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?


  1. The poppys are a fun one even if you have only a day or so to enjoy them. My mom had some at the edge of the hedges, the hedges grew huge and about ten years later the hedges were cut back a great deal and the poppys returned from the mist.

  2. I've moved so much that just about everything has grown in one garden or another. I normally talk about new cultivars as they give me quick and strong results in my hurried state to have flowers. But....this year in this home that I plan on being in for as long as possible....I have planted a ton of old favorites. And I have started a few poppies just because I read about them here.

  3. Jodi, We share some of the same favorites: Poppies,and Virginia Bluebells. I like the variety of columbine out there, but they don't always do very well for me. The native variety does, though. :-) Happy Spring Planning!

  4. Like you Jodi, there are plants I will always have in my gardens-fashionable or not. One is impatiens,which I love for their ease of growing and their soft glowing color in the shade. Mariglods and gerainiums do little for me although in the right container can be pleasing to the eye.

    I have found many 'must have' plants through blogging and am slowly adding them to my gardens. Most of these because of ease of growing or an abundance of blooms. I do admit to seeing newbies in garden catalogs and lusting after some of them. :} All in all, I guess you could call me a middle of the roader, too.

  5. A nice mix of old and new is fine with me too. And as for throwing plants on the compost pile? No, no, no! Can't do it! There's always someone who needs more plants.
    I love that Patty's Plum Poppy. It's on my wish list. That pink is perfect!
    I hope you're getting little tastes of spring up there. We had one today with a beautiful sunny, warm afternoon but the cold wind is back tonight. Time to rug up again.
    Never mind...spring is in the air!! We have red-wings! :) Have you seen them yet?

  6. Hi Jodi~~ You're a very good writer by the way but you probably know that. :)

    I'm somewhere in the middle too. Actually I'm very fickle about favorites. Many times I've passed along a plant just because I'm tired of it. A few years later, I'll ask for a clump back. Although I've got strong opinions I try really hard to keep them to myself unless asked. Gardening is an art form and very subjective. My neighbor's garden is stationed directly on the other side of the chain link fence. She likes Geum. You know, those nasty semi-red, semi-orange can't-make-up-your-mind colored flowers? Her one or two originals have morphed into thousands. I don't do orange at all. Ever. But I always lie and tell my neighbor how beautiful her Geum are. If I were color blind this would be true so I'm not really lying. I'm just keeping my opinion under wraps. (Wow. This is long. Sorry) Now what was your question?

  7. I have to laugh. My first reply poofed into thin air so if by some miracle it reappears, forgive my doubling up.

    Tried and true, yes. New, yes. It depends of course. I'm finicky and fickle. My plant choices change with my mood. If I kill a plant, I'm reticent to try it again, unless I really, really like the plant.

    Plant breeders (such as Dan Heims of Terra Nova, yes I love this website) know we're putty in their hands. A symbiotic relationship. They feed our plant lust and we feed their bellies. :)

    By the way Jodi, You're a very good writer but you probably already know this.

  8. I like a combination of the old faithful and the new, and have favorites in both categories. Don't like new and shiny for it's own sake though.

    I never compost plants - there's always a spot to squeeze it into. I bring home lots of plants from clients too, can't bear to throw them in a yard waste bag. Sometimes they go in the garden here, sometimes I share them with gardening friends, and when all else fails I bring them to the nursery where they gladly pot them, let them size up, and sell them. With the way independent nurseries are struggling these days, I've had no problem giving them a hand with some free plants, and they're always welcomed.

    I never planted impatiens, or any other annuals for that matter, until moving here where there's so much shade. I've grown used to a riot of color in succession all season, and you just don't get that in the shade. So impatiens have become my friends and I love the color they add to my shady garden.

  9. Oriental Poppies are a bit like chocolate chip ice cream. Initially irresistible one wants to gorge on those papery petals and eyeball searing oranges but.....
    they fade so messily and last such a short time that after the first orgy of colour one is left feeling mildly embarassed and a little bit sick. Much the same as eating far too much ice cream in one sitting.
    (Although that is almost certainly not something that happens in Nova Scotia)

  10. I hate to pull out a plant when its only offense is being common. I rarely do that. I just try to find a place I can add new plants. I seem to find something new every year. That actually is the fun of gardening. Seeing our old friends pop up when they feel like it and inviting new friends to the garden and hope they stick around.

  11. Jodie .. I never get over how amazing Black Barlow looks for me .. I have had her for quite a few years now .. I have older bugbanes? (plant catagory police out to get me ?) but a variety of them .. looking for THE BLACKEST one is a mission I must confess .. One question .. you did right about Quickfire Hydrangea and really liked it's perfomance right ? .. that is one I have to have this year and I thought I read one of your posts that was a huge "YES" to it : )

  12. I definitely like a combination of the two. I love a lot of the old fashioned flowers, they remind me of different people. But, there is something exciting about finding a new plant that sounds perfect for my garden. I bought some of the oriental poppies a few summers ago just because I loved seeing them in other gardens so much I wanted to have them in mine. They are worth the space even though they don't stay around for very long.

  13. Jodi, The old fashioned flowers are dear friends and I treasure them...they will be here in the garden as long as they thrive...The problem for me is that I put myself in a garden box and need to push those boundaries a bit more...There are newer cultivars of my beloved natives that will look delightful here. You have helped me open myself to new echinaceas...I probably won't ever be a big fan of Coconut, but the fantastic reds and oranges are pretty cool! We live very close to a natural area that has hillsides covered in trout lilies and bluebells...they are gorgeous. I adore hot pink so please have more posts on flowers of that persuasion! Gail

  14. I like new when it is truly improved, such as increased disease or pest resistance. But there is also a beauty in the simplicity of the straight species of a plant. There is also value to antique plants in themselves. Last fall I rescued an Iris from my mom's garden where it was getting smothered. This Iris was bred by a local gardener & given to my sister when she interviewed this gardener 25 years ago. It's not the flashiest Iris around, but it is special to me. Ok, I admit I'm a sucker for new plants that take a great plant & give it variegated or chartreuse foliage.

  15. You're under arrest for questionable taste, Jodi :-) Don't tell but I've got this thing from my childhood no doubt for Four O'clocks and Hollyhocks but I absolutely cannot stand Impatients and have never planted them in my garden.

    I love that blue poppy and all poppies for that matter but the color blue is so unique.

  16. I think if I had my old garden space back, it would be mostly full of (my) proven favourites; but I also believe I would always be trying something different that piqued my interest. I'm attracted to colour, and to unique bloom shape, etc. -- but most of one's garden is always tried and true, I think, especially where space is at a premium. Can you even imagine your garden without coneflowers, for example? :)

  17. Dear jodi ~ though no blue poppies, I'm blessed with carpets of Virginia Bluebell (will think of you when they bloom). You have my heart pounding dreaming of spring, lonesome for my 'old friends' of over 30 years ... bloodroot, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, ladyslippers, ferns, celadine poppy, colombine, Jacob's ladder, Solomon's seal, peonies, coneflowers, daisies, Centaurea montana, carefree roses, astilbe, precious poppies ... though each year I do try new varieties of hosta (great success), heuchera (good success) and echinacea (so-so). You might like Moombeam Coreopsis (I do) ... and with your love of green, did I miss alchemelia mollis (Lady's Mantle) on your list of old favorites!

  18. I am in the middle also, always trying new plants while keeping my old favorites. My problem is my limited space.

  19. It's what you like that counts!
    I happen to like your choice of flowers, especially the blue Poppy
    I don't think I had ever seen them
    in that color. Nice Choice!

  20. The most adventuresome gardenener I have heard of is Elizabeth Lawrence -- she loved to push the boundaries and experiment. I have to admit that I prefer to stick with what I know works in my zone, which is after all a great many things.

  21. Hi Jodi, count me among the lovers of both old and new. Maybe it is due to the fact that we have room in our gardens for both. I am glad to see a voice take the standard for the old fashioned orange oriental poppy. It is a color that clashes, blooming at a time here when most everything is pink, but I don't care. I have encouraged to spread because I want to see those crepey petals for those couple of days too. Now I would love to see blue poppy petals too, but will have to be happy admiring yours. :-)

  22. One caution about using a lot of newly introduced plants: Plants that have been created through human activities may not have the characteristics that made the old versions attractive to pollinating insects and other wildlife. Bees, butterflies, and other critters are dependent on the "old-fashioned" plants.

  23. Wild Flora makes a good point. I think it's safe to say, however, that most of us who have a passion for butterflies and other pollinators know enough to plant some old-fashioned species along with the newer cultivars for just such purposes. I use a mixture of native, naturalized, hybrid and heirloom plants in our garden to fill in as many niches as possible.

  24. I never throw anything out, unless it's dead! I'm middle of the road, too, Jodi--I have my old favorites, but there are so many new plants out there I'd love to try. I've found I'm better waiting for a year or two before buying any of the really new varieties of perennials to see what others say about them and if they really can survive in my garden. Besides, there are so many older varieties of plants I still don't have that I can always find something "new"!

  25. We have many of the same favorites, which probably comes as no surprise to you! ;-)
    Okay, we're even, I guess. You have the blue poppies, I have the Virginia bluebells. I feel better already. LOL.


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