Favorite Things

Hosta ‘Branching Out.’ Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

Periodic reassessment of the garden is a necessary gardening task. Gardens change over time – and so do gardeners. Our tastes become more varied, plants fizzle out, what once charmed us no longer does, and we suddenly get interested in plants we never thought about in the past.

August and September are great months to evaluate our gardens because some of the plants are tired and the transition to the fall garden is occurring. Each year I make a list of “favorite things,” whether they are plants or useful gardening implements. Why do I bother to do this? Because my gardening memory is more vivid in August than it is in January and February, the months I make out my plant lists.

This year, my list includes Hosta ‘Branching Out’, a remarkable hosta introduction by Plant Delights. In August, this hosta bursts into bloom in a spectacular way. Most hostas produce 1-3 stems of flowers while ‘Branching Out’ is a mass of floral stems – and mine is still very young, only 2 years old, so there will be even more when it reaches full maturity. Plant this hosta ideally in an area that receives morning sun and afternoon shade – and be sure to plant her where she can show off. Alas, as with all hostas, this hosta is deer candy that requires some physical protection.

The rose ‘Dark Desire’ is a keeper. The longer I have her, the more I relish this rose. Technically a grandiflora that should grow to just 4 feet in height, my ‘Dark Desire’ has always wanted to express herself by producing long canes. Instead of constantly pruning her, I decided to let her have her way and erected a handsome trellis for her to lean on. Her foliage is beautiful and clean, no spraying required. Her dark red fragrant blooms thrill me.

Texture in the garden has become increasingly important to me. I have reached a certain age, alas, where I send daily garden photos to friends, alerting them that I’m still upright. Increasingly, my photos illustrate examples of texture in my garden. A variegated Polygonatum odoratum mixed in with the glossy green leaves of a Gardenia ‘Crown Jewel’ in a semi-shady area fills me with delight.

It’s taken two or more years for me to fully appreciate the hardy orchid, Bletilla striata, because it needs time to adjust to its new surroundings. The charming flowers appear in the late spring – but for the first two years, this orchid simply sits, seemingly doing nothing. Then, suddenly, once it has decided to accept its new environment, it will increase its leaves, wending its way through established plants. Again, a semi-shady area that receives morning sun and afternoon shade is preferable. Plant this orchid where its spear-shaped leaves can provide contrast to small-leaf or variegated plants.

Lantana ‘Miss Huff’ continues to wow me. It blooms continually throughout the summer, even when my garden is as tired of the heat and humidity as I am. I love the colorful blooms that change color as they age. The deer leave it alone, it requires little maintenance and I never water it. Simply cut it back in the late spring as soon as you observe new growth springing up from the roots.

Amarcrinum. Photo by Kit Flynn.

Amarcrinums continue to entice me. This man-made hybrid, a marriage between a Crinum and Amaryllis belladonna (that is only hardy in zones 9-10) is an absolute joy. Plant the bulbs in the spring – vowing not to move them, and forget them for two years, during which time they will only send up leaves. Then, one August morning, you will wake up to fabulous long-lasting blooms at a time of year when much in the garden is past its bloom cycle. Best of all, deer leave this bulb alone.

This year, I splurged on H Potter trellises in an effort to control my roses. Not only are these trellises beautifully made, they do a masterful job displaying those roses that need support. They are not inexpensive but will last a lifetime. What more can you ask of a trellis?

The last item on my list is my Japanese hand pruners. Japanese garden tools are superior ones, albeit expensive. However, I have found that the pruners remain sharp and functional far longer than the ones commonly found at garden centers. I’m currently using one that bears the Niwaki brand but simply enter the search terms “Japanese pruners” to discover a wide assortment at varying prices.

In the time of COVID, when our world has suddenly grown smaller, isn’t it lovely to have favorite companions in the garden? Make a list of your favorites so you will remember them in January when there actually might be snow on the ground.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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