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Are You a Plant Snob?

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?
Camellia and forsythia, both common plants, are blooming now in my garden.
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.Fothergilla blooms
Fothergilla foliage in the summer
Fthergila fall colors
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.Dwarf Japanese andromeda is about to bloom in my garden.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.

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Reader Comments (25)

I admit to being a reformed snob. I used to shun plants that were overly familiar to me, I wanted to be different. No Shasta daisies, hydrangeas, or heaven forbid, daffodils in my yard. However, countless lost plant lives, lost hours fussing, and endless frustration, finally made me question why I was trying so hard to get things to grow in my garden, that simply didn't want to be there! Now I've learned to appreciate my gardens more. I strive to include as many natives as possible, and those that aren't native, are at least adapted to my local environment, and now I love growing daffs! No fussing any more either...it's thrive or die if you want to live here!

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

I think I am a bit of both. I love looking for and purchasing unusual plants, but I am still in love with a lot of the plants that I grew up with. A true tug of war in my heart and in my garden.

I was so ignorant when I started gardening that I had no idea which plants were common and which were rare. If someone gave me a plant, I planted it; if I saw a plant I liked someplace, I looked for it and bought it. In this way, I ended up with a combination of common and rare plants. My snobbishness probably takes the form of looking for rare varieties of common plants (like daylilies).

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I also do not understand why fothergillas aren't in every garden center. They are spectacular shrubs (mine's a long way off from blooming yet). I think they need a better name, something catchy that would draw people away from "burning bush" which are not only very common, but invasive. I love your first photo of the fothergilla with the wonderful composition behind it! Elegant.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Dear Deborah, I do like so many of what may be thought of as 'common' plants - drifts of snowdrops, aquilegia, primroses, Buddleja, etc. etc. etc. But what matters to me ultimately is how well they are grown and how appropriately sited they are in the garden. Rarity for its own sake is, to me, pointless but a particular cultivar of exceptional performance is always an attraction.

I love the plants you feature but think that you must be on acidic soil.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEdth Hope

Well said, Deb. I am definitely one to like both common and rare plants. No snob here. Remember too that something that seems so common in one area, like yellow tab trees or Hong Kong orchid trees here where I live, may seem pretty exotic and unusual to those from another clime. And, oh, camellias may be common, but they are always stunning to behold in my opinion. I love the one in your photo!

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlorida Girl

I plant for effect. Common plants are common because they survive. There are a number of fairly common plants like buddleia that fail in my garden because of nematodes. For me it's the growing that is the joy, not having something unusual. Extending the daffodil season means planting more than just the 'common' yellow trumpet but the most common cultivars from each class are usually the most likely survivors. Gardenias are a common plant to me, not everyone agrees.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

My garden is a majority of common plants, I like the old fashioned cottage garden types. I do try to find some unusual types of them though. I think the common plants for our zone are much easier to take care of.
The fothergilla is very pretty and I'm going to look for it. I've heard of it, but don't think I've seen it before.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Marvelous post, Deborah. You've generated wonderful food for thought.

Like my late lamented mentor, there are only two plants I wholeheartedly despise: goutweed and Japanese knotweed. Otherwise, I embrace all plants, from the dandelions in my lawn (great at breaking up clay! great bee plant) to the coltsfoot edging into the scree garden (Spring is here! Coltsfoot is in bloom) to the natives, to the introduced, to the heritage and 'commoners' to the new 'I wonder if this will survive in my garden?' pretties that seduce with their siren call.

A gardening magazine that failed some time back had several contributors who were always turfing out 'old fashioned' plants because they had to have the newest heuchera or the blackest Actaea or the coolest new offering from some patented plant place. That used to horrify me, so much so that I stopped reading it several years before it collapsed.

Maybe some who have very limited space need to be extremely selective in what they plant, and have to make hard choices about what stays, what goes. I'm lucky because I have acres, literally, on which to play. So I have some sympathy for those who must have the new plants. I have them too, but alongside the forsythia, the daffs, the hydrangeas and peonies...

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjodi (bloomingwriter)

Deep down I prefer the commoners like myself. I appreciate a little class in my gardens but for me nothing beats the huddled masses of common stock.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwiseacre

I prefer specific varieties and unusual plants over common. I've had more mishaps with common plants spreading out of bounds, or reseeding every where, than I have with specific or unusual varieties. I'm always on the lookout for plants with unusual foliage or blooms for cutting - they add so much interest to bouquets.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

I'm a half snob! lol There are flowers that are absolutely easy to grow in my location, but hardly anyone has them. I am happy that I have plants other people don't. But at the same time I wonder why the locals don't try something more challenging than annuals in a hanging basket, or those plastic bags of flowers hanging on deck railing.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCeara

No, I am not a plant snob...but, I am particular about what I plant in the garden! I try to plant natives that will survive here...After 25 years gardening on clay and limestone I know that the cutest new hydrangeas are going to die the first summer and forget those darling hostas! I do enjoy visiting gardens that have different looking plants~~ I like what you said~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.~~ gail

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergail

I am not a plant snob. But by admitting that, have I become another kind of snob? I walked away from traditional garden clubs because I never could garden the "right way." We add uniqueness by using native plants. jim

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Groble

I have been accused of this but actually I love most all plants. Fothergilla is one of my favorites. I don't understand why it isn't used more often. It has great appeal in all seasons.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

I am with you Deb. It's fun to try different pretty plants, but there is something about the old favorites, hydrangea, lilacs, peonies, daisies, roses. that is so comforting to tend as well as enjoy. Believe me I am all for trying new things but the ones that stand out are the old standbys in my mind.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterteresa

Deb, There is certainly nothing common about your garden! Beautiful!! I think to label birds or plants or anything for that matter (except maybe the common cold!)as common is just another way we judge... in my opinion a misjudgment, with a touch of arrogance. Who can say the joy the bright yellow blooms of Forsythia bestow are common... they are just the opposite for they are often the first bright color to bloom profusely in Spring, when we are all so hungry for color. My eye celebrates it wherever I see it blooming. What is common about a little Yellow-throated Warbler? The actual word common is not so bad... 'occurring, done or found often...' but why add number two... "2 showing a lack of taste and refinement; vulgar." The confusion of language... The common people... really... it is a word I tend to stay away from. I get very angry with the road crew when they cut down my golden rain of Forsythia! I am sure they just think of it as common and rather than yelling at them, I try to make them understand I love it! Terrific post! Carol

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Yes, this is a beautiful garden! I love shrub...everchanging! I suppose I'm into the common, although I think a plant is amazingly uncommon until I plant it and find out just how common it is via comments. Oh well, being new-ish to my region, it's all uncommon to me, and I like it that way! :) Much more fun and exciting!

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkimberly

I love this post. You make some excellent points. I think gardeners need to stop and think about why common plants are often found in the landscape? Could it be that they are easy to grow and are attractive? I do feel that some plants are under-represented at nurseries and am always on the lookout for some to put in my garden to help promote them :-)

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNoelle (azplantlady)

fabulous foliage pics... and yes, i can be a bit of a plant snob. although a simple pansy suits my fancy just fine. :)

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdirty girl gardening

Hi Debs - I don't think I could have summed it up better than in your last para. I love the staple more common plants that make up the bear bones of the garden with the more interesting things to fill in the gaps! Native plants are also important for wildlife and I wouldn't be without them! Take care Miranda x

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiranda Bell

Fantastic post! I love all plants..and appreciate them as they are..it is too bad some have a bad attitude about plants. Craziness!! I regard all plants special and unique and gifts of nature.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

Deb, How gorgeous your camelia looks with the forsythia next to it--and both in bloom! Different types of plants, but they hi-light each other well! Forsythia are common, and that's why I love them too. I think I have your viewpoint about having a variety of plants, but appreciating the simple, the common. I must say though, that though my viewpoint might be like yours, my variety of plants and lovely garden is not!! It must be breathtaking to see all of those plants right now. Thanks for sharing your garden and photos!

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan (ThanksFor2Day)

I'm not sure about snob, but greedy, then yes! I've tended to grow things I like to eat, and some of them are difficult to get. The idea of being able to stroll into the garden for Ong Choy, Daikon Radish, Artichokes or Salsify is just too good to miss out on. Whether they'll grow well or are common is not an issue. They'll rub shoulders with commoners like spuds and carrots. I know veg is different, but is it all that different?

March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Idiot Gardener

Not a plant snob. I buy what pleases my eye but if it croaks during the winter, that's it. No second chances. I looked up fothergilla gardenii. It will actually grow here.

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

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