Mind Your Manners, Please



Some plants make me want to grab them by the scruff of their unruly stems, and lecture them about the importance of good manners. Why is that? I have been gardening long enough to be sensitive to plants whose habits in the garden are unsociable.. Making a garden grow is work. How satisfying it is to see what was in a gardener’s mind’s eye come to life. Not that I need to be in charge. Nature bats last, as they say. Disappointments are one thing, but some plants are brats, and I dislike them interfering with the pleasure I take in my garden. There are those plants that flop over at the slightest insult from wind or rain -as in  these peonies. Some flop open from the center out- -as in every cat mint I have ever grown. I have seen plenty of bearded iris bloom stalks go out of vertical, or flop face down in the dirt.

Asters_uncut_LGThere is an entire industry revolving around the sale of anti flop props for plants. Cages, stakes, wire and what have you. I am a fan of those plants that can handle gravity. I avert my eyes from a garden plant that is slouching, or lying on the ground.

mac cleaya cordata hdpiya.comOther plants that do grow to great heights in defiance of gravity, may rudely annex the land belonging to every neighboring plant, and smother them, like this impressive stand of macleaya cordata.  Then later in the summer, the lower leaves will yellow and drop and by late summer, the entire plant is unsightly. Surely, some giant stalks will eventually come crashing to the ground.  Any other plant you might place in front to cover those legs will eventually be engulfed in more plume poppies.

neil diamond hybrid tea roseHybrid tea roses have blooms that are visually seductive, flashy, even astonishing – but the performance of the plant 52 weeks of the year will make your eyes roll back in your gardening head. They attract bugs, fungus and disease from miles around. Not to mention that these grafted beauties regularly fail over my winters.  There are other ill mannered prima donna plants demanding this and that, and more of everything else you have. Some of these ill mannered plants threaten to die, and do, should they not get looked after just so. Others just look bad no matter what you do for them – how rude. The astonishing end of their bad manners-plant societies are formed in their name by gardeners who are bound and determined to have them – no matter what that entails. Astonishing, how rational and dirt digging gardeners agree to be bossed around by ill mannered plants.

Rogers Gardens dayliliesDaylily flowers come in an astonishing array of colors and shapes these days.  These cultivars with brilliant color, heavy substance and frilly edges from Roger’s Gardens Daylilies are something else. Wow. Gardeners who do not like the strong color and form such as these may choose cultivars with bloom colors and forms that are a little more subdued. This choice is a matter of taste. The only daylily I have ever planted for clients is Goldner’s Bouquet, bred years ago by Al Goldner.  I will plant it, as the bud counts on a mature plant can easy surpass 300, and they do well without much irrigation. Such is their breeding. But all I can really think about when I think daylilies is about the dead and decomposing flower heads that need to be snipped off, every day of the bloom season.  Not to mention that once a clump is done blooming, the current year’s foliage immediately starts yellowing and dying back. How boorish is this behavior?  If you don’t feel like standing out in the garden regularly on a hot August day, pulling dead stalks and individual yellowing or crispy brown leaves from the plants, you have a mess on your hands that can only be helped by cutting back all of the old foliage, and letting the new foliage come on.

russian sage from knecht nurseryThere are some perennial plants that are so unruly you would swear they were weeds. Every year a hybridizer introduces a “smaller growing version” that would permit a gardener with a small garden to have something else besides one Russian sage. Russian sage is a big bully of a perennial whose manners are of the most rudimentary kind. They have an equally uncouth habit in my zone of dying out on one side over the winter. That dead side is invariably facing the kitchen window.

Japanese knotweedSome vulgar plants spread and infect a garden like the cold virus. Japanese knotweed is not ill mannered, it is nasty.

garlic mustardI have been living long enough to spot people who don’t mind their manners.  Everyone has had that skunky smell of bad manners close enough to them to wrinkle their nose, and back away. A discussion of unmannerly people is not a topic I want to pursue, besides saying it is easy to spot them. Would that they could spot themselves! This field of garlic mustard looks rather nice in this photograph-but is is ready and willing to go anywhere and everywhere. Garlic mustard is a plant without any manners whatsoever. Beware.

signaturegardensblogspotcom_phixr-e1405535177987Unmannerly plants have a hand that they have been dealt. They are who they are. It is very hard to separate phlox and monarda from a discussion of mildew. A double peony originally bred for the cut flower trade does not a garden peony make. My advice?  Grow everything you can. Decide which of those plants with less than stellar manners you are willing to make room for. No plant is perfect, although hellebores come close. Pushy plants-beware planting them unless you have a serious containment plan. Invasive plants-avoid them. The spectrum of plants good to grow is big and wide. Grow lots of them, so you can figure out which ruffians you are personally willing to raise.