We’re weird and we’re here!



If I had the space and money, I’d love to design a special bed to be filled only with bizarre plants (either in flower or foliage). One of them is this t. acuminata (above). I only have five, as they are a bit pricey, but a few more will be added this fall. Their foliage, like that of most species tulips, is negligible, so you can have a ton of them without worrying about it getting in the way of summer plants.


Other bulbs I might include are “hair” allium, crown frittilaria, and dracunculus. As for perennials, I think the rudbeckia “Maxima” is strange enough, with its big black centers, but for the most part Northeastern perennials do not impress me with their odd appearances. Perhaps some of you might know about some of the more peculiar ones.

On the annuals front, however, we have dozens of unusual plants. Amaranth stopped me dead in my tracks when I first saw the sculptural “Elephant Head” variety at our local botanical gardens. Then there’s nigella. You all may take it for granted, but I find the plant (like its charming culinary namesake) utterly dumbfounding with its aureole of lacy foliage. And what about certain milkweeds, with their rotund, veined seedpods? Not to mention the ever-expanding world of coleus.

Oh, I could go on and on. But the most amazing wonder of all is that any plant, no matter how humdrum, emerges, green, abundant, and healthy, when the dreary winter is over. This may be something gardeners in warmer zones might not relate to; I don’t know. We all have repetition in our lives, and some of it is very tedious indeed. But I wonder if there is any repetition as welcome and rewarding as that which happens every year in the world of garden plants.

You can consider this the sappiest post I’ve ever inflicted upon you, but seriously. Can a toy train afficionado, stamp collector, or scrap booker rejoice in the coming of a certain season as much? I’ve decided to up the ante by trying to grow plants that will be even more unexpected as their ability to exist—t. acuminata is one. I think people need to be surprised by plants. It helps remind them how horrible it might be to live in a world where nature has been so suppressed that its wonders can no longer be seen during a daily walk.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. When gardening is lumped into the “hobbies” category it always surprises me because it’s nothing like those conventional hobbies you mentioned. Here we have only partial control over the results of our actions because Nature is still in charge.
    Also in the world of design and art, in what other medium do the works change and evolve over time, mostly out of control of the human involved?
    I see gardeners as participants in nature; that’s all. Hobbyists? Not so much.

  2. Just a short note to tell you I enjoy your blog weekly. I added you to my Rss / Goggle Reader!
    I am a garden ‘ranter’ too – only in a small Midwest Mom&Pop Greenhouse.

    Keep making the web Greener!

  3. Great rant, Elizabeth. Plants are amazing, even the most ‘ordinary’ are extra-ordinary when you look at them closely, such varieties of leaves and blooms and seeds. Really it is no good just walking around gardens, one has to get down on hands and knees.

  4. Elizabeth,

    I planted Allium ‘Hair’ bulbs last fall. Can’t wait to see if they appear and how they look in person. Nigella is something I had in a previous garden – it was lovely. My favorite plants are those that look imperfect, unusual, or slightly odd,


  5. Eliz: Just remember Hunter Thompson’s famous line: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

    Nigella is one of my favorites. The first year I planted it from seed, I had it all over. But it only reseeds here and there any more. Always a welcome surprise where it pops up, though.

  6. My aunt described gardening as the most challenging artistic activity one can engage in: so many variables! The light, the water, the heat, the cold, the season, the soil… and sometimes we still manage to create beautiful scenes. That’s the real miracle.

    And I totally second the idea of a weird garden. Heucherella ‘Stoplight,’ pineapple lily, Gunnera manicata, hosta ‘white feather’ … so many choices!

  7. Sappy but true! I am amazed as I walk around my garden path to see the old familiar plants once again emerging from their winter sleep. As old friends I haven’t seen for a long time, my plants and I are immediately reconnected. “Hello Krossa Regal; you are looking especially regal today!” “Wecome false indigo; I am so glad you survived.” “Hello my dear Sarah Bernhardt” etc etc.
    I do wonder if our southern gardeners can imagine what it’s like to live in six months of snow and then have these miracles appearing.

  8. >>My aunt described gardening as the most challenging artistic activity one can engage in: so many variables!

    Funny, I see it jsut the opposite – i dig in the dirt a little bit and nature does the rest.

  9. Some of the plants that you hardly ever see, make you wonder “If they’re collecting-off planet!” Some of the common plants, as well, at stages in their development, make you wonder the same. What an intricate thing…
    It’s a growing concern…
    Dirty fingers, Y’all!

  10. I SO love that Hunter Thompson quote. And so, here we are, weird as hell. I, too, have been admiring my acuminata (willing them to bloom gloriously after what I had to pay for them). Devil in a mist or Nigella is dazzling, and not to be confused with that sashaying, hip swaying seductive TV Nigella. And, I grow the allium ‘Hair.’ And everytime I see it I start singing Hair. Weird is right. Rock on!

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