It is plant/seed catalog time of year and like all other plant aficionados, I am knee deep in these catalogs, dreaming of spring and green and all other colors of the rainbow. It is a survival mechanism for those of us in colder climates longing to see March 1st on the calendar or the first sign of a lone crocus emerging from the cold soil.
As I was thumbing through the “full sun deciduous shrub” section of one of these catalogs, I came upon the Lilac section. It was bloom color overload and one couldn’t help but have spring fever. It is easy to start daydreaming about temperatures in the 60’s and color and birds chirping and the oh so sweet aroma of lilac blooms. But then I had a flashback to a conversation I had with a coworker a few months back and my thoughts high tailed it to a new and somewhat frustrating direction.
For the most part, my friends, family and coworkers have no interest in gardening; at least not to the point of excitedly consuming a plant catalog with a highlighter in hand. They’ll throw me a bone and ask a gardening question but their heart isn’t in it. A courtesy to me if you will. I appreciate their efforts but it isn’t necessary. It’s like me trying to start a conversation about cars. I have zero interest and couldn’t fake my way through a chat about V6 vs. V8 engines. A car takes me from point A to point B and that is it. Where was I?
Last fall, a dude I work with casually mentioned that he would like to put together a “real garden” in his yard but was intimidated by the idea of actually putting together a plan. After selling him on the fact that planning is overrated (don’t judge), I told him he should take a look at a plant catalog to get a feel for what is available and what floats his boat. I could then work with him to help him better understand the concept of annuals vs. perennials vs. deciduous vs. evergreen. Real beginner stuff here (I kid) but I remained professionally patient.
So yes, I brought him a plant catalog and demanded he leaf through it and tell me what he liked. While I could sense him regretting ever having told me about this garden idea, he agreed to give it a shot, but not in the presence of anyone else at work (which is another problem we’ll need to address at another time). Some times you have to appreciate the small “wins”.
The next morning I cornered him and asked about his plant review homework and amazingly, he had some strong opinions. Go gardening! The first plant he brought up was the aforementioned lilac. He too was intrigued by the blooms and the variety of colors. But what he said next, put things in perspective, and I quote:
“Will these bloom all summer?”
Sigh … where to begin?
By all rights, said coworker should have read the fine print to know when these shrubs bloom. But on the other hand, you could say there is a bit of false advertising in play here.
For us all-knowing plant people, we have the right perspective when we peruse these plant catalogs. We understand bloom periods, the concept of bloom succession and an appreciation of foliage. We more-evolved-stewards-of-the-earth can see a photo of a geranium bloom and realize it is an extreme close-up and that those flowers may look good for two weeks if we are lucky. We understand our growing conditions and soil types and the true definition of partial shade. But that doesn’t translate to the commoner and I wonder if that is an issue.
I understand marketing and I understand the need to sell one’s product. But I think we oversell or over exaggerate the power of the flower and undersell the other attributes of plants. Flowers are colorful, pretty, happy and evoke all things beautiful, but in most circumstances, they ain’t around all that long. Yet, we see these overblown photos of blooms in print and online and the uneducated assume that is what they will get by just sticking the plant in the ground and giving it a little bit of water. When that doesn’t come to fruition, frustration sets in and gardening gets a bad name.
My thought is that it would be more advantageous to be more forthright with the consumer and let them know that lilac blooms may only be there for a week some years. Show them those fantastic blooms but in scale with the actual shrub. Sell them on the fact that the foliage can look nice post spring bloom and still has a place in the garden as we head on in to summer. Or possibly show photos of the same plant during spring, summer and fall so the potential purchaser has a better feel of what they are in for. I understand the battle for real estate in catalogs, but this shouldn’t be an issue with online catalogs.
Yes, the Monarda blooms are colorful and all:
But maybe we are more upfront on the need to deadhead to keep those blooms coming? I’m not saying we need to go so far as to show how things can go wrong:
But maybe it is better to set truthful expectations and tone down the flower factor. A more realistic view of what plant ownership is all about. It isn’t easy and let’s not pretend that it is.
Astilbe blooms can pack a punch when in bloom:
But that foliage ain’t half bad and let’s celebrate it:
This is what you can expect to see for the majority of the growing season with Penstemon ‘Husker Red’:
And for only a brief moment in time, this:
If blooms truly do persist for long periods of time, that should be highlighted:
Just some things to ponder.
Will it help prevent the sickness of those who take only an annual trip to Lowe’s to pick up flats of impatiens and petunias and call it “gardening”? Who knows, but it is definitely worth the effort.