Things That Make You Go “Hmm…”

Aston-2-257x227Back in June of 1991 there was a song released by American dance artist C+C Music Factory. “The song was inspired by a running gag on The Arsenio Hall Show, whereby Arsenio, while on an alleged long drive, ponders certain thoughts and refers to them as “things that make you go hmmm….” (Wikipedia). Being in retail for nearly thirty years now, I have heard and seen almost everything the industry has to offer. Much of it comical, some of it is serious and all of it is noteworthy. The following is a collection of thoughts, in no particular order that has me sometimes scratching my head. Meant to be informative foremost, passionate gardeners and plantsman alike should understand the material that follows.

Deer resistant vs. deer proof! Deer, as far as I have seen, cannot read! There is no such thing as deer proof. Just because the Internet, a book, brochure or label says it is “Deer Resistant” does not mean they cannot eat it. Deer resistant is an educated choice that many have had success with before you. I use this analogy all the time, if you don’t like tuna fish and you are starving for food, you’ll eat tuna fish to survive. Nature finds a way and adapts.

I can’t tell you how many times, over the course of years, people price shop plants over the phone. The aesthetics of an individual plant are defined by its structural integrity and color. What has contributed to its makeup, in part, are pruning practices, advanced fertilizers, organic soil companions like mycorrhizae, tissue culture, grafting, air layering, soil content, patent costs and overall handling to name a few. Do all Cabernet Sauvignon’s taste the same? There is an art form to growing quality plant material and the ability to produce healthy, well-developed plants should be appreciated and supported by those extra dollars. Not to mention an appreciation for the nursery professional who can guide you through the decision making process thoughtfully.

Is your time worth anything to you? I have done countless house calls where I see plants planted out of scale. Too big a plant for too small a space! Aggressively tending to these plants, year after year, should suggest rethinking the space. An opportunity to plant something more appropriate is warranted. This in turn will give you more time to garden thoughtfully in other areas of your property. That brings me to my next suggestion…

Unless you are developing a knot garden, “a very formal design in a square frame, consisting of a variety of aromatic plants and culinary herbs” (Wikipedia) it is best to leave the geometric shapes out. My friend and colleague, Eileen Ferrer, says, “cubes are for drinks and meatballs belong on your plate”! How many times have we seen Barberry and Mop Cypress butchered into these forms? Drowning in mulch, looking as though they need to be rescued with a life preserver… you could do much better. Try planting fewer varieties and more of them. Three groups of ten instead of ten groups of three will help pull your landscape together.

Understanding cultivars seems overwhelming to some. Think of BMW cars, there is a 2,3,4,5,6,7,x, I and hybrid series to name a few. The same goes for plants. Shopping for a blue spruce you might come across ‘Bonny Blue’, ‘Fat Albert’, ‘Gail’s Skyline’, ‘Iseli Fastigiate’, ‘Hoopsi’, ‘Kosteri’ and ‘Shilo-Weeping’. And that is just a smattering of the upright types, not to mention dwarf or spreading varieties. The point is, it is important to know specifically what you are asking for so the nursery professional can best help you. After all, all models of BMW are priced differently. And bigger cars can cost less than smaller ones. This is true with plants too.

What guarantees do we have in life besides death and taxes? Apparently nursery stock falls into this category too. The idea of guaranteeing life has always seemed absurd to me. Does an obstetrician guarantee the life of a newborn? Plants are not dissimilar to people in that they too have circulatory systems that need to absorb nutrients in order to survive. Plant material, grown for the retail market, takes years to become marketable. I don’t know anyone who has ever spent his or her money on a dying plant, so what could go wrong so quickly? Gardening is not an exact science and there are no short cuts to understanding part sun/part shade, soil composition or wet and dry sites. One of the most brilliant horticultural minds on the planet, Dr. Michael Dirr, once told me that he has killed plants, lots of them. That’s how you learn.

In closing, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned gardener, gardening is a challenge and isn’t that part of the fun after all?