I think not



This article had me slightly annoyed last night. “Who are these people and what are they talking about,” I muttered, as I read the following:
In the 1980s, when nurseries like Heronswood and Plant Delights began to offer rare plants from the far corners of the world, White Flower Farm continued to provide plants that had been tested to stand up to the vagaries of the Northeastern climate. Last month, as I walked that massive border with Mr. Wadsworth and Ms. Karpeichik, I learned what had worked and what hadn’t.
“We had trouble with heleniums and achilleas, and other perennials that need sharp drainage,” Ms. Karpeichik said. The Japanese anemones didn’t do well either, “and the Annabelle hydrangeas,” she added, “flop after the first rain.

It’s from an article by New York Times writer Anne Raver about White Flower Farm, in which she extols their long English border and distinguished history in the world of catalog vendors. All true, I suppose, but I didn’t care for the sideways jab at the departed Heronswoood and—though admittedly, a nursery slanted toward the warmer zones—Plant Delights. Are we to infer that Heronswood failed because they improvidently tried to sell exotic plants that wouldn’t work for Northern gardeners? Hardly, as anyone who has ordered from the nursery is well aware.

I’m sure nothing like that was meant, but such a canonization of White Flower doesn’t sit too well with me. They’re a good venue for certain things, but don’t excel when I compare their prices and quality with many other mail order venues, not to mention the really good local nurseries I frequent.

And the fact that anemones, Annabelle hydrangeas (see mine, above), achilleas, and heleniums aren’t good for Northeastern gardeners will be news to many.

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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. I so totally agree. I read that list of “problematic” plants and thought, what are those people smoking?

    On the other hand, I had no idea White Flower Farm was owned by such a dishy guy.

  2. Also, I’ve come to expect so little from Anne Raver over the years that another completely inane story only earns a shrug from me. She’s like the Sarah Palin of garden writing. Who knows what she’s really saying? By the time you get to the end of an article, you’re just ready to head back to the business page.

  3. Huh? If you’re going to make a point on the failure or success of mail-order companies, fine. But mean-spirited, catty comments about a garden writer? What’s the point?

    It’s not interesting.

  4. If they are having that much trouble with that variety of plants, I suspect they are overfertilising. I’ve had great success with most of those in Zone 5, S/E Michigan.

    What kills me on the sound bite is that those are all plants that WFF sells. Tried and true, and apparently ‘flopped.’


  5. It’s just sloppy garden writing, I think, to hear “We had trouble with …” and write down “Didn’t work.” Who doesn’t have trouble with some plants? A good writer would know there are probably some interesting anecdotes there, and ask. Le sigh.

  6. I just couldn’t connect the dots the way you did…overall it did sound like prissy garden talk (sharp drainage?), but I didn’t get the outrage you pulled out of it regarding Plant Delights (which I almost want to claim as a dependent given how much of my cash they soak up each year).

    Frankly, I am not very sensitive to the nuances of refined garden discourse…I guess my redneck is showing. Since I infer most of you are gracious and well-spoken ladies with more garden writing experience than I will ever compile, I defer to your observations…

  7. I love White Flower Farm’s catalog with its beautiful photography of plants that are too expensive for me to order. I see what I like and get it somewhere else.

  8. That’s quite an ad for WFF. Did they pay part of Raver’s salary for the Times?

    I didn’t really catch the abuse of Heronswood, but after reading the piece, I wondered, “what the hell was that about?”

  9. Don’t you think that the Ms Raver had to say a few nice things about White Flower Farm in order to be allowed to write about the border? Of course, it wasn’t much of an article for real gardeners–I have any number of thoughts about that border that I’d like to see addressed–but those NYT pieces are general interest only, people. Let’s not slam anybody who is bringing real gardens or real gardeners to the public interest, even when the pieces are short and light.

  10. I would like to disagree with Anne Raver on why Achilleas, and Heleniums don’t do well in the Northeast. I find that it is due to the combination of Heat and Humidity. They do excepience heat and humidity in the cold northern midwest were those plants grow well but not in the stained manner of the east coast.

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