01 February 2009

Plants we love to not-so-much love, part 2

There are actually very few things in this world that I dislike strongly enough to say I 'hate'. Canned green peas. Goutweed. Bad bubblegum music and the bimbettes that produce it. Sensationalist 'journalism'. Malware. Most of the time, if there's something that displeases, irks or upsets me, I just dislike it and adopt a 'laissez-faire' attitude towards it. I don't like greedy bankers, but I don't have to deal with any directly. I don't like fashionistas, but they just make me chuckle. And so on.

So it is with most plants that I don't like. As noted in the earlier post, I probably like them just fine in other people's gardens. Most of the time I dislike a plant because it's been overused and overused in unimaginative ways. Anyone who has seen Anna's petunia arrangements knows she could make anyone love any plant because she creates delightful arrangements that are interesting and fresh.

There are a few shrubs and trees that I don't particularly like because they have been overused by lazy, unimaginative "landscapers" who are the equivalent of fast-food yard-designers. Slap in two Norway maples, five foundation evergreens, three clumps of 'Stella D'oro' daylilies, a spirea and a potentilla or two, and voila--instant landscaping. Uh huh. You want fries with that?

It's generally against my nature to cut down a tree or shrub if it's healthy, even if I'm not crazy about it. Hence the line of four Norway maples (Acer platanoides) out by the roadside in front of our house. I didn't plant them; they've been there, I'm guessing, for about 20 years. Every year they invariably get tarspot fungus in them, they have boring fall colour, and they're not native--but they're ubiquitous. Go to Halifax and have a drive around if you don't believe me. Oh, sure, some of them may be the red or bicolour variety, but they're everywhere. My way of counteracting the Norways is to plant native red and sugar maples around our property.

When we first moved here, there were a lot of boring foundation evergreens around here, ranging from a line of globe cedars along one side of the yard to a selection of yews and junipers along one face of the house to assorted other uninspired evergreens slapped in here and there. I got rid of the globe cedars fairly promptly, succeeded in talking my longsuffering spouse into removing the yews and junipers after a few years. A goodsized yew near what is now my office came down fairly promptly too. Yews are perfectly fine plants in their own right. But when I was a teenager, I read an article about a horse being poisoned and dying from eating yew twigs and berries, and it's stuck with me forever. Yews are highly toxic to equines, and while my horse is unlikely to ever get out of the pasture and come around the house to eat the yew (he'd be more apt to go across to my neighbours with our idiotdonkey and fraternize with HIS donkey), I refuse to take chances. Even the gorgeous green-and-gold yew which I think very handsome? Not in my yard. Not worth the risk.

If ever there was a yard and garden cliche, this has to be it. Globe cedars, or more properly arborvitae. Blech. Now, because I'm nothing if not contrarian, I will tell you that there is a goodsized Emerald cedar outside one door of the house and I have left it there for years because we used to decorate it at Christmas with lights. But its days are numbered this spring.

Out in the evergreen garden in the back of our property, I have three other arborvitaes: 'Sunkist', which is a beautiful gold in summer, and 'Sherwood Frost', which was given to me and which I sort of like for its white-tipped branches, and 'Rheingold', (covered in snow, above) which provides me with a rainbow of colour all year long. So far, all of them have come through our winter with no problems, but if they start getting winterburn...they can prepare to face their compost-Maker.

I like most flowering shrubs, especially if they have a pleasing shape and interesting leaves even if they're not in flower. Outside my office there's a fairly large, sprawling, buttercup yellow potentilla, and its days are numbered this spring. Shrubby potentillas do NOT do it for me at all, yet I love the perennial types. Potentillas tend to be hugely overused, but they do flower for a long time. And I did buy a pink-flowered one a couple of years ago and plant it in the memory garden dedicated to my late former mother-in-law, because pink of course is the Breast Cancer colour, and the plants do attract butterflies, which Marilyn loved.

Last on my list of not-beloved woodies are certain spireas, generally the type with white flowers, non-descript growth habits and little to distinguish them once their week-or-two flower period is over. There are a couple of bridal-veil type spireas out front (under the Norway maples, surprise surprise) that are just so uninspiring. Part of the reason I leave them AND the maples where they are is because that's also where the goutweed was planted however many years ago, and I THINK that they, and the Rosa multiflora, and the other aggressive-type perennials I threw in there are finally getting the upper hand on the goutweed. I don't dare remove any of the plants for fear the goutweed will take over the universe. Spireas also grow wild here and they and their domestic relatives are good pollinator plants, so for that they also get a big star.

Despite not liking these bland spireas, I have a whole host of OTHER spireas that I really, really love, for either their foliage colour, fall colour, or cool leaf shapes. These include:
'Tor': Awesome fall colour to the foliage.
'Lemon Princess': brilliant lemony-yellow foliage.
'Crispa': Interesting textured, highly serrated leaves and hot-pink flowers.
'Flaming Mound' and 'Gold Mound'; both have brilliant coloured foliage, in new growth and fall colour. All of them are interplanted with other shrubs and perennials but would drive me crazy if they were lined up like little soliders.

Given the huge variety of plants available to gardeners, whatever their growing conditions and hardiness zones, I figure this is a very small list of things I don't like. It would be awesome if some nurseries and landscapers would stop overusing them in unimaginative ways, but in most cases, these plants tend to be inexpensive at nurseries (and ashphalt 'garden centres' run by bigboxes) and for some so-called landscapers, it's all about cheap, same as with contractors who build houses out of chipboard, 2 x 4s and plastic siding. That's a rant for another day, isn't it?


  1. Great rant! I wish the Chronicle Herald would publish it. Although, so long as Metro Halifax is lacking in a really great garden center, I wonder how much headway against lazy landscaping we will be able to make?

  2. Oops! Headway against bad landscaping in HRM, I mean. I'm not HRM-centric, I swear! It's just that I know how hard it can be to arrange a plant-collecting trip to the Valley or South Shore during the spring or summer months. It's the newbie or the less financially blessed gardeners who would benefit most from a great metro-area garden centre that could steer them away from poorly sited yews and parking lot landscaping.

  3. Yulp! As I read this post, I can't help thinking about my beloved Norway maple, an umbrella covering our stone patio ~ a huge handsome fella when we bought this old house 33 years ago yet also a pest, cleaving to its leaves well into December. I would never plant one for the many reasons you mentioned but love mine. Soft silver maples are also another overused and unimaginative tree (storm damage prone) that I would never plant (but my children did, 30 years ago, and I love it ... way in the back of our long yard). I'm also with you on leggy potentillas and uninspiring spireas (we had a hedge along the driveway growing up that I didn't like even then). Globe cedars look like gum drops! Thanks for another fun post, Jodi. Can't wait to read others comments on 'Plants we love to not-so-much-love'.

  4. A thoroughly enjoyable rant. I've been so missing gardening, having just moved to Nova Scotia and having left a wonderful garden behind. Looking forward to more rants. Thanks for the thoughts of summer. Anna

  5. I know yews have been overused in every conceivable form but I still like them. Yes, I like thoughts of summer even if in a rant.

  6. Now, I used to feel the same as you about arborvitae, but I've come to appreciate their tolerances, winter color, and such. I only have one, though, because I needed something evergreen for clay, and something that grew tall, narrow, and fast. Yes, there are likely a few other choices. I will never plant arborviate as a foundation planting--how utterly useless and boring and status quo!

  7. Oh my, I've never seen anything like that tar spot. It is very icky. I don't blame you for taking those trees out.

  8. Thank you very much! I appreciate you loving my tunias and my containers.I would have to the soil does all the work.

    I like Spireas. My favorite is Bridal Wreath. There is one called Bridal Veil but it's not as pretty. I don't like malware either. I like shoes and have a lot of them.

    I have a lot of shoes that got ruined in the garden. I ruined a pair yesterday getting those weeds out of the back beds. I had no intention of starting that job with my good shoes on. Before I knew it, one weed led to another.

  9. I saw your comment on Kanak's blog and thought I would visit with you. You have a lovely blog and I see we both like CATS! So enjoyable to see your photos. Have a great week.

  10. Good read Jodi! I have my own rant about Big Box stores masquerading as nurseries....But, another time; I shall spare you that;-) gail

  11. Hi Jodi, you make a good and not insulting case against these plants. Many were popular a while ago, when the most important thing for plants was cheap and readily available. They are tough and can grow in many conditions, maybe why they were overused. The yews are not worth the danger they pose to your beloved pets. A gracious response to Anna's post too. :-)

  12. It seems like I was just agreeing with someone else about Norway maples. They have been forced on me as well. They're trees and they provide the benefits that all trees provide.

    Otherwise, I find them regrettable. I tend to agree with the rest of your choices as well.

  13. I love cedars in any form, but I'd agree with you 100% on those yellow potentillas! If you're ever in Windsor proper, take a drive past the DNR bldg midsummer -- it is SURROUNDED by them! Although, I do think they might be much prettier in pink. ;)

  14. I really like Spiraea "Anthony Waterer." It's a little too pink, but it's really reliable and not planted too much here in California. The white spiraeas are so bland they should have a different name or something. Kind of like the way, around here, when I talk about salvias, people think of Salvia leucantha, which I would never plant. One overplanted species can ruin it for the rest of the genus.

  15. @nancybond: I worked at a garden centre for a month or two last summer, and I steered everyone I could away from the yellow potentillas, towards the pink, orange, or lemon yellow varieties. They really are great shrubs for beginning gardeners, the question is what to do with them 4+ years later. I stuck ours at the edge of the ditch to duke it out with the native spireas and lupins. :)

  16. Oh yes spirea and potenilla and rugosa - oh my. Roadside rugged plantings they may be but... sigh. I am being won over a bit by the potenilla though because it is so widely thought of as boring, I find myself wanting to defend it again, especially the yellow variety. That said, I've already ripped out the yellow one in front of our house along with the foundation cedars...

  17. It's funny to read about Fries-With-That planting in other places! In Sydney, it's box hedging, black mondo grass, gardenias and -- horrors -- Murraya paniculata, which has a cloying scent, and looks hideous unless you stand over it with secateurs!


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