A dead plant is just an opportunity for something new

Erin Schanen

    I am guilty of crimes against plants. Underwatering, overwatering, lack of support, complete neglect. And many, many counts of plant homicide.
    When I was new to gardening, I mourned every plant death. Each loss was followed by lengthy research sessions executed in an attempt to try to figure out what I did to cause another horticulture tragedy. There was almost never a clear answer. Rather it seemed to be an amalgamation of any number of factors.
    Such over-analyzation of plant trauma is common among new gardeners. Or perhaps it’s not as much a factor of the amount of time you’ve gardened as it is the length of the plant kill list.
    A few years ago, I lost a plant that changed my perspective on plant death. Clematis recta ‘Pamela’ is a super hardy variety that I allowed to ramble through the patio garden. It has small, white flowers that bloom late in the season and it was utterly charming clambering around perennials and annuals, popping up in unexpected spots.
    It grew happily there for years and then one spring it didn’t emerge. It wasn’t a particularly bad winter, and I couldn’t think of anything that might have caused the death of a plant that had grown so well for many years.
    I shared my dismay with an experienced gardening friend, exclaiming that my plant had died “for no reason.” Her response: “Yep, that’s what they do sometimes.”
    It was a moment of clarity. Sometimes plants just die.
    Technically, there usually is a reason, and that reason is often the fault of the gardener. Maybe the plant didn’t get enough water that first year. Maybe it got too much water. Maybe it was overfertilized, or repeatedly eaten by a deer or rabbit. Maybe voles attacked from underneath and ate the roots or maybe a new plant was engulfed by a garden thug. Or maybe the poor thing was just the wrong plant for that spot.
    The cause of death can be uncertain. What is certain is that all gardeners kill plants. Any garden who claims to have never killed a plant is either not a gardener or lying.
    Some plants are so difficult to grow and yet so appealing that gardeners continue to attempt to defy the odds. In the listing for Gunnera manicata, a rare and prehistoric-looking plant sometimes known as giant rhubarb that grows leaves up to 4 feet wide, one plant catalog declared, “Now you, too, can kill your very own Gunnera manicata.”
    Plant death rarely bothers me anymore. I only analyze the cause of death if I want to try to grow the same plant again. I’ll even admit to aiding and abetting plant homicide on occasion by not stepping in to save a struggling plant. It saves me from having to make the call on when it should be relegated to the afterlife that is compost.
    If a plant does die (on its own or with my help), I always find something else for that spot. Because a dead plant is just an opportunity to try something new.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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