Further adventures with garden catalogs

Orienpet Lily in bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

I am becoming obsessed with reading garden catalogs correctly, partially because in the past I have made so many mistakes when ordering plants. When I was new to gardening, I ordered those plants whose photos inspired me. Consequently, I found that my garden contained plants that ultimately, I neither enjoyed nor wished to house.

I had trouble fitting in Cannas with orange blossoms as it turned out that orange is not a color I savor in large amounts in the garden. Once, I planted a particular species of Euphorbia whose full name I have conveniently forgotten. This Euphorbia traveled (understatement) until I feared that this would soon be my sole remaining plant in the garden; can a garden be called a garden if it contains just one plant? Even the deer left it alone – and it took two years of arduous hand-pulling until it vacated my turf.

In our experiments, we all make mistakes. We all discover certain plants that are seemingly allergic to our gardens. Accept these facts and you’re on your way to becoming a great gardener.

Many of the garden catalogs are geared to attract buyers from all over the US – and this is where the problems may occur. You must do your homework first to cut down on the potential mistakes that these catalogs offer. What prospers in Nebraska doesn’t necessarily do well in North Carolina because our growing conditions are quite different.

When I leaf through a garden catalog now, I have a much better idea of what works in my garden than I did thirty years ago. And I keep this in mind before submitting my order.

The large alliums work well in the spring at Sarah P. Duke Gardens but they do not do well for most of us. Of course, let’s face it, this is true of many of the plants thriving at Duke Gardens; few of us have the time, strength, and will to contain the Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) exhibit central at Duke Gardens – according to one of its curators, this is a full-time job.

Duke Gardens takes out the giant alliums after they have bloomed; As they are positioned in leafy perennial boundaries, their removal does not create a noticeable vacancy. I can only repeat that what works well at Duke Gardens will not necessarily work well for me. I can grow the smaller alliums, such as A. millenium and A. ‘Pink Planet’ but notice that Plant Delights, situated in Raleigh, does not offer the giant ones such as A. ‘Globemaster’ and A. giganteum, perfectly good alliums that will prosper in other areas of our country but not here.

I yearn for some of the gaudy Oriental lilies, which are stunning. However, they do not appreciate our hot, humid nights so I limit myself to the Asiatic, Trumpet, and Orienpet (hybrids resulting from a marriage between the Oriental and Trumpet lilies) lilies that will survive here.

Delphiniums and lilacs are wonderful garden additions – for cooler climates. About twenty years ago there was a push to plant some of the Korean lilacs, especially Syringa pubescens ‘Miss Kim’. Dutifully, I planted her in hopes that I would have the lovely lilac aroma wafting through my garden. A relatively small lilac, it graced my garden rather unhappily for two years before retiring from the garden. I haven’t seen any discussion about this lilac now for years, indicating that others had the same problem with it, serving as a reminder that North Carolina is not South Korea.

Among the ornamental grasses, there is the standout Hakonechloa macra. How I yearned to grow this lovely arching grass! Believe me, I tried, all to no avail. This grass (zones 5a-7a) wants a cool, shady area, something that is hard for us to provide during the growing season; we can certainly provide the shade but the cool is hard to come by in our summers. While Plant Delights offered H. macra ‘SunFlare’ last spring, a cultivar that Tony Avent swears likes both heat and sun, I shall bypass until he offers it for several years, indicating to me that it really can survive our summers. Twice bitten has turned me into a shy creature.

A member of the mint family, Monarda is an iffy plant for me in that many cultivars love to travel before succumbing to powdery mildew. Because I cannot tolerate the travel habits of most Monardas, as they speed their way willy-nilly, I shall only contemplate clumping ones from now on.

There is lots of good information online on what plants work and what plants do not work in our state. Google “Does Hakonechloa grow well in NC” and quickly, you’ll discover that it prefers a cooler climate than what we can provide. Google “does Hakonechloa SunFlare grow well in NC” and you’ll discover that it needs a rich, constantly moist soil if it is to be happy.

Alas, I’m not sure in August I’m capable of producing a “constantly moist soil.”

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howyourgardengrows@icloud.com.
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