Every year, I have one eagerly anticipated plant, design element, or piece of hardscaping that’s meant to—finally—push the whole operation to the next level. Surely, we all do?
In the northerly zones at least, this is the time of those great expectations. As tulips peak and decline, many of us are planting perennials, trees, and shrubs we’ve bought via mail order or from nurseries, as threats of a late freeze cease to terrify. Others are building—a pond, an arbor, a new planting area or raised bed. (I have a friend who has a cantina in the works.)
In the area of perennials or large-scale plants, immediate gratification isn’t really possible (but let’s face it, we want it anyway). Those hopes play out over a long period, and I have to admit I see far more ghosts of disastrous plantings than thriving success stories. In the early years, I was a total sucker for mail-order porn, particularly in the area of roses. I truly believed that the images in the catalog would become reality in my garden that season. (Maybe I ignored the fine print.) But I don’t think I’m alone here, and the desire for everything to look great right away is probably another piece of the puzzle of anti-gardening sentiment we’ve been putting together in a number of Garden Rant threads. Would-be gardeners set themselves up for disappointment in so many ways—by mail ordering small plants for big spaces, by buying huge root-bound annuals that decline early in the season, and by believing overly optimistic zone prediction or sun/shade advisories on labels.
Clearly, the industry does not help us here. I rarely see labels that urge patience, or caution that without four-six hours of sun a certain plant simply will not thrive. What I do see are amazing seed carpets, “first-year bloom” wisteria, and “ever-blooming” roses.
Having said all this, I’ll admit that I do expect some measure of instant gratification and I get it. A few years ago, I began a love affair with old-fashioned and/or lesser-known annuals—like white heliotrope, various nicotianas, and the more interesting foliage plants. They must be purchased every year, but they truly never fail. They really do bloom (or spread) non-stop and require a minimal amount of maintenance. Also, I change them every year, adding some excitement to the repeat performances I expect from my perennials. I’ve also gotten into the habit of using tropical plants as annuals. Experienced gardeners know how to hedge their bets (sorry), but I’m not surprised if newbies are giving up. What are your great expectations this season?