Some reliable plants have lost their popularity – the Oxford eagle
Some once reliable plants have fallen out of favor
Published at 11:30 AM Wednesday, July 5, 2023
By Fielder Rushing
What happened comes back again; Old multi-season garden plants are becoming fashionable again.
Decades ago, I began to notice that most of Mississippi’s new landscapes were populated by a relatively small number of plant species that were easy to produce in large quantities. Think azaleas, crape myrtle, boxwood, ligstrom, juniper, holly, water oak, clera, hybrid tea roses, nandina and lirium.
And I realized that this was partly because most of my generation and our children, who had grown up on television rather than out in the yard, were moving into new homes being built rapidly in the suburbs.
Contractors were under pressure to place generic materials on sterile foundations, and demanded inexpensive, mature-looking plants, mostly evergreen, that looked good the day they were planted.
This restricted the choice mostly to those that could be produced quickly and cheaply and looked good in pots.
And if a novice gardener with no deep experience or long views wanted to add to this, garden centers – caught up in the new wave of mass production made possible in my lifetime only by the introduction of plastic pots and soilless potting mix – were made available to them by ordering Whatever was eye-catching and sold well during peak sales seasons, instead of sticking to the promise.
And who can blame business owners for going ahead with projected sales over a variety of parks over the long term?
Long story short, a lot of plants are very reliable, simply because they aren’t quick to rotate by promoters or don’t look great in garden center rows during the spring planting rush, have fallen by the wayside, or have been moved to more mature gardens by Old timers and botanical garden enthusiasts who appreciate diversity.
This has changed a lot in the past few years, with the emergence of highly touted new plants and interesting new cultivars of old standards in different shapes, stunning foliage, longer blooms, and multiple seasonal effects.
Think Knockout roses, electric blue vitex, compact loropetatums, Little Gem Magnolia, burgundy crape leaf, golden abelia, Sunshine privet, yaupon hollies, columnar fruitless sweet gum trees, dwarf ground cover nandinas, and dwarf yucca. Miscellaneous.
No kidding, thirty years ago, other than the exotic daylily, iris, lantana, canna, mint, or pampas grass, you couldn’t find hardy perennials for sale at major garden centers; You had to start with garden friends, search for small nurseries, or mail order. Now they’re all awash in dazzling clusters of coneflowers, jurassic, perennial sage, native wildflowers, miscanthus, hardy hibiscus, and more.
The caveat is that much of what is available these days at Mississippi garden centers comes from far away and is not well adapted to our climate. This often confuses new gardeners who easily get frustrated and blame themselves for missing out on what they thought would be a crushing hit. Buyer beware: Not all popular perennials survive, let alone thrive, throughout Mississippi (I’m talking about you, astilbe, ginger, tulips, and lavender!).
When it comes to how renewed interest in last year’s shrubs is expanding modern garden palettes, I appreciate how “old-fashioned” turns into “newly rediscovered.” They include Altheas, often called the Rose of Sharon; philadelphus, commonly called English dogwood and mock orange; Weigila. Deutzia. Gardenia. Myriad Spiraea shrubs. Vitex Summer Offer; Banana bush (Magnolia fuscata); Abelia flowering in summer. Kerria, fig, flowering quince, sumac; Bald cypress. Fringe tree (“Grancy Graybeard”), a disease-free everblooming shrub rose that can survive when planted in cemeteries.
And kudos to those folks who fueled that flame from generations past, when people grew dependable plants they could see all over town, and bought them from local nurseries they knew their customers would return next season.
They cherish the garden’s all-season gems long enough to rediscover them.
Fielder Rushing is an author, columnist, and host of MPB’s “Gestalt Gardener” from Mississippi.
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