I was just listening to @jeanannvk and @kissmyaster‘s latest Good Enough Gardening podcast about plants that are so common, they are frowned upon and it got me thinking: do I have snobbish tendencies toward some overly used plants? Of course I do and would venture to say we all do (poor Stella).
So in the interest of giving some plants their fair shake, here’s a list that my gut says NO! along with examples of varieties or uses that IMHO might make them workable. Most were debated in the podcast but I added a few of my own.
I think my aversion to petunias stems from trying to pick them as a child and discovering their stems were hairy, sticky, smelly and secreted a milky substance that was gross. Really, I have no reason to hate them unless they’re the overused common varieties that the big box retailers pitch annually. Oh, yeah, and they’re an annual. Yes, I am snobbish about not wanting to waste my time on a short-lived plant in a zone 5 location.
That said, I was accosted with what I thought was an amazing petunia the the Chicago Flower and Garden show earlier this year and it not only made me look twice but forced me to take a photo.
Also, I’d consider the following petunias due to their insanely cool colors and growth habits. I just wouldn’t try to pick them without gloves.
- Carpet Buttercream — perfect coloring for a cottage garden or wedding
- Madness Plum — another great color for cottage gardening
- Sophistica Collection Lime Bicolor — in the right situation of course
- Can-Can™ Mocha Calibrachoa mini petunia — I love the coloring of this mini-petunia, so gothic! Technically a Calibrachoa, some call it a petunia, some don’t. I’m not a horticulturist so don’t ask me. I just think it’s cool.
- Black Velvet —reportedly the only TRUE black petunia
- Phantom — this one makes me think of Eartha Kitt for some reason
- Supertunia® Pretty Much Picasso® — for the drag queen in all of us!
- Superbells® Blackberry Punch — @KissMyAster mentions this one in the podcast as “…the ‘effin cutest thing ever,” ‘nuf said.
Really, I think it’s about NOT choosing what everyone else is using or if you do, use it differently. In a unique combination. I do get so tired of going to the local garden store and seeing the same damn colors at all of them. No wonder home owners have a hard time being original.
We’ve all seen the cliched painted coleus that have been used since the 60’s and 70’s. Yeah, I’m sick of them too and until this year, I hadn’t really seen anything new or unique at my local garden center.
And here are some from Proven Winners that I think are really worth a looksee:
- Twist and Twirl® — for the abstract artist
- Glennis — I swear each leaf on this one is a tiny painting of landscape scenery!
- Fishnet Stocking — almost creepy with its wealth of veins
- Ruffles Copper — would make an AWESOME corsage!
When I was a kid, I used to visit my Aunt (the creative one) every summer. We’d go horseback riding, walking in the woods, play with the ducks AND tend to her massive collection of coleus. My god that woman must have had over 50 plants. Her house was full of them and they were all pretty much the paint splatter varieties. So I grew up thinking all coleus were paint splattered when obviously that’s not at all true. There are some downright creepy looking colorings as well as some my ex-roommate Todd/Diana would’ve worn as a hat!
We’ve all seen the burgundy/winey color barberries. They’re EVERYWHERE! And most of them are clipped to within an inch of their lives and just look wretched. The better-groomed barberries are allowed to grow more freely, like arms wearing rose/burgundy sleeves reaching outward and swaying to a cheer like fans at a White Sox game. Because barberry seemed awfully common to me and burgundy wasn’t really in my color scheme this year, I’ve not been a fan. BUT THEN…I happened upon this weird little variety at, of all places, Home Despot Depot. The orange/green color combo is so cool, I bought 3 of these. Plus they have a columnar growth habit which allows me to place contrasting mounds of Japanese Forest grass at their feet for a truly shocking display.
4 other common plants I’d love to try again:
There are gazillions of overly and poorly used plants that I still think could be cool in the right situation. Here are four I’d like to experiment with next year.
- Dusty Miller: Poor Dusty Miller always gets stuck into terribly coordinated, ready-to-go containers from big box stores. So no one ever takes it seriously and it’s not really a bad plant, just misunderstood and misused. I think combining this old staple with something dark, bloody and rich could be awesome. Maybe with Black Velvet petunias, Purple or Thai basil? Or maybe going all white with white petunias for a frosty cool look? With either dark or light flowers, the bone like leaf shapes would create a Dark Shadows kind of container arrangement.
- Begonia: These remind me of my grandma so I think of them as old-lady flowers. And the ones that are used in public planters just never seem to grow, in fact, they get a tad spindly. Surely there are varieties that GROW and don’t look winded by August? Must look into this next year.
- Viny green stuff: Yeah, next year I’m going to stick with creeping rosemary or thyme instead of vinca vine. I thought I could make the vinca work but it’s giving me panic attacks like spider plants do. Grows like a foot a day and it’s now trailing down the porch stairs in a “feed me, Seymour” kinda way.
- Marigolds: There are some pretty cool HUGE cream color marigolds out now although I really am partial to the standard orange/yellow puffballs. I think it’s all in how they’re used. Gotta experiment with this one next year because they’re just so damned cheerful! Here’s an example of a cool marigold use that I saw at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show but of course, may NOT be practical for your own outdoor yard:
If you haven’t already done so, give a listen to Good Enough Gardening’s latest podcast and learn more about avoiding overly used plants or using common plants in unique ways.
July 22, 2010 at 7:26 pm
Hi. I am looking everywhere to purchase 1 of these orange rocket barberrys. I live in michigan ,anybody know where i can purchase one at ? Thanks Gary Augustine.
July 22, 2010 at 7:41 pm
Awesome post!! I’ve blogged about the Grandma flowers before too, but I love the way you did this.
I had ‘Fishnet Stockings’ a couple of years ago and it was AWESOME. Soooo cool. And I’m gaining an appreciation for the different dusty millers, too.
Love the new petunias. Performers extraordinaire, they are!
July 22, 2010 at 7:43 pm
Oh yeah, I’m with Gary….MUST HAVE a couple of those ‘Orange Rocket’ barberries, too. I’ll check our local orange spot next time I’m in Ft. Wayne.
July 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm
The Home Depot here ran out of those Orange Rocket barberries in about a week! And they didn’t order anymore. I wouldn’t mind replacing my entire hedge of arborvitae with them. The color is truly deep rusty orange with new leaves in green and if not enough sun, some do start to turn burgundy but not like regular barberries. And they are supposed to grow straight up, 4 feet tall by 16 inches wide. But I’ve read varying reports on this size thing.
And Kylee, I had no idea there was more than one dusty miller! Wonder if there’s a lacy one.
July 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm
kylee. I have some dusty millers that are pink. would you like to have some. They probably sell them at the orange spot. So you better check next time your in fort wayne.
July 22, 2010 at 8:57 pm
I’m told by the people where I used to work that the ‘Phantom’ Petunias tend to revert to solid colors (they didn’t specify which solid color, though). Which was disappointing — the Univ. of IA colors are black and gold, so it’d sell well here. But they’re not ordering it until somebody comes up with a more stable version.
‘Glennis’ coleus rules. There are actually quite a lot of coleus I like, though.
July 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm
Julia .Do you have the new barberry golden ruby? It is bright orange scarlet most of the summer, golden edges on it. It is a dwarf shrub . Pretty awesome.
July 24, 2010 at 9:28 pm
Haven’t seen that one. We don’t seem to have a lot of choices around here unless you go to a $$$$$ garden center. Which is usually outta my range (or the range DH would like me to stay within ;-) I will look for it tho, thanks!
August 16, 2010 at 6:58 pm
Wow, definitely going to try some of those petunias, although the seed starting police may end up putting me on the Most Wanted list for all the seedlings I start and then kill every year. As far as marigolds, I actually am quite partial to the run-of-the-mill Big Box standards, and I put them in my garden every year. This year I got some sort of fancy cultivar, and I hate it– back to the tried and trues next time!
As far as the orange rocket–can you do cuttings from barberry?
August 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm
I have never done a cutting from barberry. In fact, these are the first barberry I’ve owned. You’re welcome to try though I’d wait a bit. I nearly killed them when planting and they are recovering now. About one foot tall they are.