High Stakes


Obviously, the Victorians of this sensitive “old-fashioned” school liked verticality in their gardens.  You only have to see your dozenth photograph of a porch invaded by Dutchman’s pipe to get that message.

But it’s also clear that so many of the plants we moderns are offered by our nurseries have been bred down, made sturdier, and squatter for one reason only: because people no longer like to stake.

Don’t believe me?  Look around your neighborhood.  See any stakes?  Certainly, I don’t.  Even in the few places that are gardened in my part of the world, it’s all well-behaved mounds of veronica, geranium, sedum and coreopsis.

Well, I like height in a plant just as much as I like height in a husband.  Myself, I’m kinda short.  Vive la difference. 

And many of the most sublime plants of summer demand staking.  Delphiniums–not my favorite, but I do see the point.  Oriental lilies–these, I’m obsessed with. 



Yes, the catalogs offer “dwarf” varieties of both, but a pox on that.  I don’t want to look down on the most beautiful flowers in nature any more than I want to look down on the Winged Victory. (Come to think of it, maybe somebody forgot to stake her, and that explains how she lost her head.)

Tall varieties of dahlias, too, are a great argument for bamboo.  By mid-July, when both the gardener and those polite mound-forming plants are withering in the heat, there you have those big, fat dahlias riding above it all, producing flower after flower after flower.  Filling your house with flowers, and then making more just because they are so damned happy that it’s summer.


A lot of staking going on

Of course, given my taste in plants, my yard generally resembles an acupuncture treatment gone terribly wrong. 

I don’t care.  There’s something to be said for any herbaceous plant that starts off in April as nothing but a brown nub or two and then by June, July, or August, has shot up into something so majestic that the 5’4″ gardener is not just pleased, but humbled by it.

That, there, is the whole miracle of gardening in a nutshell.  Those Victorian lunatics knew it and so do I.


  1. Very nice. But to zero in on the important part of this post, 5’4″ is NOT short for a woman but rather, supremely average.

  2. Yeah, I’m right there with you on tall plants. I think that one reason why people end up with so many short plants in their garden is that they are in bloom, and more or less look like the finished product, at the nursery. My parents are always calling me up for plant suggestions, and I send them lists, but they come home with short blooming things anyway. The tall, gorgeous perennials I recommend just don’t look like much in their four-inch pots.

  3. I love a garden full of towering plants, but I’m 6’and the dwarf varities of any plant just piss me off.

    I love the visual of an acupuncture treatment gone wrong…but wouldn’t say terribly, I’d say beautifully!

  4. Bamboo stakes would definitely look classier than the tomato cages currently holding up the hardy hibiscus – bamboo is now on the list for next year.

    We have a few dahlias that have been supplied with genuine green metal garden stakes, and there are some staked Oriental lilies. The effect is not quite the Garden of the Talking Flowers, but it’s a start.

    Annual vines climbing an obelisk or a tall trellis really thrill me – Henry Mitchell used to like plants with a lot of substance to them, and that’s how I feel about moonflowers and hyacinth bean. I’m old enough for AARP and still think seeds are magic.


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