P80203Stereotypes can be such a bother. For the past almost twenty years that I have been writing my gardening column, many of those who read the column have been making assumptions about who I am and how I behave. I actually find much of the behavior that I should conform to be rather objectionable. Even the lingo would be awkward for me. I am a horticulturist, and if you must know, an arborist as well. It is my profession. I did not take an interest in horticulture because I retired or got bored with my primary career. Nor did I flunk out at everything else. I am not a garden guru, flower floozy or hortisexual. I do not crowd my garden with garden fairies, repurposed junk or rare and unusual plants. There is nothing eclectic or quaint. There is no whimsy or magic, and most certainly NO riot of color! Brent does not even flinch at my offensive racial comments.

Does anyone remember the yellow clivia fad? Everyone wanted yellow clivias in their own gardens because they were so rare, and so different from the typical orange. Does anyone even know what ‘rare’ means? When we all get them growing in our own garden, they are NOT rare! Has anyone tried to find an orange clivia lately? Yellow clivias had been rare back when orange was the more popular color, but only because orange clivias were the previous fad, and nurseries did not bother to grow the undesirable yellow clivias. Both yellow and orange are nice, but only if they happen to be the right perennial for a particular situation. They work nicely in spots that are too shady for other plants, and the bright colors are striking against the richly dark green foliage. However, they are not better than lily-of- the-Nile for sunny spots. I have grown more lily-of-the-Nile than I can write about, but have grown only one orange clivia.

The same goes for dawn redwood, or like landscapers with something to prove say, ‘Metasequoia glyptroboides’. They are nice trees in the right situation, particularly where redwoods would be nice, but a bit of sunlight is preferred through winter. However, that certainly does not make the right tree for every situation. I have worked with a few, but have never grown one in my own garden.

I loath Japanese maples! I do not mind growing them in the nursery, but I do not want to waste garden space on something so trendy. There are plenty of other more useful or prettier trees and shrubs. When I say that maples are some of my favorite trees, I mean ‘real’ maples, such as sugar maples and red maples. I know that silver and bigleaf maples are not very desirable trees, but they happen to be two of my favorites.

Being a good horticulturist is about knowing the many plant specie that we work with. Although silver maple happens to be one of my favorites, I have only been able to recommend it for just one application in my entire career. Just because it would be nice in my home garden, and I am willing to deal with the problems, does not mean that I can recommend it for other landscapes where others would need to contend with the problems. As much as I dislike Japanese maples, I have recommended them a few times for small spaces like atriums, particularly for clients who happen to like them. Unfortunately, they are more useful than silver maple. It is all a matter of knowing what specie are most appropriate for every application.

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20 thoughts on “Real Deal

    1. You know, I forgot. It happens so commonly. Until recently, MOST of the problems I encounter in my work are caused by those who get payed to make sure such problems do not develop. Now I am working in landscapes that have been neglected for a long time, but when we get to clearing them out and renovating them, we find that the original landscapes were quite well designed, which has been gratifying.
      The rant might continue tomorrow, and I am considering a weekly rant, perhaps reserving Wednesday for the Hooey Report.

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  1. I have three words for you. Gold Mop Cypress. Ugh. I think landscapers have to change fashion like the clothing people, but it seems you are being asked for certain plants. Interesting. Regardless of the source, there are fads!

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    1. The problem with ‘Gold Mop’ cypress is that no one knows how to take care of it, and gardeners, without exception, shear it just to be darn sure that they deprive it of all form, color and dignity.

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      1. I think it’s treated pretty well here in plantings, it just appears everywhere so I took against it, even though it does sometimes add nice color and texture (not to mention a variety of shapes if left alone).

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      2. Just seven or eight years? They have been popular in the Northwest as long as anything else, and the few that are around here have been around for quite a while too. They just are not common here.

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  2. Woo! Feeling feisty, aren’t we? It’s okay, as I read your articles, I am understanding exactly what you mean. I look around town here and see a lot of landscapes where it is clear something was planted because it was the “in” thing, or because they just wanted to fill in space. So little thought gets put into planning. When we moved into this house, there were three ornamental pear trees planted across the front. From trunk center to trunk center, they were 10 feet apart. From trunk center to edge of house (not even the rain gutters, the wall!) they were five feet away. These trees were leaning out because they couldn’t spread their branches on either side, and they couldn’t spread back because that was the roof. We finally had to remove them. Now they are firewood!

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    1. You are not the first to comment on the feistyness. I sort of get it, but I also think that I should say more about it. I take my career and industry very seriously, and yet those who do the best in the horticultural industries are those who care the least about it. It is SO sleazy in some ways, and so pathetic in others. I do not think that they are all sleazy, but there is too much apathy. I will continue this rant later.

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      1. Oddly, as a teacher I know exactly what you mean. I care deeply about the lessons, both in content and in life, that I give to my students because I care deeply about my students. I’m not there to be their “buddy” and make sure their feelings never get hurt. I’m there to teach and to guide them. Too many teachers are more worried about not upsetting their students of the parents and often have no grades lower than a C. These teachers get applauded for being such wonderful inspirations because obviously the kids must love learning so much. Then you find out a C could be as low as 30%!!! Yes, I really do understand your frustrations, even though it is from a different perspective.

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  3. I don’t follow plant fads (besides to report on them), but one positive aspect I can see from fads is increased availability in a particular genus or genre. For instance, I have grown succulents for a very long time, but the fact that they began to trend meant that I could get hold of some (and cheaply) that were much harder to locate as suppliers flooded the market. Same with epiphytes or miniature conifers for troughs (due to the fairy garden trend). These are little guys though – I could very much do without many of the new shrub introductions whose differences are so subtle that they add little more than noise in the marketplace. I’m also tired of the relabeling – and subsequent re-launch – of old skills (and trends) in horticulture as if they have just been invented (much like sex). I’ll add one more thing because you touched upon it. I don’t like fairy gardens. I don’t like gnome vignettes or growing a plant just because nobody else has it or growing it just because everyone has it. However (and it is a big however), there are many many people who do, and that’s what gets them out there and keeps them in love with their gardens, so I cannot fault these things – I just choose not to do them myself.

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    1. The problem with fads is that they create a sudden demand that can then allow for the less-than-scrupulous to fill a void in a hurry. Sadly, these individuals often turn to wild areas, rather than nurseries, to obtain their specimens. The fad with the succulents has led to entire coastal areas being denuded of the plants and has caused a lot of environmental havoc as a result. They do this because the succulents are too slow growing to keep up with the demand. Even “health” fads have had some pretty serious consequences. Entire mountainsides in Greece are being stripped of native plants because people are seeking a particular herb for tea rumored to have amazing health “powers”. It is important as a professional to be mindful of the consequences these fads have.

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      1. Well, the unscrupulous sorts who often exploit such fads are not as concerned with the consequences as the rest of us are. That is sort of what ‘unscrupulous’ means (although it does seem to be spelled like the name of a town in Greece).

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    2. So you see that I have quite a bit to write about in future rants!
      As much as I dislike gnomes, I also think that if it is what someone wants in their own garden, than that is just great. I wrote earlier about a front garden in Santa Clara that was paved, with a bronzed lawn mower on a pedestal in the middle. In a way, I totally get it. So did the neighbors. That landscape actually had quite a following. Making decisions like that is fine for your own garden. Telling a client that they ‘need’ cobalt blue glazed pots because everyone else is doing it (like we did about ten years ago) is just plain wrong.

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    1. It is SO so! Like I say, I enjoy growing them in the nursery, and in ‘some’ landscapes where they happen to fit, but most are planted just because landscape designers limit their selection to what they think ‘should’ be the best choices. A good designer ‘could’ select Japanese maples for certain situations where they would be the best options, but would also consider other options. What makes it worse here is that Japanese maples are not particularly happy in our arid climate. They can get roasted if planted out in exposed areas, and they often are. I have seen them planted as shade trees, and even as street trees, out in the open, between the curb and sidewalk! My disdain for them is not a result of the trees themselves, but of their misuse.

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      1. Ah…well they thrive in the Pacific Northwest though I do need to water mine in the summer, but they take care of themselves in the late fall – late spring. I love the mini varieties because I can keep them in pots and take them with me. My last house had full sized ones in the backyard that filtered the light and were gorgeous! Sigh. I miss ‘em!

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