Monday, December 31, 2012

The Plant Collector Raises Her Head

Deinanthee caerulea (Blue Wonder False Hydrangea)

As much as I try to tamp it down, there is a plant collector/hoarder lurking at my heart and soul. Unlike the gardeners who are the marketers' darlings and have to have the latest and greatest, I want the unusual, the plant that could grow here but hasn't been trialed.

Take perennial begonia. I first saw this plant growing perennially in Indianapolis at the Museum of Art. The grounds are a wonderful non-botanical garden landscaping similar to Oshkosh's Paine. Neither the art nor the gardens make a huge statement in either the art or horticulture world, but taken together each are an enchantingly pleasant waste of time.

Asking questions I found begonia grandis is hardy to zone 6 possibly with cover. I obtained a clump (legally) and attempted to grow it in Chicago's NW suburbs, zone 5b/6a. It was a fail. Now looking for something to apease my inner plant collector I come across this:

(Photo courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery)

It has a hardiness marked to zone 5. It was collected in 1997, so I would think the zone information might have some correlation to reality, or not. Anyone growing begonia grandis in zone 5?

Or how about the remarkable deinanthee pictured above? This is also listed down to zone 4. Even more remarkable is the beautiful flower and the tempting bloom time which may correlate with that upcoming garden walk. Wouldn't that be sensational?

This last year, I made an effort to take in as many garden walks and botanical gardens as possible. Nowhere did I see either of these plants growing. Many gardeners I converse with regularly comment that it is difficult to find particular bedding annuals reliably from year to year and find themselves trying to save particular coleus, petunias, and calibrochoa from year to year.

So what is it with marketers chasing the same few nationally-marketed perennials and annuals, those "Proven Winners." I'm sure neither of these are on P. Allen Smith's garden plant radar.

On the annuals side I have been attempting to source some sensational petunias. I envision this massively bedded out edging of petunias underplanting my hedges and alley side of the tree and shrub borders. So many times, lately I am underwhelmed with petunias. Last year I grew some which were suppose to be this:

and instead were this:

How dissapointing is that? Grow petunia from seed and have them turn out to be something completely at odds with what you think you were sold?

Has this happened to you?

I'd also like to copy something I saw a couple years back at Olbrich Botanical Garden.

I'd like to use a couple different nicotianas like alata and langsdorfii and maybe an ageratum and some lambs ears on the curve under my apple tree.

So I am plant hunting by internet. Looking for the things no one is growing, but are the "why-nots?"

Ten years ago I started growing nepetas and calaminthas here in central Wisconsin. No one grew them here. Now everyone does. Still relatively underused are chelone and helianthus and a great variety of shrubs.

I grow Japanese crytomeria, zauchneria, and bush clematis. Zauchneria, or California fuschia, hummingbird plant is always listed to zone 7. I'm definitely outside the box on that one (the zauchneria). These have all been growing in my garden for 3-4 years now.

So what unusual plants do you have your eye on and wonder why they aren't being grown in your area? Is your inner plant hunter on the prowl?


  1. Wow, you're much more adventurous than I am. I like the hardy begonia. Also, the nicotania and ageratum are a nice combination, I like the taller ageratum.

    I can't say the plants I want are unusual, though they are harder to find at garden centers. I'm thinking I would really like a fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus).

    1. The fringe tree comes in both male and female like ilex. If you are selecting for the fringe, be sure to see them in bloom before making your selection. You only need two if you want it to set seed, which I don't think is really necessary. I think the fringe tree is something we should be growing more of here in the Midwest. My neighbor has a male and female named cultivar (or maybe it is a selection of the species?) in his garden and it has been very showy in bloom. It seems to be slow growing.