Thoughts From A Plant Maven
Plant shopping brings out the kid in me. Nurseries are my grown-up candy stores, satisfying an adult version of a sweet tooth —without the cavities. I’ve been nourished by their offerings my entire life and move through them like a fashion shopper does Bloomingdale’s. These are my Meccas.
Last week, as I bounded through the familiar pews—I mean aisles—of a favorite garden center, I made mental notes of ‘must haves’ for the season. Momentarily changing my focus to watch other people perusing the center’s wares, I was struck by the high percentage of novices seemingly lost among the dizzying choices laid out around them. They seemed at once excited and nervous for the decisions they were about to make.
Buying plants can be an expensive proposition and, if you don’t approach it in an organized way, you could come home with plants that don’t work on your property and don’t accomplish what you intended. Naivety in this endeavor can lead to a costly learning curve.
I find no greater comfort than being among plants, yet I face a heavy burden of self-inflicted stress to match purchases to purpose.
My wife, a well-informed amateur, often joins me on my sacred sojourns. I am amazed at the ease in which she makes her selections. No worry about knowing the Latin names, not much concern for the way a plant will look when it is fully grown. If it looks cute in a four-inch plastic pot, the sale is clinched.
If you are new to buying plants, or suffer my own overly cerebral tendencies, I recommend some preparation before spending time and money on garden improvements. Here are some basic guidelines for strolling through the jungle of plants vying for your attention.
1. What’s the budget? You will no doubt want more than you’re willing to spend. Vigilance must be observed. I know first hand the plight of ‘budgetary creep.’ An extra ten dollars here, fifteen there each time you can’t tear yourself away from yet another can’t-live-without plant.
2. Ask yourself what goals you have for the day. Mostly, I lean towards choices that will give me as much color around my house as possible.
3. If your needs lead you otherwise, try not to be swayed by the brash and showy annuals usually placed at the entrance of the yard. Though incredibly cheery, they die at season’s end and must be re-purchased the following year.
4. Are you looking for more of a long term investment? With perennials, you’ll get increasing rewards for many seasons to come. Though more expensive than annuals, they are fine Bordeaux to the annuals’ Beaujolais Nouveau.
5. Are you filling in spaces left bare from previous season’s failed plants? If so, go to the shrub section of the nursery first. These are considerably more expensive and will eat up most of a budget. Only after these are picked should you cull through the smaller plants, keeping in mind what you have left in your wallet.
6. Perhaps you want to add an ornamental tree to your property, to make a change that will have a more significant impact on the landscape. Trees are available in many sizes, though for most spots on our properties, varieties that stay under twenty feet are best. One tree can bust a small budget so think about how much bang you want for your bucks.
Typically, by the end of my costly spree, the tactical brain yields to an emotional ‘Bleeding Heart’ (Dicentra spectabilis for those of you not in Botanical know) and all too often, my final budget has swollen to match exactly what I can squeeze in my car.
Though I resist the urge to use the roof rack to hold the vegetable seedlings my trunk would no longer hold, I thank Linnaeus for the hanger hooks over the doors that I squeezed half a dozen hanging baskets on.
Jon Feldman is the owner of G. biloba Garden Environments. Reach him at www.gbiloba.com or at 353-3448.