Mysteries in the Garden

‘Kit’s Circus Wagon’. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

There are certain aspects of my garden that puzzle me, aspects that I mentally assign to an area of my brain as garden mysteries. I was reminded of this the other day when, while inspecting conditions in the garden, I noticed that my rose ‘Beverly’ was putting out new growth.

Now ‘Beverly’ grows well for most people. She’s a lovely, sustainable rose that requires little beyond basic rose care – yearly pruning and a dose of rose fertilizer three times a year – yet my ‘Beverly’ is clearly a failure. She’s not exactly dead, but I cannot point her out with any gardening pride. I was ready to pull her out after three years of trying to convince her that I was providing her with a nice family to join, when she decided to put lovely new growth and a new cane.

Now I’m perfectly capable of murdering, i.e., pulling out, a rose that to my eye is misbehaving. But when the rose shows signs of wanting to remain in the family, who am I to kick her out without any feelings? Should I give her another chance? If only she could tell me what is wrong. And, the mystery is why does she perform beautifully for others while deploring my hospitality?

Whereas most of my roses do well, David Austin’s ‘Olivia Rose Austin’, one he proclaimed was the most disease-resistant rose he ever produced, has done little in my garden. Yet, when I visit a dear friend, I see her ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ is lovely, acting exactly as a rose is supposed to. Do these two roses desire clay-based soil rather than my (beautiful in my eyes) loamy soil? I hasten to mention that since I can grow many other roses, I am at a loss for an explanation.

Daylilies are renowned for being easy to grow – and most of mine are. However, there is one daylily, one that I particularly care about, that begins each season with a bang, putting out lots of new growth before getting bogged down as the summer progresses. ‘Kit’s Circus Wagon’ (that Jim Massey was thoughtful enough to name after me) performs much better for a close friend than it does for me. Her clumps become so massive that she routinely divides them while I still am trying to maintain my original clumps.

Now, sometimes garden mysteries can be solved. For years, I had two Trachycarpus fortunei, aka windmill palms, in my front yard. I purchased one as a two-foot toddler, whereas the other was a seven-foot teenager. The teenager looked fine for about five years until the toddler began to loom over it. Finally, after pulling the teenager out, we discovered that the root system had never extended out of the ball it arrived with. The mystery unraveled: The contained root system could no longer support the tree.

Some mysteries are of my own making. Recently, I noticed two camellias that I had planted too close together. One was ‘Jacks’, a slow-growing camellia that is one of my all-time favorite japonicas, while the other was a camellia of uncertain parentage (a euphemism for my lack of labeling at the time of planting) that was forced to grow in a peculiar shape because of the too close proximity to ‘Jacks’.

The mystery, of course, is why did I plant two camellias so close together? There is no satisfactory response except to admit it was a lapse in judgment. The solution was to move the nameless camellia to an empty space (hard to find in my garden), and hope that the El Niño winter will provide enough water for it in case I forgot to drag out the hose in frigid temperatures to slake her thirst.

Echinacea ‘Delicious Candy’. Photo by Kit Flynn.

The mystery that I have to fight in my brain is this: Why, with my beautiful loamy soil, can’t I grow everything to perfection? For years I labored over echinaceas only to have them falter before discovering that these native plants thrive in our native clay soils. In other words, my soil was too good. Then I discovered E. ‘Delicious Candy’ that adjusted well to my soil, mollifying my distrust of this genus. With my latest order to Plant Delights, I’m nudging my foot further into this genus, exploring it a bit more as Tony Avent has luscious soil. Presumably (and this takes some chutzpah), if Tony can grow them, I, too, can grow them.

Regarding many of my garden mysteries, additional fertilizer is not the answer. As I have said, my soil is good and loamy, slightly acidic. Camellias and gardenias love it. We give the garden a slight dose of fertilizer in March. The only plants that receive more applications of fertilizer are the roses, always identified as “heavy feeders.”

All gardeners, even the famous ones, find they have plants they simply cannot grow, whereas these plants thrive for others. My advice is this: Accept it and move on. Even Tony Avent has many plants that he has killed, which comforts me. As they say, misery loves company.

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
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