Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 6:40PM
Are you a plant snob? Do you want the new, the rare, the difficult plant that most gardeners don't have? Or are you content with the common plant that grows in everybody else's garden and are quite grateful it will grow also in yours?
My last post was on forsythia, and commenters mentioned its commonness. Many of us have it growing in our own gardens or our neighborhoods. A lot of us remember it from childhood. That commonness, in a way, is what makes forsythia special. It is a homely plant with a cheerful spring countenance. We are familiar with it. It is reliable. We trust it. It's like mama giving us a smile and a peanut butter sandwich.
But who wants to sit at home with mama all the time? We need a little of the wild life too, and so we flirt with exotics or unfamiliar plants. These may ultimately give us great pleasure. Or they could turn out all wrong, misbehaving badly, clashing with the other plants, or dramatically dying on us.
Plant snobs rarely come home to mama. They may not think about the commoners at all. They explore the plant world, always seeking a new herbaceous thrill and striving for greatness. Their gardens may be wonders of art or stunning collections. Common gardeners may drop their jaws at the sight and think, that's nice to look at, but who wants to live that way?
I tend toward the common, because if a plant survives my climate, that automatically earns points from me. I have some plants which are not very common, but I think they would be, if only they had better press coverage.
An example is fothergilla gardenii. It is my favorite shrub. It's easy to grow. It has fragrant bottlebrush flowers in the spring and beautiful blue-green foliage that turns spectacular colors in the fall. Who wouldn't love that plant? But they aren't that easy to find, and a local nursery owner told me he can't get anyone to buy it.
I like to seek out, not so much rare or difficult plants, but plants that are under-appreciated. Dwarf Japanese andromeda, pieris japonica yakushimunum 'Cavatine', grows in my garden. I love its lily of the valley type flowers, but I don't see a lot of pieris growing in my area.I think the best gardeners are those who take common plants as well as lesser known plants and put them all together to create a welcoming environment. We need the comfort of the familiar, but we also need the delight of the unusual or unexpected. It's a pleasure to get ideas or learn about new plants. We want to spend time in such a garden, soaking it all in. Just maybe it's a place to spread a blanket and share some peanut butter sandwiches with a sweetheart.
That is a great garden.