You may think that a couple raised beds and an obsession for snowdrops would practically guarantee refined taste and a Martha Stewart garden visit, but as of this evening both have yet to happen. Sometimes I think neither will happen and then I start wondering if maybe it’s just a problem with the gardener, and his complete lack of class and good taste. So be it. I like orange, I like cannas and dahlias, I like marigolds, and above all I love too much when a little less would have been much more respectable.
I don’t have the patience or writing skills to really go into why one flower is classy while another is crass, but over the years I’ve picked up on the judgements of my betters and at this highpoint of summer realize that my garden definitely veers towards the trailer park style rather than waterfront estate.
I suppose if you decorate your estate with gobs of full flower chrysanthemums in themed color displays they’re fancy, or if you stick with the truly perennial types which put out sprays of color in late fall you’re good, but my chrysanthemums are mostly the feral offspring of whomever managed to survive the winter. To me they’re an interesting bunch though, even if the colors aren’t anything extraordinary. The earliest ones are starting to bloom now, which is far too early and reeks of autumn, but I hope they’re just enthusiastic and can keep this going at least through September.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a weed of waste places and abandoned gardens. Obviously it does well here and obviously it’s not high class, so I always leave a few to grow and flower. Birds are supposed to like the seeds (although I’ve never seen a bird on it) and I like the way the flowers pop open each day, so this native biennial is ok in my book. Now if only I could motivate myself to seed out the fancier versions I found last winter. Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ offers dark stems with tangerine flowers overlaid in rose, while the large yellow blooms of Oenothera glazioviana pop open in under a minute as the sun goes down… it’s worth a party, or so I’ve been told.
Phlox come with an excellent pedigree and are grown in some of the best gardens. And then they get here. A few years back I decided to treat my self to a few selections from the ‘Sweet Summer’ series, and a few years forward they’re all dead except for two. Actually make that one. ‘Sweet Summer Festival’ would never fully open her blooms and was yanked a few weeks ago and sent to the compost pile. She came with excellent references, and I thought she would grow out of it but maybe it was some weird tissue culture issue… or she just hated it here and couldn’t be bothered with hiding her disgust.
I was looking at the trash I call a phlox bed today and really gave some consideration to offering up my garden as an extreme test location for new phlox varieties. I think a new plant would really have to jump through some hoops to do well here, and if anyone out there wants to send me a bunch of free plants for evaluation I’m completely on board… and just to throw it out there even if the plant doesn’t do completely well it doesn’t mean I can’t write a glowing review… I mean integrity is kind of a vague concept these days, and free plants really do hold a lot of sway in this garden.
I always thought of Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) as a trashy plant. We had it round the garden growing up and my mother would always complain over its leafless stems in May when everything else had already sprung to life, and then I would always complain about the carpet of seedlings which would fill the weed bucket under every bush. Should I even mention the slimy faded flowers which would litter the ground for two months in late summer? They were always guaranteed to squish up between your toes, and even better if a slug had come out to take a bite before your foot landed on it all.
I have to say I like the new rose of sharons. ‘White Chiffon’ is a smaller version of ‘Diana’ with a little extra fluff in the center of each flower (I still prefer the single ‘Diana’), and if for once I can refrain from accidentally cutting down the bush during spring cleanup I think she’ll be an excellent addition to the garden… unlike the amazingly colored but prolifically seeding ‘Bluebird’ who was shovel pruned.
I guess the mallow family is often pointed at for weediness and gaudiness, and I’m not sure where the latest court ruling stands at for classiness, but if you move away from shrubby hibiscus to the perennial version it’s really got to be a gray area. Some of the newest forms are just amazing, but they have all the oversized flowers and inappropriately bright colors of something less refined. I would grow all of them, but just can’t deal with the ravages of the hibiscus sawfly which eat their foliage to shreds each summer so there’s only one left, and some years he does ok, and other years I just turn away.
Ok, enough with all this concern over tackiness. If you look at the last hibiscus photo you might notice a classier plant in the backgound, the chartreuse leaved, 2020 Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year, Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’. This cool thing doesn’t seem to mind a crushing late freeze, mid summer drought, and rooty shade, and although its two foot height in my garden does not compare well to the 4-6 feet it is typically quoted as, it’s still a wonderful presence. The plant is a great introduction by plantsman/hunter/explorer Barry Yinger who spotted it atop a Japanese department store in the garden center. So much easier than bushwacking up a Chinese river valley and climbing cliffsides looking for new plants, but I’m sure that was on the list as well.
Plant nuts will remember Barry Yinger’s Asiatica Nursery which was an outlet for introducing hundreds of exotic and obscure plants into the American horticultural world, and even if you don’t know it, your garden is probably richer for it. Even my little plot has a few (hopefully) hardy camellias which are just a few degrees of separation from Mr Yinger collecting seeds under armed escort within sight of the North Korean mainland. A cool connection me thinks.
Not to swing this around and make it all about me, but I did meet Barry Yinger once. Not to brag but it was at one of the first Galanthus Galas, and he was off in a side room breaking for lunch when I decided to take my chance. “Is this where the restrooms are?” was my icebreaker, “No, they’re the next doorway” was his response, and I was on my way. I don’t think he remembers.
Obviously my classiness is only eclipsed by my social skills, so let me abruptly end this post and wish you all a great week!