Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bang for my Space

Gaura, three different varieties, blooms most of the summer

There is a discussion going on over at Garden Rant ( about hybridization and new developments in plants. I'm quite surprised at the strong opinions some people have on this topic. It turns out that my view is in the majority.

It seems that some people don't like the new hybrids of various plants. There's talk about Stella D'Oro daylily (which is overplanted and, IMO doesn't have the great color you can get with other daylilies), reblooming lilacs (coming from the South where we don't have lilacs I was excited at the idea of lilacs when I moved to New England, and I did enjoy the fragrance wafting through the neighborhood when they were in bloom but the bloom period is quite short) and reblooming iris (which I've never seen). But I have to disagree with the consensus that all new hybrids are bad (can you image only have the option of orange daylilies?).

The arguements for old-fashioned plants are quite varied but mostly seem to say that something is lost in the production of new hybrids. Yes, some long blooming roses have lost their fragrance, but not all have. Yes, some butterfly attracting plants have been hybridized to produce flowers that no longer attract butterflies, but in my garden many of the new hybrids do attract butterflies (and bees), and more telling, the butterflies feed for long periods on these flowers. Some people have even commented that they like the passage of seasons to be reflected in their gardens. I can understand that but I can certainly tolerate a plant blooming from spring through summer. The summer up here in New England doesn't last long enough for me so visually stretching it out with long blooming plants helps it feel longer. Winter will be here all too soon.

I think there are gardens for people on both sides of this debate but I personally prefer modern hybrids. If people prefer old fashioned plants, that's great for their gardens, just as long as I am allowed to experiment with new hybrids in my yard. I like rampant color and flower and so I require a good deal of bang for my space. I feel like new varieties and new options give me the chance to try new things provided they meet my criteria for plants.

So what are my criteria for plants in my garden? I have a small yard and a good bit of it has been set aside for the dogs so I have an even smaller garden space. This means I have limited plant choices and I have to consider them carefully. Do I want something that blooms for a week and then is nondescript green for the rest of the year? Depends on what the bloom looks like and when it blooms. I always have forsythia in the yard for the early spring and this yard is no different - I bought some untagged, post bloom plants from a big box store on sale for $5 each. I have no idea what they will look like or how long they will bloom but I will enjoy forcing them inside while we are still in the midst of winter.

Mostly, though, I pick up new, less common varieties of plant that have long bloom periods or interesting foliage. I like experimenting in the garden. I try new plants and if they don't live up to my standards--to the compost heap with them! I have no mercy.

What are my standards? A plant must have at least two of the following characteristics: attractive to wildlife, long bloom period, fragrant, interesting foliage, culinary, and all my plants must be able to survive, once established, without supplemental watering. I will tolerate some fussiness, like weekly deadheading for extended blooming, since I like to do that sort of thing. I only leave flowers on when I expect the birds to eat the seeds or if I want them to seed into my garden (like Aquilegia (columbine), garlic chives (to a degree) or liatris).

Plants that have a short bloom period had better have something else to attract me or they are out of here. New varieties of plants that normally attract butteflies, hummingbirds or birds but no longer attract the wildlife - compost. Disease susceptible? Trash. No fragrance in a rose or a lilac? Forget it, I won't even buy a rose without smelling it first.

The spectacular flower to the right is a bulb I bought on sale at the end of the season. I'm not sure what it is but it will go on the compost heap at the end of the summer. The blooms last less than one day, they are done by about 4 in the afternoon. Neat bloom but not worth the space.

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