Bloom says: too many plants



I and many in the industry believe that there are simply too many new plants introduced each year, with too few of them being proved garden worthy. Pity the poor gardener who, faced with an overwhelming choice of plants, can hardly know which are the best to choose.

With these words, famed gardener, author, and nurseryman Adrian Bloom discusses a return to tried and true plants, especially when it comes to recommendations for the beginning gardener. He then gives his short list of favorites that he feels offer the most gratification, season after season, for any gardener. I’ll admit, I find some of them just a bit boring, but that doesn’t make him any less accurate about their value.

An article in the trade journal Nursery Management promotes Bloom’s Best Perennials and Grasses, a recent Timber release, but the dilemma Bloom mentions is one that all of us face, whether we’ve been gardening for 2 months or 20 years. I chafe under many limitations not of my own making; within those, my impulse is to try as many different things as possible. So it’s difficult to accept old standbys. I want excitement—as much excitement as I, a semi-shade/shade gardener, can have, that is.

Like many other catalog browsers, my attention is instantly drawn to the word New!  (there’s generally an exclamation point) preceding a plant listing. And a lot of the time (especially with bulbs), I’ll buy that new introduction. I deliberately have not kept a list of all the plants I bought and how long they’ve lasted in my garden. For good reason.

There is, however, a point at which one realizes, “Ok, maybe it would be much better if I just planted more bergenia/brunnera/aruncus/hakonechloa in that shade bed and did not add brand-new x.”

But who’s to say what will help the beginning gardener? Maybe a beginning gardener needs novelty as much as reliability.  Maybe half the fun is trying and failing again and again. It has been for me.

And how much are we to believe a plant producer who tells us that there are too many new plants? In any case, Bloom’s short list includes hydrangea aborescens ‘Annabelle’ and I couldn’t agree more. It will be interesting to see what the other 249 are.

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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


  1. Just this morning I was thinking that having too many plants is like having too many children or too many pets – it’s difficult to give them all the attention they need and deserve. I have only so many resources to devote to the yard, so it is freeing to think that I do NOT need the latest and greatest, that I can stick with a handful of favorites and be perfectly happy. Thanks!

  2. I consider myself a plant collector in the garden. Sure I have a base of tried and true plants that thrive with little attention but I love trying new plants, plants that are borderline hardy, plants that are not the same old- same old. I accept loosing some plants as part of my way of gardening. I am grateful for the variety of new introductions.

  3. It’s a conundrum from the designer side of things as well. When I’m specifying plants for someone, I want them to be happy with the result. Part of making them happy means giving them something that will survive, thrive, and look like the photo I showed them. I try to do some experimenting, and I network with other designers, but it can be a challenge keeping up with what’s been rolled out as latest and greatest.

  4. I agree with Mr. Bloom. It upsets me to spend the money on these new introductions and then yank them out a few years later because they have not performed up to advertised expectations. The Hydrangeas are a species in question, so many new ones and so many complaints about their performance.

  5. As an experienced gardener I have lots of the tried and true, but when I go for a new introduction I go in with the full knowledge that it may not perform the way I want. And that’s fine, but I wouldn’t want to put my friend who isn’t a gardener through that. She would be upset she “wasted” the money on it.

  6. ….and how about all those new echinceas? The colors are extraordinary but, at least in my climate, they have such a hard time staying alive and they look so messy on the way out. Pulling weak plants goes against my nuturing nature; I keep hoping they will rally but where the echineas are concerned I have to adopt a tough love stance.

  7. Reliability always wins out over novelty for me. Austin conditions are too tenuous to risk it otherwise…esp where heat and water pH goes (our water is 10). I hate that so few catalogs list optimal pH. Another reason for me to buy from local nurseries.

  8. Just this last couple of weeks we have watched three major wholesale nurseries declare bankruptcies. Weeks roses, which had just bought out Jackson & Perkins, another bankrupt brand. Iseli Nursery out of Oregon who grows unusual and new varieties of conifers, and Hines Nursery, the main supplier to the box stores. The nursery industry is in the middle of one of the most far reaching changes of the last 30 years.

    There is no doubt that some garden centers or nurseries, like Annie’s Annuals or Flora Grubb, make a living selling unusual, and new introductions. They are the exception however. Most nurseries make a living selling the tried and true varieties. My customers are happy if the deer or rabbits don’t eat them.

    Many who read Garden Rant are the type of gardeners who love trying these new varieties. There are just not enough of you to support the shrinking number of nurseries out there,or the great number of new varieties that show up. Adrian is right. There are just to many new varieties introduced each year.

    Like so many things we tend to jump on something just because it’s “new”. Rather we should look for “new ways” to use what has already been introduced. We do need new varieties, just not in the numbers needed to support the wholesale nurseries introducing them.

  9. Kaviani – I hear ya! I moved to the east coast from your environment, now my water is just above 4!!! I think a tea bag is a 4!

    Not only gardeners but everyone is getting tired of hype, spin, salespeak and fine print disclaimers. People have memories and they eventually get tired of failing. I think producers of new products need to pay better attention to the promises they make. And yet they wonder where all their customers have gone…

  10. I don’t think there is anything wrong with new varieties — they are just that, new, which means they might be a disappointment. I think what we really need is more LOCAL selections of new varieties. New plants aren’t often bad so much as not suited to the area around where they were bred. Which is no big surprise to anyone who gardens. We don’t need more “All American Selections” we need more local selections that do great in our area, and don’t try to take on the whole US.

  11. Recently a friend of mine had her foundation planting replaced by a local landscaper. She proudly showed me the plan he drew up and all I could think was ‘Oh God, each plant is more boring than the next’. But I realized they were probably the right plants for her. She didn’t recognize many of the names and she travels frequently. A really dependable group of plants is what she needs, even if it’s not what I need.

    For me, the answer would be somewhere in the middle. I love unusual plants but I use tried and true, reliable plants as well. A mix of both is nice.

  12. I like Joseph’s idea of more local selections, but local can be tricky. There are plants the Chicago Botanic Garden (a mere 20 miles away) recommends that were flops in my garden and things that are outstanding performers in my garden that they don’t recommend.
    I love new plants, and wish I could limit myself to tried & true favorites, but it’s not gonna happen.

  13. If new plants stop being introduced, we will never know if it could have been an addition to the tried and true list. Every durable, care free plant on Bloom’s list started out as a new introduction at some point. It’s hard to put out the money to try all the new things, knowing many will fail, but it’s worth it in the end when some thrive and become garden stars.

  14. I have 2 properties in 1 zone, but multiple microclimates due to elevation and aspect; I tend to look only at what has been grown successfully in my region, but always with a thought towards how it might survive in a specific location. I like looking at new plants, but shy away from ones unproven in my region. I scratch my “new plant itch” with annuals usually; less heartbreak that way.

  15. Diversity is the spice of life.

    You can live life to its fullest and be adventurous or you can be just the opposite.

    Personally I rather try something new and exciting rather than settle for the boring status quo.
    Life is just too damn short.

  16. Antigonum Cajan, your humble servant does not follow trends, he is into the setting…With a collection of over one hundred species, he propagates/exchanges, since nurseries here STINK.

    I have never understood the urge in USA to buy stupid flowers, plants, bushes and trees pushed by
    ignorant fools just interested in making a profit. NOT BIODIVERSITY or FLORA/FAUNA. SCREW THEM.

  17. Why don’t we all spend a little more time figuring out interesting, fantastic and imaginative ways to use the tried and true. Knock Out rose is the example. Do it justice and show me what you got!!!

  18. “Trying and failing again and again” is expensive, but how else are we to learn about which plants are the best? Test gardens don’t take a bunch of variables into account, and sometimes its just necessary to try the inferior plants before they’re developed further anyway. I see where he’s coming from, and yet I’ll still try new things when curiosity gets the best of me.
    For example, there are hundreds of neoregelia bromeliad cultivars, and they’re being hybridized so quickly that no one could ever possibly endeavor to grow them all. I’m okay with that, and though I still swear by my tried and true species and old garden hybrids, its fun to try something new in between the workhorses.

  19. I say look at it like your friendships cherish your old who have stood by you but be willing to make new. Who knows what good things might happen.

  20. There are too many new plants coming out. The bigger problem is too many brands of plants. As for localizing new plants in your garden, pollinating new types on your own is not hard at all

    The TROLL

  21. Where’s your sense of adventure?
    All plants were new to gardens at one time. They became “tried and true” became they were better.
    Keep those new plants coming!

  22. I have a basic garden spot where I plant the old standby plants and I have a garden spot where I try alot of new ones. If, the new ones grow well in my climate and soil condition, they get to stay. This works out for me because the weather changes so fast around here. I can see your point about wanting to do alot of new things. After all, it is fun.

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