noble” and “white” in German.

It is found in many challenging environments. It has fuzzy, white colored bracts and small yellow flowers inside the bracts. It is similar to Poinsettia in that what appears to be flowers are actually the bracts It grows at high elevations (above 5,000 feet and up to 18,000 feet) in rocky, alkaline soils in Europe.

My hillside elevation in Conesville is only about 1500 feet and my soil is far from alkaline, but I will try it in my perennial bed anyway. It should certainly be hardy anywhere in the Catskill Mountains!

It is Switzerland’s national flower, but most people have heard of it from the same titled song in “The Sound of Music,” sung by the late Christopher Plummer.

It has a pretty long history as a medicinal herb. According the Wikipedia, Traditionally, it was used as a tea to treat diarrhea and dysentery, and cooked in milk with honey and butter. It was also used to treat respiratory problems, including tuberculosis. In the future it is possible that the cosmetic industry may employ edelweiss to neutralize free radicals and prevent the formation of superoxides — compounds associated with the signs of aging such as wrinkles.

Due to its bioflavonoid content, the herb also strengthens the walls of capillaries and veins and can be used to treat varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and other vascular problems associated with aging.

This sounds like a herb that everyone should have in their garden! I became interested in it when I joined the senior citizen softball league here in Bradenton, Florida.

It is also the name of a local German restaurant that sponsors my team. I ate there two weeks ago and the food was authentic German and quite excellent.

A senior citizen softball team sponsor that is a herb, used to combat aging seems appropriate.

The other team I play for is sponsored by “Serenity Gardens,” a local funeral home. I guess I am not all that thrilled with that sponsor!

I rarely grow ornamentals back home, but I do grow quite a few medicinal herbs. I hope this pretty little plant fits both bills.

If any of you have grown it, I would like to hear what your experience has been.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

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