Horridculture – Fads

P90313This is why I do not grow hellebores in my own garden. The specimen in the pictures above and below are about as good as they get here. Most are quite a bit worse. Some put out only one or two flowers. Some do not survive their first year in the garden.
No one seems to know why they don’t do well here. It might be the lack of chill in winter, although they do better in even milder climates. It might be the minimal humidity, although they generally do no better in the damp redwood forests where the specimen in these pictures lives. Those that might get too much sunlight do no better or worse than those that get too much shade. They are simply not happy here.
My solution to this ‘problem’ is to not grow them in my own garden. I do not particularly like them anyway. Even those that look ‘good’ look like huge African violets dipped in paraffin. Those in the landscapes that I work with now are the colors of worn vinyl upholstery of 1970s Chryslers. Yup, I will pass on hellebores. ‘Problem’ solved before it happened.
That ‘solution’ does not work for everyone.
Some landscapers get what they can from the few growers who will grow them here, and plant them in all sorts of landscapes that they just do not belong in. Some will do it because they read somewhere that hellebores do well in shade, which is technically true, but only in regions where other environmental conditions are appropriate. Some do it because they saw pretty pictures of them, and read a nice article about them in some gardening magazine that features such articles about what does well where the respective magazines are published.
Sadly, many do it because hellebores are a fad here, and something that many landscapers with something to prove like to brag about. They are like dawn redwood and unusual varieties of Japanese maple that are so often installed into inappropriate situations just so the landscaper can add pictures of them to their portfolios. Fortunately, hellebores merely struggle or die without causing any other damage to the landscape.
There are a few kinds of fads, and some of them actually make sense, but good landscape designers should use fads responsibly and with discretion.P90313+

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Real Deal

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.