25 November 2007

And now, the underacheivers


Just as we have plants that we do very well with, we have others that give us fits. Be honest, now…there are plants that you’d love to grow, but just don’t do well for you, aren’t there? Maybe it’s something that’s a challenge for anyone to grow, or maybe it’s a case of wrong soil/weather/acidity/insert reason here. While we sigh longingly over someone’s peonies or bearded irises or poppies, there are things we do very well. My theory is to just giggle over the things that get the better of me, and covet them in other people’s garden. Let’s have a look at some of the plants that have thwarted me.


Hellebores. One of the most glorious plants out there, with their glossy foliage and beautiful flowers—the petals of which are actually bracts, or modified leaves, same as with euphorbias. Unlike euphorbias, which I have great success with usually, hellebores don’t love it here. I’ve tried about eight different varieties and half a dozen different sites in the garden, and every year, something happens. They get overwhelmed by winter wet. Or, they might make it through the winter, only to be drowned/smothered by a late snow. It’s those late springs of ours…if these plants were late to wake up, like the gentians, they’d do fine.


Lithodora. It’s nothing personal with lithodora; it grows just fine for me during the summer, but there is no way it will overwinter here. I’ve tried it a number of times, because of course those blue flowers and that deep green foliage really does it for me, but no….it’s just a little too cold here for it. I know lots of other people around the province who do just fine with it too, where the weather is a little more consistant and the winter a little milder. My solution is to simply treat it as an annual. I buy a couple of plants each spring, plant them out in containers or at the edge of a bed, and enjoy them while they last. Unlike hellebores, lithodora is cheap so it’s easy to buy and treat it as an annual.

Sometimes, it’s just a case of learning more about the plant and its particular needs. One year I planted half-a-dozen heaths and heathers on top of a well drained, but actually pretty soil-less, site. Not surprisingly, they all croaked, probably starved for nutrients as well as some moisture! But I learned more about them, and prepared a special site for them, and now they’re thriving.


Perovskia. Many gardeners extol the virtues of Russian sage—including lots of gardeners here in the province. I love it too. But this plant must be longing for the steppes, or something, because it refuses to settle in and do well here. It wants excellent winter drainage, which I figured out after it drowned in a couple of sites early on in my planting here. A couple of years ago, I thought I had finally made a breakthrough. The ‘problem child’ bed, where I’ve managed to establish things that want really good drainage through the winter, seemed to be the right place to put Perovskia. And it grew there, beautifully, went through a winter, grew again…and disappeared. I give up. I’ll just enjoy it in other gardens or in photographs.


Smoke bush. It’s probably not quite accurate to put this in the ‘plants that hate me’ department, because I only ever planted one Cotinus, a purple smoke bush, and it took four years to die. It’s such a gorgeous plant, with its marvelous foliage colours and those unique plumes of smokelike flowers, and it has spectacular fall colour. Now there’s a gold-foliaged one that has me deeply tempted, so I’m thinking about trying again, in a more sheltered location. The former bush caught a lot of wind through the winter, and that may have done it in; a Rosy Glow barberry has been there ever since but Berberis is a tough plant. So maybe next spring, I’ll try again.


Gaillardia. This plant has been a comedy of errors in our garden. Some of the plants have been annuals, not perennials. Some are not inclined to appreciate cold, wet, soil. Some of them may have been dug up by a less-seasoned and overzealous gardener, trying to clean up a spring bed and mistaking it for something else, as with the gooseneck loosestrife. It’s such a pretty plant, and a butterfly magnet, and I just love it…but it just vanishes in our garden. My friend Marnie down the valley has an impressive bed with several different cultivars, but she also has lovely sandy soil that drains well (and is amended with much compost), and I might just try again in the butterfly garden.


Gooseneck Loosestrife. Stop laughing. It’s true. I’ve planted the garden-variety white usually-spreads-like-crazy form twice, and both times it just. dwindled. away. With the beautiful ‘Beaujolais’, which is a wine-coloured cultivar, I wasn’t surprised—it’s a zone 6 plant and though I tried three different places, and mulched it too, it is just too dainty for our robust weather. It’s gorgeous though, so if you’ve got a warmer zone—or even more consistant weather—I’d say give it a go. As for the regular one…I think it didn’t like the clay in the back garden. OR, it is entirely possible that I dug it out in spring, mistaking it for something it wasn’t, like wild asters or goldenrod or…?


Hollyhocks. Yes. It’s true. Of all the plants that I cannot grow, this is probably the silliest one. The first year we were here, there were plants in one bed that came up and flowered like crazy. I also grew some from seed and planted them in other parts of the yard, thinking I’d have a great profusion of hollyhocks in all colours. Nope. Hollyhocks being biennial, they need to go through winter…and they hated our winter. So much wet, so much cold clay soil, so much soggy hollyhock roots, drowning. “help me. Helllelpppp meeee….”

And there’s much more to my tale of hollyhock woe, but I’ll save that til next time. And leave you with the question: what plant challenges have you had?

17 comments:

  1. Underperforming plants at May Dreams Gardens? Well... normally I would never tell, but for you, I'll do a post about them sometime soon!

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  2. Gaura Lindheimeri is my problem child -- I love it for its outstanding ongoing performance month after month in the summmer and autumn garden, but I seem to quite reliably lose plants in the winter -- like you, the problem is with wet winters, no matter how well-drained a spot I think I have.
    Hellebores, though, I can't stop here -- they do very well.

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  3. now this topic, I'd have no problem with! I have been wanting a smoke bush since I went on that garden walk earlier this summer.

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  4. Hollyhocks are on my list of to-try plants for next year. I'm looking forward to it; I love them!

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  5. Kris at Blithewold26 November, 2007 10:59

    Oh the trade offs! What I would give to grow a blue poppy... ! These are great post topics and I'll try to do a list of faves and misbehaves soon too.

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  6. LOL, quite a few actually Jodi, we all have plants that just won't thrive. The conditions you have to grow your plants in are less than favorable. Cold is one thing but cold AND wet is very tough for many a plant. I must admit that your revelation about the Gooseneck Loosestrife did raise my eyebrows a bit. ;-) What I mostly hear is that this is such an invasive plant and pretty hard to kill of, no minor feet on your part on succeeding in just doing that, my dear. ;-)(Just teasing!).

    BTW the Bliss team has tagged your furbabies, read all about it on Bliss.

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  7. I have problems with the perovskia also! I think it is the clay soil! It grows but not well and Lithodora? Beautiful but unattainable!

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  8. My aunt and uncle used to have a beautiful stand of hollyhocks along one side of their house...and dug them up because they didn't like them. :-/ They were mostly shades of pink, as I recall -- the burgundy you show here is stunning.

    Even your underachievers are stars. :)

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  9. I can certainly give you a list of plants that I have killed...more than once. I can say that all you have mentioned except the gooseneck loostrife I can say I have not had luck with. The gooseneck loostrife is one I pull out by the hands full to keep it in check.

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  10. Poppies! What I wouldn't give to have blue poppies! Our drought hasn't been kind to flowering plants, except the lantana which practically took over our yard. Poppies. Sigh.....

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  11. My list of under-performers gets shorter every year. Since my garden is small and choice in plants is limited to zone 1, 2 & 3, with an odd zone 4 thrown in, I've learned to go with what does well here. I am much less adventurous here than I was in Ottawa, only because I am limited in $$.

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  12. Hey Jodi, I have some nemesis plants listed on my blog. No pictures of them. I could have made a longer list but it was too depressing. :/

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  13. I CAN'T GROW PURPLE CONEFLOWER!!! There - I said it! I can see you all now, silently judging me. I've killed 5 so far.

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  14. Jodi,

    I'm with you on the Hellebores. After reading so much about them one day I found a pot of 'em for $2.00 and was very happy to add them to the garden. Two years later and all I've gotten for my $2.00 has been a small tuft of foliage.

    But apparently I got seeds from somewhere because I noticed last week there was more Hellebores growing in another area.

    I've seen some really dark ones that I'd love to have in my black plant collection but if they're never going to bloom for me I don't think I'll bother spending the money.

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  15. Hi! Jodi! How are you?

    You know dear i so very much wish to have a garden. But I don't have enough space at home. But I do have some plants in my balcony. If in future I do manage to have a garden of my own thEn I wil definately come to you for help and suggestions.

    The pics of the flowers shows what a lovely garden u have. I so much want to visit ur garden for real. If by lucky i do visit canada anyday I would want to visit ur garden also.

    Lovely post..Lovely informations and Lovely pis of beautiful flowers coming from the heart of a lovely person called JODI.

    tk cr
    :) :) :)

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  16. AGH! I'm with you on the Hollyhocks and I really LOVE them. I am determined to try again this coming year. Maybe my new location will fare better? It's just a teeny bit drier here. I have hope!
    ~Angela :-)

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  17. Maybe I should try to grow Meconopsis, just so I'd know for sure that I can't grow it. ;-)

    Here's one that nobody will believe. I killed Aegopodium (Bishop's Weed). I planted it in a "challenging" spot, thinking the bad conditions would keep it in bounds. It didn't survive its first year. And it's probably just as well that it didn't.

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