The Case for Real Plants

The trouble with plants, and the great thing about plants, is that they’re living creatures.  Strangely enough people don’t often think about plants this way.  They totally miss the miracle before their eyes; that they’re respirating, growing, oxygen creating, living beings.  The down side, if we choose to see it as a down side, is  that living things are not plastic, they require care, they grow larger, they get sick, and as with all living things - they eventually die.

A Sky Mall ad for artificial plants

The Case for Real Plants and Gardening.

Growing plants can be very satisfying.  There is great satisfaction in nurturing a plant from a small seed or seedling, watching it mature into a plant that rewards us for our effort.  We get shade from trees.  We get fruit to eat.  We get the joy of seeing them make delicate, colorful, beautiful flowers as if by magic.  We are willed to breath deep and then smile when confronted with the sweet smell of a lilac or a mock orange.  What joy there is in watching monarch butterflies dance about a butterfly bush, or hummingbirds darting about a fuchsia drinking nectar!

Each day when I get home from work, I get great satisfaction from walking my garden to see what has changed, what’s in bloom, the magical appearance of fruit or fall foliage.  Each day is full of surprises and the tension that comes from a hard day's work dissipates into a feeling of relaxation and awe.  Sure it takes a bit of hard work and sweat equity to create a garden, but the best things in life require effort.  But don’t you value things more when you earn them and have a role in their creation?   

So tell me where is the joy in owning a plastic fish, a robotic dog (Remember when this was the craze in Japan?), or a plastic geranium.   I don’t get it.  But my guess is that someone reading this blog is addicted Tap-Fish, Farmville or a similar electronic game.  If so, here is a bit of free advice - I’m always grateful when someone shares the fruits of their garden, but if you play Farmville and send me a bushel of electronic corn I’ll delete you as Facebook friend, faster than the click of a mouse.  SO JUST STOP IT!  PLEASE.
Some might argue these games are a gateway drug that lead to real gardening or fish collecting, but I’m not so sure.  My wife played Tap-Fish for some time but has never moved on to a real fish tank.  Have any of you Farmville folks taken up farming yet?

So where do we go from here?  It seems quite simple to me.  The best thing we can do for a friend or a child is to give them a real, honest to goodness, living plant.  You’ll be doing them a great service.  It will get them out of their chair and away from their computer.  It will give them the change to taste a real pear or smell the sweet fragrance of a real lilac.  Until someone owns and grows a plant themselves, they’ll never understand the joy that comes from growing a plant or gardening.  Most people will find it more addicting than Farmville and a lot more satisfying.  Besides – no one will ever de-friend you for sharing a quart of real, honest to goodness raspberries.     

No More Weeding or Mulching: Ground Covering Shrubs

Typically, when we think about ground covers we tend to think about Ivy (Hedera helix), Pachysandra and Vinca and little else, but there are many good shrubs that fill this same role in the garden. Over the years, I have developed a real appreciation for low growing, spreading, ground covering shrubs. Not only are these shrubs low in stature but they're also low in maintenance. Very little if any pruning is needed to keep them looking good. They keep the weeds at bay and they eliminate the need for mulch. And out of all my gardening chores - weeding and mulching are my least favorite.  

So here are few of my favorite ground covering flowering shrubs.

Lo & Behold 'Purple Haze' Buddleia is the newest release from Dr. Denny Werner at NC state. As you can see it's quite different than Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip'. The flowers are larger, the foliage is darker, and the habit is more spreading in nature. Like 'Blue Chip', it is continuous blooming and puts on a great show in late summer and fall. I love it's texture which is unlike that of any other butterfly bush. It's not yet on the market, but should be available in limited supplies next summer. 

Little Dipper Cotoneaster is a very fine, very low growing shrub that forms a thick, dense mat. Like a good ground cover it crowds out unwanted weeds and eliminates the need for mulch. I love how its dark green foliage looks creeping over my stone edging. I know what you're thinking - you hate how Cotoneasters catches every fallen leaf in sight. Not to worry - leaves just blow right on past this dense, low growing shrub. 

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of Euonymus fortunei, aka wintercreeper, but I do have a fondness for Gold Splash Euonymus. It has large attractive variegated leaves and its growth habit is very uniform and consistent. Most importantly this Roemer Nursery introduction does not get the leaf spotting diseases that plague other Euonymus cultivars. 

I am a big fan of Bangle, Gensita lydia 'Select'This petite, ground covering shrub is an improved selection developed by Dick Punnett the propagator at Arrowhead Alpine Nursery. It's a (nearly) leafless plant with attractive green, tread-like stems and electric yellow flowers that engulf the plant in early spring. It looks equally great planted in mass or flowing over the edge of a decorative container.    

Indigofera pseudotinctoria 'Rose Carpet' never fails to lift my spirits when its bright green foliage is adorned with bright pink flowers. This is a long blooming shrub that deserves greater use. The blooms appear in late summer and last until fall. This shrub tends to leaf out late in the spring which is typically of many shrubs in the pea family. 

Celtic Pride, Microbiota decussata 'Prides' is new selection of Siberian cypress from Prides Corner Farms. This drought tolerant evergreen has bright green, fern-like foliage which turns a russet brown in winter. Unlike the species it has a greater resistance to tip die-back disease. It is a great little, evergreen, ground covering shrub that grows well in full sun or shade.