11 March 2009
The Newest and Shiniest or the Faithful Old Favourites?
Over the course of the past few months, when we couldn't do so much gardening as we could writing about gardening, many posts have been about new plants as well as old favourites. Some gardeners want to try the latest, to see if they’re also the greatest. Others are content to stay with their tried and true faithful plants. Where do you fall in the discussion?
As with so many topics, I end up pretty well in the middle of the road on this one. My theory is, of course, to bloom where you’re planted, and plant whatever makes you happy. Orange-red geraniums aren’t my thing—I prefer hot pink. As I've mused in earlier posts, Impatiens make me impatient, at least in my own yard, but I’ll happily enjoy them in yours. I’m not crazy about coreopsis except for the threadleaf types, I never plant a begonia, and of course everyone knows how I feel about goutweed. JUST SAY NO!
I love my oldfashioned columbines, which pop up everywhere throughout our garden and hybridize themselves wantonly. But without plant breeders and amateur plant enthusiasts who keep an eye out for something different, we wouldn't be able to enjoy such delightful variations as 'Black Barlow' aquilegia.
Like many gardeners, I have some old trusted and true plants that I wouldn’t give up for any reason, things that have been in my garden for ages and that aren’t going anywhere.
Old fashioned orange oriental poppies, for example, make my heart exceedingly happy. Well, okay, I admit I never met a poppy I didn’t love, of course, but those big crepe paper orange ones just shout summer joy to me. Even the smaller, more profuse orange perennial poppies make me slow down when I'm driving by a big patch of them. Sure, they only last a few days, but I liken them to cancan or flamenco dancers. They liven up things wonderfully, but you don't want to watch a musical comprised only of those dances, do you? Just savour them as exclamation points of joy.
Patty's Plum oriental poppy, however, became a subject of great desire the moment I first set eyes on it several years ago. And of course, the wonderful Meconopsis or blue poppy has turned gardener's heads ever since Frank Kingdon Ward brought them seriously to our attention in his accounts of searching for these rare and cranky plants.
But you know what? I'd trade my ability to have Meconopsis in our garden (which bloom for a couple of weeks) for the blessing of having literal drifts of Mertensia around our place in late spring. I dream of having carpets of Virginia bluebells in my wooded areas, like Entangled showed us in a woodland not far from her garden.
Some older species do have their faults, like being less disease- or pest-resistant, but they have their own vigour to compensate. Many of the old fashioned perennials I grow are natives or heritage plants, and I grow them because I love them, and because pollinators love them too--but also because I want to see them prosper and continue to exist even if plant snobs turn up their noses at them.
The writer and curious, compulsive gardener in me also needs to be able to try out some of the new plants so I can tell other people about them, but also some of the newer plants just make me glad to be a gardener. Black Negligee cimicifuga, for example (now classified as Actaea by those taxonomists who love to torment us), is a beautiful plant, and one that has never given me even a moment’s trouble since I first planted it three or four seasons ago. There may come along ‘blacker’ variations any day now, but I’ll stick with this one, thanks.
One of the greatest pleasures I know of is arriving at a garden centre and finding a plant, be it genus, species or cultivar, that I either didn’t know about (and there are a gazillion of those) or hadn’t thought about (ditto.) Of course, that’s why my grocery budget seems to dwindle some weeks, while the ‘garden groceries’ seem to take up much more room in the back of the car.
If you browse a variety of nursery or garden-related websites, you’ll find that they often have a list of interesting new annuals, perennials, shrubs, etc for the coming gardening year. Terra Nova Nurseries always has an exciting list of new perennials, although sometimes we don't see them available in much quantity for a year or two after the first announcement.
And while I do eagerly search out and try new plants, it's against my principals to tear out and jettison older varieties, even rambunctious species like Oenothera tetragona (sundrops or evening primrose). Of course we have enough room here to just keep spreading plants out, and there are always gardeners coming along who are starting out and need some good passalong plants. Gardens are for sharing, and besides, that, they're utterly personal, so we like what we like. I lost complete respect for one gardening magazine and a couple of writers in that basically vanity-publication because they sniffed about older, less flashy varieties and how they tore theirs out and jettisoned them to make room for newer, flashier, more trendy varieties. I understand digging something up and sharing it with someone else to make room in your own small garden for something new--but tossing it into the compost? Can't quite do that.
So I'll wallow happily in my mixture of old favourites and new divas, which may seem like pandemonium to some but makes me exceedingly happy. Just don't call the plant fashion police on me, okay?