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.

And as usual, click on a photo to enlarge.

Petunias

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.

If I were in the market for a pink flower for my house, I would consider the Petunia Debonair Dusty Rose even though some have given it poor marks. What I saw at the CFGS was eye-catching and different. It looked like a Victorian botanical watercolor.

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.

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.

Coleus

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.

Orange King is in the upper right of this photo. The tops of the leaves are greenish yellow in shade but turn orange in the sun. The undersides of the leaves are a dark red/burgundy. This plant stopped me dead in my tracks and I even went back to the store twice after I got over the fact that I was lusting after a coleus.

Another weird little coleus, The Line, is a solid gold leaf variety with a dark purple vein down the center. This one was weird enough I had to have it.

And here are some from Proven Winners that I think are really worth a looksee:

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!

Barberry

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 wacked, 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.

Orange Rocket Barberry is a columnar-shaped, unusual color combo that forced me to rethink barberries.

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:

God I just LOVE LOVE LOVE this use of marigolds!! Who'd a thunk: marigolds posing as spilled popcorn around theater seating. Maybe if I had vinyl theater seats for the back yard and ceramic popcorn containers, I could make this work?

Close up of a messy spill of marigold popcorn poseurs How cool is that?

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.