It's not you, it's me.
Why I'm Splitting with Six Popular Plants
We need to talk. You're a beautiful, desirable plant, one any gardener would be lucky to grow. But something's changed, and I just don't feel the same way anymore. The last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings, but I really feel the need to be totally honest here...
I'm sorry, but you've been seen around town WAY too much lately.
I'm old enough to remember when Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, was a hot new plant that everyone wanted to try. And we did. Tough, easy, and with a go-with-everything blue and silver color scheme, it became one of the most popular perennials in the repertoire. And therein lies the problem. Do I really want to give precious garden space to a plant that's now seen in every suburban tract house foundation planting and Burger King drive-through? I'm afraid I don't.
Foolproof though Perovskia is, I'll get my blue/purple spikes elsewhere now, from newer alternatives like Salvia pratensis 'Ballet Sky Dance' (right below) or even Agastache 'Blue Fortune' (left below, covered in butterflies), almost as well known as Perovskia but with the added bonus of being a better pollinator plant and having superior winter interest.
You're gorgeous, but you're so needy and high maintenance it's killing me.
Because I grew up in the deep south, where they absolutely will not thrive, big double-flowered Peonies were one of the first plants I wanted to grow when I started gardening in the north. Their lavish blooms, delicious fragrance, and romantic names (Lady Alexandra Duff, Sarah Bernhardt, Duchesse de Nemours, etc.) were irresistible. But after a few years their allure barely seemed to offset the brief flowering period, the susceptibility of the foliage to mildew and viruses, and the near impossibility of staking them attractively and inconspicuously. Full disclosure: I still grow some of them, but they've been banished to a cutting area in the back of the kitchen garden where I can harvest the blooms for vases but forget about the plants for the rest of the season.
In my perennial beds I now grow only the shade tolerant Japanese Woodland Peony, Paeonia japonica (left below) and 'Krinkled White' (right below), a reliably sturdy single herbaceous type. Neither needs staking or much maintenance beyond an annual cut-down at year's end.
You're just too much of a flake... and your tacky outfits are way over the top.
Echinaceas are one of the plant groups (like Hostas, Heucheras, Daylilies and a few others) that the plant breeders have gone wacky over, churning out endless new varieties each season, novelty upon novelty. What was once a reliable American wildflower has now become a collector's plant, and I've had enough. Although new colors were welcome at first, now the pretty, original shuttlecock form has been splayed open, doubled, pom-pomed and otherwise deformed, distorted and debased until it's unrecognizable. Worse yet, none of the newer varieties I've tried have proven to be particularly vigorous or long-lived. (Echinaceas aren't naturally perennials that have a long life span... in nature the crowns live only two or three years, and repopulate mainly through seed dispersal)
Call me cranky, but I'm back to planting only the straight species, Echinacea purpurea (below), and its closely related variations like the shorter 'Kim's Knee High' or the white flowered version, 'White Swan'.
Frankly, Annie, you've put on too much weight.
Yet another case of overdevelopment, and of bigger not being necessarily better. Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' has enormous mopheads that often can't be supported by the branch structure, so you frequently see her bent over after a rain, dragging her blossoms in the mud. Not pretty. And don't even get me started on the even larger and more grotesque 'Incrediball'. Awful name, awful plant.
Instead, opt for the Hydrangea arborescens varieties with lacecap heads like 'Haas Halo' (top below) and 'White Dome' (bottom below). Same tough and hardy American native genes, but with an altogether lovelier flower form than 'Annabelle' that remains self-supporting in all weathers, and even looks fetching when snow covers the dried flower heads.
Mother tried to warn me about tramps like you.
Rampantly promiscuous, Nicotianas (the Flowering Tobaccos) interbreed madly and throw off millions of dust-like seeds, resulting in carpets of seedlings whose large leaves smother nearby plants, and seldom turn out to be the color you wanted. After several years of trying to manage them by thinning and deadheading, I've decided that ruthless extermination is the only solution. Now I just hoe them out like common weeds, and I find that I still have a satisfying garden without them.
Nothing else has quite the same flower effect, but for a scattering of clean white in the same area, I'm dividing and increasing my clumps of the Japanese Aster, Kalimeris integrifolia 'Daisy Mae' (below), a reliable and well-mannered clumping perennial with a long season of bloom and clouds of crisp, dainty flowers in May and June. Not the same as a Nicotiana, of course, but far easier to manage.
I'm sorry Karl, but you're just too... uptight.
I know, I know... Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' is a modern classic. It's one of Piet Oudolf's favorite grasses. It's reliable, hardy and readily available. And it's got a really long season of interest that peaks in a beautiful golden wheat-like inflorescence. But somehow, I just find it so... rigid. And though I plant and love many tall, upright and vertical perennials like Veronicastrum, Vernonia, Liatris and Coreopsis tripteris, I still can't seem to warm up to Karl F.
When I need a tall grass with a handsome flowering, I prefer the more graceful Calamagrostis brachytricha (top below at Hudson Bush Farm) or Frost Grass, Spodiopogon siberica (bottom below). Both have height, presence, late interest and a more relaxed form that I think blends with other plants more effectively.
Of course, the whims of a gardener being what they are I'm not guaranteeing I won't grow any of the above ever again. In the meantime, I think we both need to see other people. But don't worry, we can still be friends, can't we?
Happy Valentine's Day.
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Welcome to Sempervivum, an opinionated, sometimes informed and completely unqualified journal of gardens, plants and plantings by artist-gardener Robert Clyde Anderson.