THE ABSENTEE GARDENERS
By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins
“What is it about echinacea? Why can’t I grow it?” my neighbor asked me.
I assured her that for some inexplicable reason I had trouble growing most echinacea cultivars. I like echinacea, I would like to grow a wide variety of echinaceas, and nurserymen have assured me over the years that I’m the only person in the whole wide world (besides my neighbor) that has trouble growing this forgiving plant.
As luck would have it, in desperation I tried a relatively new echinacea, “Delicious Candy,” and — so far — it has responded to my careful nurturing. Why do I seemingly have luck with this one cultivar but the others evade my embrace?
For years I have told myself that because echinacea is a tough prairie plant, it dislikes my rich soil, a characteristic also shared by my neighbor. Theoretically “Delicious Candy” shares the same DNA with other echinacea cultivars, so this is a mystery to me.
If plants could talk, surely these various echinaceas would tell me why they dislike me.
Another close friend grows daylilies that increase in bulk every year so that she regularly can divide them. For some reason, my daylilies, while performing well during the blooming season, do not increase in size.
Both of us provide full sun for our daylilies but her soil is solid clay whereas mine is a rich loam that drains beautifully. “Isn’t that what we’re all aiming for?” I ask myself.
Her daylilies — and we share many of the same cultivars — plainly prefer her soil to mine, even during rainy summers when they practically sit in water. Yes, I water my daylilies so they are not dying of thirst.
There are lots of plants I can grow, including many rose varieties, phlox, lilies and crinums, among others. So why I have two very-easy-to-grow plants that balk in my garden is a puzzlement. I shall have to get a soil test, something I have avoided doing in the summer heat when laziness and inertia overcome me.
Roses do well in my garden for the most part, but there is a Griffith Buck rose, “Malaguena,” that does not. I’ve had her for the requisite four years, my rose trial period, and am contemplating taking her out. Every spring she entices me with lovely blooms, only to completely defoliate every June, thereby resembling a spineless wonder.
Griffith Buck hybridized roses to find ones that could survive the Iowa winters. Perhaps, I tell myself, this is a rose that simply cannot put up with our hot summers. Yet she sheds her foliage well before the heat has settled in — and Iowa doesn’t have notably cool summers. Since the roses around her still manage to look respectable, I take her dislike of my garden rather personally.
Sometimes we think a plant is failing us when in reality it is concentrating on initial root growth. Consequently, I have a standing rule with perennials: I give them at least two years of observation while giving roses three years minimum. I’ve had roses sit that long before deigning to throw out a new cane.
However, I have had to face the fact that there are some plants that just do not perform well for me, and I guarantee that most gardeners share this aspect of gardening. I have accepted that my lovely soil is not suitable for some plants, that some plants want a leaner soil. After spending years building up my soil, I have no idea how to make a “leaner” soil.
So, my suggestion is to accept that some plants will love you and some won’t. Look around your garden, and marvel at all those you can grow and nurture.
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: email@example.com