Keep it Classy

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.

french marigold

French marigolds reseeded from last year.  I hear they’re less ‘out’ than they used to be but ‘classy’?  Maybe not yet.

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.


Chrysanthemums can be fancy I suppose, just look at the formal displays in the far East style, but as flowers go I think of them as a modern carnation, the flower bouquet you buy when roses and lilies are too expensive.  btw I hate this color, but a friend loves it, so I trust her taste and keep it!

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.


A larger flowered chrysanthemum which showed up under a rosebush one summer.  I’m looking forward to seeing what its seedlings look like in bloom in another two or three weeks.

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.

evening primrose

Oenothera biennis, the common primrose, with a few other classy weeds such as Persicaria orientalis and the golden, too-loud, Rudbeckia fulgens.

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.

phlox sweet summer fantasy

Phlox ‘Sweet Summer Fantasy’ looking slightly less fabulous than the pictures had lead me to believe.  “Large flowers, strong upright habit with clean foliage and good branching”…

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.

Aristolochia fimbriata

Aristolochia fimbriata (the white veined Dutchman’s pipe) is actually a very classy little treasure, and look at the little pipe it’s putting out!  downside though, perhaps I should have looked at its mature height and spread before planting it at the base of a six foot trellis.

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.

rose of sharon white chiffon

‘White Chiffon’ rose of sharon hasn’t reseeded too badly, and when all else fails white flowers always add distinction.

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.

rose of sharon ruffled satin

Rose of sharon ‘Ruffled Satin’.  I have not seen a single seedling under this one, and to my eye you might even get away with saying this plant looks refined?

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.

hibiscus turn of the century

An ok year for hibiscus ‘Turn of the Century’.  I love it, but it’s a far cry from the five foot shrub covered with blooms which this plant is capable of.

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.

Hosta yingerii

Of course when I saw the name I knew I had to try the seeds for Hosta yingerii, and here they are several years later.  

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!

27 comments on “Keep it Classy

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    I find ‘classiness’ overrated and too confining, ha! When it comes to gardening, I think we need to go with whatever floats our boat. And once one reaches a certain age (ahem), we don’t give a fig what others think anyway. 🙂

  2. There is nothing at all “trailer park” about your gardens, Frank!

  3. pbmgarden says:

    I’ll stand by French marigolds forever. I’ve noticed a lot of plants weave in and out of favor and my own preferences shift. I’ve been impressed with how your garden has developed. Oh, and I ordered the spider lilies from EdensBlooms as you recommended. Thanks for the tip.

    • bittster says:

      Marigolds have been in my gardens for years. I think the smell must have gotten into my blood when I was a child! 😉
      Thanks, I’m sometimes a little embarrassed for the pictures I’ve posted from the early days here but that passes quickly. I love having the online record.
      I ordered way too many bulbs from EdensBlooms. Lycoris can take so long to settle in and I just couldn’t think of waiting years and years to get clumps going, plus the price was good enough that I’m even giving L radiata a try here in the arctic. I really like having something fresh to look forward to during this slightly dull time of year.

    • bittster says:

      I just got my EdensBlooms order today. They look fine but quite a few smaller bulbs and they appear to have been dug a while ago with few roots. They’re still not a bad deal for the price, but I guess I was hoping for bigger. Time will tell, but I hope you make out better!

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a fun read. I certainly don’t think about classy or some misguided sense of proper. Too many wonderful plants out there whether they are old or new. I do think about invasive plants and try not to grow them. I have had one of those Sun King Aralias for several years. I moved it a couple of years ago because it didn’t get very big despite being in shade with some moisture. I moved it to more sun and less moisture and it is still the same size. Weird thing. I have seen them in botanical gardens that are huge. I guess I have to accept it as it is.
    I giggled at the little Dutchmans Pipe. Too funny. Hopefully it will grow larger next year. I have the native Passionflower vine Passiflora lutea. I love the blooms but they are small. It took the vine a couple of years to get going what with its location and the rabbits thinking I put it out for their spring greens. Now it is covered with the blooms and it blooms a long time. Fun to watch the hummingbirds and bees go to it. They don’t mind those small blooms but I must say I was surprised they were so small. In my mind I thought they would be as large as the big blue one even if not blue. ha… live and learn.
    I haven’t had luck with the new phloxes either. I think I don’t have enough sun. Who knows? Cheers and have a good week.

    • bittster says:

      Funny you should mention the native Passiflora. I never knew about it, yet just happened to come across my first picture last week. It’s nice! The flowers are much smaller, but it still has that strangely unique flower form. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.
      Also an odd coincidence that a friend just texted today to say she had potted up one of the hardy passionflowers to drop off here. I’ve never grown a passionflower before so this should be fun. Hopefully it doesn’t start popping up everywhere since I’m pretty sure she’s giving me an offset from the mother plant, but what’s the worst that can happen…. 🙂

  5. I thought you were saying a 6ft trellis wouldn’t be tall enough for that Aristolochia. But I googled the plant and it’s a ground cover reaching an amazing 6″! Orange and magenta are supposed to be bad colors in the garden, and certainly never put them together. That’s why I have blackberry lily and magenta phlox in the same bed. When you mix them, you just call it “the tropical look” and then it’s okay. It’s only places with weak sunlight (like the British isles) that can’t stomach strong colors, but even then Christopher Lloyd “defied convention” and planted all sorts of colors. If it looks good to you, it is good. As Kimberly said, there’s nothing “trailer park” about your garden.

    • bittster says:

      Funny you mention Christopher Lloyd. I remember seeing pictures of his garden and thinking the pink and orange combos were just a little too bold…. and then a few years later I’ve broken and try the same mixes here.
      I try to get decent mixes but the only thing that saves me is that most of my reseeders go together well regardless. I have yet to find a verbena bonariensis coming up in a spot where it clashes.
      I noticed a few tips coming up in the colchicum patch, C. byzantinus of course, and I’m very pleased to see it back again although the clumps really are starting to get big. Amazing how that happens, one day you’re questioning if you can afford a single bulb, and then 6 years later you’re wondering what to do with a too-massive planting!
      I hope mine do well this year. I did a bunch of transplanting in the spring so we will see how they handled active growth disturbances. Hopefully the better site and sip of miracle grow were enough to make them forget about the move!

  6. Paddy Tobin says:

    You grow snowdrops – everything else is forgiven! This talk of what is classy or not is a reflection of fashion and not of taste – and, who said it? – “Fashion exists for women with no taste”. This referred to the clothing fashion rather than gardening but is applicable. Fashions change and what was once considered perfectly “classy” may now be considered past it times etc etc. Nothing to worry about!

    • bittster says:

      “Fashion exists for women with no taste” haha, you would expect me to to be a fashion expert based on that!
      These days I see dahlias in all the best gardens. Seems only yesterday ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ was the only acceptable dahlia to grow. Even sunflowers seem less coarse, so that makes me wonder what really is currently considered tacky today. Maybe it’s double tuberous begonias. Honestly I would fill dozens of hanging baskets with them if they didn’t mind our hot summer nights but climate saves me from that situation.

      • Paddy Tobin says:

        Having reached an age when some plant fashions have returned after a period of being reviled – dahlias, for example – I reckon I have reached an age where I shouldn’t allow myself to be too bothered about what fashion dictates. The latest fashion, and one which irritates me terribly, it that the “best” plants are nowadays always only the latest introductions. No plant remains garden-worthy after a year or two and one is considered sooooo out of touch to continue to grow it. Pfffffffffffff!

  7. Cathy says:

    Trailer parks must look pretty cool in your part of the world if your comparison is apt! 😉 I fear I am also warming to Marigolds, which I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole only a year or so ago. But that colour is so summery and autumny all in one. I think your experience with phlox (and I remember how enamoured you were a couple of years ago) is a lesson to me not to try them after all. And Hibiscus are a no-no for me too…. the last to turn green and the first to drop their leaves, and then all those slimy flowers too!

    • bittster says:

      Trust me, if phlox would grow halfway decently for me I would gladly add another dozen or two, but sadly they don’t so at least I have that holding me back… somewhat… as I foolishly consider a small order for autumn planting 🙂
      My biggest problem these last few weeks has been lycoris. The garden is boring right now and when I see these sprouting an inch or two further each day, it’s extremely exciting!
      The trailer parks around here are exceptionally average, but in Florida… you can run across a botanical garden in a few square feet, and its amazing.
      You have me thinking I need to add a few of the really pale marigolds next year, and maybe a bunch of fancier shaded zinnias. I wonder if ripping out perennials to plant more annuals is a sign of class? -asking for a friend of course.

      • Cathy says:

        LOL! That’s how my Dad’s parents used to garden… rows of begonias and busy lizzies in the beds, dahlias and zinnias, and then rose beds of course. 😉

    • I grow marigolds because they look so good in the fall and mums aren’t reliably perennial for me here (and if they do reappear, there’s every good chance the woodchucks will eat them.)

  8. I’m with Paddy Tobin on this. If you look at my garden from one direction it is all Japanese and green. In another location I am reverting to high school and college in the 60s. One flower bed is yellow and white with orange and purple. Opposite is my fave color combo from back then: orange and hot pink with a touch of purple added for good measure. We get to do whatever we want in our gardens, no questions asked.

    • bittster says:

      Orange and hot pink with a touch of purple sounds perfect. I think if we just make that our new definition of classy we will be all set for another few years!
      Actually that is nearly a perfect description of my deck plantings! Of course I then added a few other colors which probably ruined it, but that’s the best thing about a killing frost and a clean plate and new annuals next year!

  9. Always a good read, I love your posts. You approach the garden from angles I’ve never on purpose thought about, like classiness. But, I’ve been known to be a plant snob or even worse, a color snob, especially against yellow, orange, and red. They are only allowed in certain areas, and even then, they are barely tolerable to my eyes. I’ll take the whites, pinks, purples, and blues any day. Your garden is looking very lush for this late time of the season and methinks, very classy.

    • bittster says:

      haha, trust me when I say classiness is one of the things furthest from my mind when I garden! Even my sunset shades bathing suit bottom, random dirt stained T-shirt with sleeves possibly not yet ripped off, dirty crocs and ugly camo hat… none of that says anything close to class! -but I do appreciate a good color snob 🙂 If I were less lazy and more disciplined I might make a legitimate color effort but it’s so beyond me to be that organized, and I do love soft yellows, strong oranges and red! Only two colors disgust me. That traffic cone gold of ‘Stella D’Oro’ and ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, and the dirty pink with the tiniest touch of blue that shows up in crownvetch and some phlox and hosta. Yuck. And of course I always have the rudbeckia next to the phlox and together the colors look even worse. You would think I’d do something about it, right?

  10. I somehow seem to lose control of color combinations, so inadvertently plant orange marigolds next to some self-seeded ‘bright eyes’ phlox. But I have a good excuse: I explain with a smile that I garden in the English cottage-garden style therefore my beds must be a ‘riot of color’ — as per Christopher Lloyd. I would never admit that I have no class. And I think your gardens, Frank, are very classy!

  11. Kevin says:

    I don’t know nothin’ about class, but I think your garden is actually glowing! Beautiful — and if you need a Martha fix, check out her new show on HGTV: “Martha Knows Best.” I have yet to see her get a smudge of dirt on her designer gardening haute couture.

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