Love me, love me not: a story of garden love affairs

Erin Schanen

“What plants do you love right now and what do you hate?”

The question, posed by a fellow gardener who I only see about once a year for some enjoyable plant-based banter, was interesting, because gardeners don’t typically think of plants as personal fads that come and go. But I’ve noticed that I absolutely fall in and out of love with plants.

I’ve written about my current plant loves here before, but I continue to proselytize on their behalf out of purely selfish motives. The more people who go to a garden center and ask about a plant, the better the chances are that garden centers start carrying more interesting varieties of that plant.

This is true for my best-loved plants of the moment — meadow rue (Thalictrum), burnet (Sanguisorba) and mountain fleece (Persicaria) — all of which have oodles of interesting cultivars to offer but are nearly impossible to find at garden centers.

When I start a love affair with a new plant I always wonder how I missed out on it for so long. I suddenly saw bluestar (Amsonia hubrictii) everywhere after I started fancying it. Turns out it had been under my nose for ages but I just didn’t notice it.

My friend and I had the same plant on our “hate” list — daylily (Hemerocallis). I’d parted ways with it a few years ago, but my friend jettisoned all but one variety — ‘Siloam Double Classic’ — from her garden this year.

We had both come to the same conclusion after years of putting up with shabby foliage, frequent dividing and a complete lack of interest in any season but summer.

Interestingly, her current plant passion and my other “on the outs” plant were the same — roses. I’ve been down this road before with roses. I love them when they are great, but I resent the amount of work it takes to get them there. Multiple applications of fertilizer, winter protection and deer protection, not to mention fighting off Japanese beetles and sawfly larvae, all take time. I’m not opposed to putting in a little extra work, but I expect the payoff to be huge if I do.

But my friend, who lives near Chicago, is enjoying the reward of excellent, mature roses grown in the right place and, obviously, receiving the right treatment, rather than the benign neglect mine tend to suffer from.

‘Munstead Wood,’ a fluffy, deep cranberry-colored rose from English rose breeder David Austin, is outperforming almost any other plant in her garden. And, she said, its strong rose scent wafts across the yard, just the way a good rose should.

Plants come into fashion for decades at a time. We’ve been in the midst of hydrangea fever for quite some time now and I wonder what the next “popular” shrub will be after gardeners can’t fit any more hydrangeas in their yards.

But I think individual gardeners’ personal plant trends are far more interesting. What makes us suddenly obsessed with one plant and swear off another? Perhaps it’s nothing more than a conversation with a fellow gardener.


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