January 1, 2011

Lovely Plants I Hate

Okay, I don't hate them, I just can't grow them.

(This is a collection of gardening Oops for the first of the month meme that Joene sponsors.  If you want to see more, go to her garden blog and check out mistakes others have made!)

The lovely plants I can't grow are not exotic specimens or rare varieties.  I'm admitting to you that I can't grow some basic shrubs that usually thrive in New England.

On top of that, some perennials that every gardener raves about just underwhelm me in my own garden.  Here's my list of disappointments:

Rhododendrons and azaleas.  They're overplanted in my part of the world, they only have one season of interest, which is a brief bloom in early spring (incredible and exuberant, but that's it), and builders are compelled to plant them tiresomely in 3 foot wide strips in front of the foundation.

This garage wall is south facing, it has a white concrete walk in front that reflects the winter sun, a dark brick wall behind....  they crisped in the winter, got lacebugs, grew leggy and woody in one season, and the bronze "evergreen" foliage color so exactly matched the brick wall color that you couldn't see them in winter.  Oops.

I tried azaleas in other spots in my garden, but I have little shade, and little tolerance for a plant that is so overused and of such limited interest.  Maybe on TV at Augusta in April, but not here.

Mountain Laurel.  I have too much sun, a little too much wind in the winter, and I couldn't keep a mountain laurel alive in my yard, despite the fact that it is the state flower of Connecticut and a pretty native in our woods.  Here are my two, planted beneath a birch tree.  They did not survive one season.  The birch tree got all the water, the little mountain laurels got all the wind and sun.  Oops.

Lilacs.  How can you not grow lilacs?  They're a New England institution.  Old lilac dowagers preside over abandoned homesteads.  Lilacs grace fields and yards all over.  We had two, planted right at the side of the back porch.

Ewww, the scent was so overpowering we couldn't stand being on the porch in May.  They both got the "yellows": witch's brooms of contorted stunted foliage, and yellow sickly leaves.  I pruned for air circulation, but they got mildew.  They were too sweet smelling, too rangy, too difficult to keep healthy and too long in my garden.  They were removed.

free stock photo, not mine, obviously
Asters.  I enjoy this beautiful sparkling bloomer from my car window, driving past meadows and roadside ditches and the edge of woods, where they shine in late summer.  They're such a great native plant, adding happiness to the woods and fields where they grow.  Wild asters even thrive in the weedy meadow just beyond my gardens.  But I can't grow asters in my garden.  They mildew and turn black.  The most mildew resistant varieties I could find simply blackened two days later than the others.

Coreopsis.  Magazines and blog pictures show such great garden fillers... mine languish.  'Limerock Ruby' and 'Cherry Lemonade' didn't winter over (and they had sounded so refreshing!)  'Moonbeam' coreopsis is a real fade-to-the-background plant for me with its fine wispy foliage and washed out yellow flowers.  Bleeeah.

Siberian Iris.  Same thing: bleeeah.  Limited flowering, wimpy foliage.  Everyone else has drifts and sweeps of such stunners, but I can't get them to do anything interesting.  I did get two shy 'Butter & Sugar' blooms, but I also have purple ones and have yet to see a bloom.  These were the only two 'Butter & Sugar' blooms I ever saw in three years:

Please tell me you have better experiences with each of these plants.  They're well admired in the literature and in experienced gardeners' plots.

Mine: Big fat oops.


  1. Hi Laurrie, Your post made me laugh. I guess we all have plants we love but just can't grow. I also can't grow mountain laurel. I love them when I see them in bloom in other people's gardens but they just don't make it in mine.

    I do have pretty good luck with the other plants on your list that I grow. I have found Miss Kim lilac does best in my garden. My other old-fashioned ones, not so good. And I can't seem to kill azaleas even if I tried. But I have ALOT of shade in my garden so they love it here.

    Just think about all the fun you'll have in 2011 finding plants that do thrive in your part of CT.

  2. I have mountain laurel all over the woods surrounding our house, where it does just fine. But I take no credit for this. I also have no problems with lilac (common and a wonderful white smaller variety that was a gift so I'm not sure of the variety)or common asters which go crazy along woodland edges. Coreopsis do ok but not great and I pretty much ignore them. Unlike you, I can't get enough iris. I stretch iris blooms for a full two months using different varieties and, thankfully, they do quite well for me.
    I don't seem to be able to grow the beautiful blue delphinium, though. Argh!

    I guess these things keep us heading out to enjoy such flowers in gardens elsewhere and keep providing GOOPs fodder!

  3. For years I had the shadiest garden with ravenous deer to boot, there was no end to the amount of plants that failed to live in that garden. I loved moonbeam coreopsis but I lacked the sun to get more than a few pitiful flowers. My hellebores got attacked by aphids. The trick in the end was to find plants that fit the space rather than what I liked. Now in a sunny garden in another zone I'm trying to relearn plants all over again. I'm sure I'll kill a good number of plants yet in the coming years. By the way, love the 'no comment' feature. Some days there's no time to comment or I'm simply not feeling witty enough - this solves the issue!

  4. Debbie: I am still experimenting, and finding what does work here. The failures are part of the lesson!

    Joene, I envy you for your success with irises. I think I'm going to keep trying, with other types besides the Siberians.

    Marguerite, You nailed the essence of gardening when you said the trick is "to find plants that fit the space rather than what I liked." That's been my biggest lesson so far.

  5. The title of your post made me laugh out loud...I can relate! Mountain laurel no problem...coreopsis - bleh! I've wasted more money on them than I care to remember and have written them off completely!

  6. I have too many oops to count. I've thought about writing a post about plants that hate me but it'd be long and I'm way over them anyway.

    On the positive side, for years I had Coreopsis 'Zagreb' that I liked -- far more robost and a much more vibrant color than 'Moonbeam'. A couple of years ago I discovered the secret for growing Siberian Iris in the mid-South -- they need to be regular garden plants and not wetland plants. Plus the ones that work I got in local trades.

    Do you grow New England Aster or some other species too?

    I can't grow any hydrangea but Oakleaf, but that's fine. Everybody else has Bigleaf Hydrangea and I'm not the biggest fan of either the pink or the blue. In some gardens the colors mingle and those are the best.

    Happy New Year!

  7. I inherited a lot of azaela, rhododendron and mountain laurel here and as mature plants, they all thrive with no care at all.

    I have a fair amount of shade here, especially in back, but that being said, I somehow managed to kill Joe Pye weed.

    Don't worry, I've had a lot of failures...a chokeberry comes to mind and a full grown bayberry I still regret losing.

  8. One of my pet peeves is the habit of planting azaleas as foundation shrubs. Lime can leech into the soil from adjacent foundations and walkways, with the soil becoming too alkaline for these acid loving plants. Azaleas are a woodland plant, best located under the sheltering canopies of trees. Their shallow roots are happiest with a carpet of pine needles and plenty of moisture, though the roots will rot if the soil doesn't drain well. Again, the compacted soil, typical next to a house, is hardly the best place for them. And azalea blooms often clash with brick homes, if not carefully chosen. I have other reasons why I don't like azaleas as foundation plants, but I would be turning this comment into a full blown post! I think a common reason many plants fail is because they are not planted in the right place.

  9. Cat, I'm glad to hear there's another gardener who is underwhelmed by coreopsis!

    Sweetbay, my Siberian irises are in regular garden soil, not sure why they are so punky for me. Zagreb sounds like it might be a better coreopsis choice, but I'm so off them in general. I like hearing that other experienced gardeners have disappointments too.

    Anonymous, I do think shade is the key for azaleas and rhodies, at least to get them started... and I have no shade!

    Deborah, I completely agree. Azaleas as foundation plants are just in the wrong place. My neighbors couldn't believe I took them all out because they were lovely plants, but they were wrong plants in the wrong place. Same thing for the laurels. (you do need to do a full post on azaleas!)

  10. Laurrie since you're up north your Siberian Iris may want more moisture. I grew them as wetland plants in PA. They don't need wetland conditions but like a rich soil.

    Some plants are like that -- wet + humid heat = meltdown. Not surprising with a name like Siberian!

  11. Sweetbay, good to know about the moisture. I wonder now if I should move them. I do have a wetter spot in another garden, I might try a few there and see how they do.

  12. I don't have luck with Azaleas or Rhodies. Coreopsis doesn't like it here either. The only aster that does well here is the native aster that gets a full 4'tall. I have whined many times as the Berginia dies. One patch I planted lasted two years. I thought it a success. Sigh~~~~

  13. Lisa, well, there certainly is some comfort knowing you've had trouble with these plants too. Thanks for confessing! (PS, so far I haven't killed my Bergenia though)


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.