Plants I Don't Get Along With

Sooner or later, every gardener enters into a bad relationship with a plant.  I have my own lists of those that I never seemed to hit it off with.  Some of the plants on those lists, I don’t care if I ever see again, others I still pine for, and then there are a few where we're still trying to work things out.

List 1: Plants I Am Done With, And Good Riddance!

All decked out in her airy purple-blue dress, Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) struts her stuff in this garden in Maine, in a way she never did for me!

Right near the top of my list of plants I am happy to split with for good is my little Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia. I feel like I’ve been engaged in my own little cold war with this plant ever since we were first introduced many years ago.  Except perhaps for entering into joint counseling, I don’t think there’s anything more I could have done for Perovskia to make sure she thrived here in our garden.  And yet, all I got from her was heartache and disappointment.  She never walked out on me completely, even though that might have been the best thing for everyone.  So our relationship just languished on and on, year after year, like some kind of bad marriage that was held together solely for the sake of the kids.  I seemed to do all the work in the partnership, like making sure she had plenty of sunshine and lots of that dry-to-medium, well-drained soil that she’d go on and on about.  And, what did I get in return?  Little more than a few measly twigs sticking out of the ground that, on a good day, people might mistake for a hunk of dying lavender.  The funny thing is, I am surrounded by gardeners who have had such a joyful association with Perovskia that they consider her to be one of their summer stalwarts.  For example, just minutes from here, in the Peterborough Town gardens, there are plantings of Perovskia that are so robust and healthy that they practically cast a purple-blue haze over half the town.  But, I am done with thee, my little Russian Sage.  The time for any reconciliation is over.  Go exhibit your fussiness in Vladimir Putin’s garden for all I care. Begone!

List 2: Plants I Am Done With But Still Long For

The bright and flashy Crocosmia 'Lucifer' anchors a corner of this border in a Maine garden.

In her red dress, and doing her best imitation of Ginger Rogers, Crocosmia 'Lucifer' dances around a lamp post at Juniper Hill.

Tops on this list has to be Crocosmia.  We have grown Crocosmia 'Lucifer' here at Juniper Hill from time to time, but in my hands she’s been as moody as a contestant on The Bachelor.  I admit that some of her sulkiness might have been the result of my being too demanding, trying to push her a little beyond her comfort zone. You’ll occasionally see Crocosmia listed as hardy to Zone 5 and at other times hardy only to Zone 6, depending on how bad the nursery wants to unload her. I already knew about her sensitivities to these climatic conditions before I entered into the affair and, in thinking back, maybe it was just too much to ask of a plant who hails from the grasslands of southern and eastern Africa to set down roots this far north and so far away from home.  I also knew all about her incessant need for good drainage and her affinity for warm spots, say like up against a wall, which is exactly where I felt I was throughout most of my relationship with her. Believe me, I tried, over and over, to give Crocosmia everything she wanted.  However, no matter how good of a home I tried to make for her here, she would seem happy for awhile but then would become sullen and rapidly lose her vigor until, one summer not too long ago, she refused to show up at all, leaving me and the hummingbirds wondering what we did wrong.  But I must admit, I’m still attracted to Crocosmia 'Lucifer,' that devil in the red dress, who could bring such a splash of vivid color to the garden party. And, her yellow and orange cousins are also very va-va-voom. Nevertheless, as appealing as they all are, I think it’s time to finally make a clean break with Crocosmia.

Crocosmia 'George Davidson'

List 3: Plants I Should Be Done With But Can’t Seem To Ditch

Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly' looking great in SOMEONE ELSE'S garden.

Flowering Bergenias catch the light of the setting sun along a path at Kiftsgate Garden in England.

I ask myself every day why I hang on to Bergenia cordifolia, who as a young plant started out with some appeal but lately has really let herself go.  It’s no accident that her friends call her Pigsqueak.  It’s gotten to the point now where she can only pull herself together long enough to look half decent for about three days out of the summer and then, the rest of the time, does little more than evoke looks of pity from passersby, like some sort of Victorian beggar on a street corner.  I’m sometimes even ashamed to be seen standing next to her.  Always disheveled and scorched around the edges, looking more like a catcher’s mitt than a glossy green rosette, she can get especially ugly by the middle of August.  But, I just keep planting more and more Bergenias, of all different types and cultivars, hoping against all hope that perhaps I will find my Cinderella somewhere among this rhizomatous clump-forming family.  One of the new cultivars that I added recently that shows some real promise came from my gardening friend, Michael Gordon, who has one of the lushest, greenest plantings of Bergenia I’ve ever seen.  If ever there was a grouping of Bergenias that could make the entire Saxifragaceae family proud, it would be Michael’s.  And then, Tovah Martin, another gardening friend, recently gave me a beautiful Bergenia ciliata, the first deciduous Bergenia that has gone into the garden.  So, I’m hoping that, once established, at least one of these newly added selections might perfectly fit my glass slipper. 

Photo of Mukgenia ‘Nova Flame’ from Terra Nova Nurseries

And, speaking of Cinderella and glass slippers, I should also mention that I just recently learned that Bergenia now has a brand new step sister who might turn out to be a beauty in her own right. Wouldn't that turn the fairy tale on its head?  A new genus of plant has been developed called “Mukgenia,” which is an intergeneric hybrid whose parents are Bergenia and Mukdenia ‘Crimson Fans.’ Intergeneric hybrids are crosses between plants in two different genera but within the same family.  These crosses aren’t all that common in the plant world but they do exist. 

I don’t know how Bergenia might feel about sharing space in the garden with a step sister, especially one named Mukgenia whose parents met in a new product lab.  Things could get dicey. However, to my way of thinking, if Mukgenia can hold onto her looks during the course of the gardening season, she might have a permanent home here and I might need to have one of those “It’s not you, it’s me” talks with Bergenia.  Okay…go ahead and call me shallow but, after all, this is gardening!  And, it’s all about looks, isn’t it?