Slut Plants


by Hanna, the

The ignominy that plagues commercial properties,
particularly apartment complexes, and the McMansions are marigolds, dusty
miller, pansies, and vinca: the slut plants.  These tarts flash
their goods at cheap prices in public places.  You can hardly throw
a sock full of quarters without clocking one of these vestibules of cheap
overcompensation before your weapon hits its intended target, a 30-something
year old man with 8 kids driving around in a Miata.  These nutrient-
and water-guzzling Hummers of the botanical world are tacky and rarely given the
chance to grow into full specimens before being ripped out of the ground for the
next batch to take its place.

You can mark your seasonal calendars by the annual bed
changes in front of large apartment complexes from pansies and dusty miller to
marigolds and vinca.  If you see the ground finally getting
covered, you know autumn is coming, which will spur a hurried rush to, “Quick,
grab your shovels!  These sluts are coming out of
adolescence!”  You begin to wonder if a pedophilic high-flying
banker is put in charge of these landscaping decisions – always wanting the
soft, fleshy colors and growth but as soon as the ground isn’t bare, it’s out of
the bed and into the compost.

Some annual enthusiasts blame the slightly horrific
selection of annuals on the Dutch, due to large numbers GuestHannamammillariacactus of annuals being shipped
overseas for propagation.  This in turn leads to annuals returning
to the US that have produced well in the Netherlands in a prodigious
enough quantity to be shipped out to all the large nurseries in the nation,
regardless of local climate at the point of sale.  With
enough water and chemical fertilizer, the plants will grow, albeit with a
chemical dependency.  Then whatever chemicals aren’t absorbed by
the plants get leeched into the water supply and surrounding soils to make
addicts out of local plants and ecosystems.  It is for certain that
these growers turn plants into pushers.

Annuals are not terrible creatures, but they are a product
of their environment.  Therefore, everyone should do his/her part
to encourage nurseries, landscapers, and owners to search out new and exciting
plants.  Even if they aren’t necessarily new and exciting, they
just shouldn’t be the same old slut plants.  For example, there are
some amazing varieties of Clitoria with a smooth scoop and a beautiful
button of petals.  Alternatively, annual beds could be changed to
perennial beds with a variety of Mammillaria cacti or maybe a
particularly handsome specimen of Echinopsis bridgesii
forma mostruosa inermis.  They might get boring after a
while, and you might think about moving on to greener pastures. 
However, a perennial is forever.

About the author: Coming out of my rebellious teenage years roughly one decade late, I'm a
struggling ecofeminist trying to discover some tolerable compromise between
comfort and conscience in Austin, TX.  As a beginner/amateur gardener, I
currently have as much passion and zeal as any recent cultish convert, and I
would like to blame the following individuals: my mother and her
frazzled casserole dish of a garden; my sister and her overly-Southern-Homes
garden; Rock City in Chattanooga, TN; Paul James and his plumeria

Author Disclaimer:  I use "slut" purposefully as a word that I detest for planting practices that I
loathe.  Most references in this article are tongue-in-cheek.


  1. Oh please don’t get me started on Vinca, or Tagetes for that matter.

    I have to stop commenting now before my blood pressure rises too much and my eye balls pop out as steam rises from my ears!

    What about Bergenia?


  2. I must speak in defense of the marigold. Ok, it is loudly orange or yellow and used a lot because it is indistructable. They are not water guzzlers, tough as nails, grow fine without fertilizer. You can save the seeds from year to year. They can be started outside, they are a great companion plant for your vegetables fending off bad bugs. Besides, they were my first gardening attempt. Each fall I would collect some seeds from the marigolds either in our yard (self seeded, parents only bought veggie seeds/plants) or from other folks yards (only the ones that hung over the public sidewalk). I would plant them in a pot and by spring I would usually have one or two flowers. I also water rooted begonias and english ivy, two other much trashed plants. I had a jungle in my bedroom. Which annoyed my prissy sister no end. Probably one of the reasons why I did it.

  3. If you don’t like vincas and marigolds, don’t grow them. Cultivate your own garden, and tell us about it.

  4. I LOVE my marigolds. They grow scattered in between my tomatoes and beans. They need no attention at all. They keep down the nematode. They bloom cheerily all summer long without me deadheading them. The bees love them. They smell wonderful as I trample them when they take over the paths. They faithfully put out seeds each summer which I collect for next years plants. Marigolds can’t be beat as a companion plant.

  5. I’m not sure Hanna is decrying the plants themselves so much as the practices that these plants have come to symbolize for her. That is, it’s not vinca itself, but the process of ripping out a bed and putting in new plants every six weeks, then watering and fertilizing the heck out of them before yanking them out and replacing them just as they’re finally getting established and reaching maturity.

    I can get behind that rant, no matter how much I love my endless sprawl of vinca minor. 🙂

  6. Point taken. Annuals are hungry.

    But I am interested in your verbage.

    Hmmm. Sluts and tarts. Then the reference to ‘Death Wish’ and I imagine streets with hustlers, pimps, and hookers hanging out in a ‘vestibule’.
    Using the word “Hummer” in this context, I barely think of the vehicle for driving, so much as the vehicle for sexual gratification. Right after that its poor young things being ripped away which sounds like a way to describe young girls in the sex trade -all in context if you will.

    The next paragraph speaks for itself. The ‘bed’ of sluts.

    I am curious about eco-feminism. Do you see annual planting as a tool of male domination in the garden. Is perennial planting a feminist modality?

    Please post on that!

  7. Well… My seasons are marked by the marvelous progression of wildflowers, of course, but (believe it or not!) I maintain a bed of Marigolds(!)

    Long ago warned never to plant seeds from hybrids, (rebel that I am) I bought a flat of marigolds for front-door color…and then never replaced them.

    I just clear off the bed every Spring. The bed explodes in Marigolds, some of which I rearange, and provides color for the rest of the year at no cost or effort. That’s worked for 15 years…some grow big, some stay little, some more yellow, some more orange (maybe I’ll have the original wildflower “show up”?).

    Now Vinca? Along with Ivy, and some other groundcovers, it’s clearly an instrument of the devil!

    And as always, the wildflowers march on… Fragrant, Silky, New England, Sky Blue, and Short’s Asters are all starting to bloom. The first Goldenrods (Elm Leaf, Rigid) are now joining them…and the Red, Blue, and Maroon Lobelias are blazing away for the Hummers.

  8. In my own very diverse garden, filled with rarities, you will find marigolds. Colorful and powerful, I offer them up among the veggies. And, consistently they offer color and like any good virgin sacrifice, they are the first line of defense against the invaders. All hail the marigold!

  9. Another vote *for* the marigold. It completely pays its own way in my garden by being:
    cheap (collect seeds)
    cheerful (blooms right to frost)
    friendly with the neighbours (I love a good companion plant)

    I do get what you’re saying – using some of these bland plants all over town, then ripping them up 8 weeks later for the next wave is pretty gross, but let’s blame the tarts, let’s blame the practice.

  10. I think some of the commenters are missing the point. The target of this rant isn’t the marigold or vinca itself — it’s the practice of apartment buildings and mini-malls of treating annuals as if they’re only good for 3 months.

    If you grow marigolds in your garden, you probably don’t pump them full of chemicals and then rip them out as soon as they start to fade, only to replace them with another soon-to-be-faded beauty. I think many (most?) of us grow our annuals in pots until they can’t take it anymore or we let them go to seed and flourish (thus the wildness that is my calendula bed).

    I like vinca as a ground cover, but here people just leave it in year-round. It’s prettier than ivy, although I’m sure the rats like it just as much.

    Great rant, Hanna!

  11. At least you’re in Austin. Around here, the Marigolds & Vinca get ripped out to be replaced with Mums! Already, the garden centers are full of them.
    As for the term “slut,” the Illinois Supreme Court has defined it as “bold, brazen” or a “bully.” Marigolds certainly are bold & brazen, so I think you’re safe from any defamation claims by the Marigolds.

  12. It’s not just the seasonal change outs and the unimaginative flower choices – it’s the horrendous color combinations! Weird shades of pink and salmon petal to petal with purple, white and yellow.

    When I was in design school, my planting design instructor referred to this type of mallfront planting as festival colors, and said the bright, jarring combinations get people slightly agitated, which encourages them to buy more.

    Don’t know if this is true, but I clutch my purse a little more tightly now when passing by.

  13. If you read my blog you will understand that not only do I have a dislike for vinca and tagetes (love calendula by the way) but my philosophies embrace sustainabily, longevity and individuality.

    Bedding is waste in my eyes and also incredibly boring in the settings mentioned by the Garden Rant team!

    Ryan (http:/

  14. I love marigolds.

    Marigolds are one of the few flowers I put in my mostly permaculture landscape. They work well as companion plants, particularly as a nematode deterrent. They are fairly attractive and bring in a few butterflies.

    Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of annuals. But I make room for some marigolds.

  15. I really appreciate seeing a commercial landscape that is well done and uses appropriate plants that are not simply ripped out and replaced every few months. So tired of the absolute garbage that passes for landscaping, that uses too much water and is not at all appropriate to the area.

    Give me some perennials with great foliage any day over splashy plants replaced every couple months…

  16. I do not speak for the commercial landscape industry, but they have their reasons for doing what they do. What seems wasteful to us may have solid science behind it. Around here they only do one or two “change outs” and it seems to have more to do with the readiness of the ‘next’ rather than the ‘previous’ crop. From my office window I can tell ya that they rarely water, never feed nor prune these “sluts”. So they are not the addicts that people make them out to be. Its all about maximum color with the least amount of effort = Easy (so I guess slut is an appropriate term).

    It is wonderful when it is done well – and since that is so rare, I never get tired of noticing commercial plantings.

  17. I agree with John – these commercial landscapers are goibng for cheap, quick and easy – yes sluts – and maybe they are used up and thrown aside before they reach their prime, but the landscapers have limited useable daylight hours to transform vast expanses of street-side beds — I always compliment the hard-working crews as I pass by and if they are in midst of ripping out marigolds which I know full well will last anothe r 2 months here at least, I’ll ask for some of the discarded plants and happily tote them home.

  18. Yay marigolds! Glad to see a few fans come out of the woodwork on that point. (Though the above description of marigolds as “cheap,” “cheerful,” and “friendly with the neighbours” makes them sound slutty indeed.)

    When I think of the sluts of the flower garden, I often picture Martagon lilies. Dramatic beauties that they are, they certainly put it out there when it comes to reproductive parts – but that’s an entirely different definition of the term than the one Hanna puts forth.

  19. LOL… you never fail to amuse me. One of the most interesting things I was asked when I worked for a local greenhouse was, “Can I pinch this back?” … as an old lady held up a friggen Dusty Miller to me. “Well I’ve never heard of pinching back a DM.” Old lady: “Well could you check?!” Thinking I might have missed something in class, I embarrassingly went to ask another employee who thought I was trying to pull one on them, lol. And you forgot “spikes” on your list 😉 They’re absolutely essential for container gardening!

  20. I grow marigolds in and around my vegetable beds, too, but only because they look good throughout Florida’s long hot summers and because they attract pollinators. Their reputation as a companion plant to ward off nematodes from nearby plants has never been proven. It’s an old gardeners’ tale–a myth. See Linda Chalker-Scott’s

  21. I work at a large company that has a large campus and (it seems) for 18 years, every couple of months they come and rip out the beds, usually when they finally struggle to their peak. The only thing that ever looks decent are the pansies and the tulips in winter. In late spring they plant Marigolds. In Dallas, Texas Marigolds in the warm weather are decimated by the red spider mites (hence the common practice of putting them out around the vegetable garden as trap plants). These are replaced by Vinca that die due to a common fungus in our area that is made worse by the constant over-head watering in the dead of night. I am not sure why anyone does this kind of thing other than to charge my company money because it is just terrible to watch play out. Plants deserve better than this all design / color issues aside.

  22. Re Sluts in the garden: That is the most inane arrogant and self-serving piece of miscommunication I have read in some time. Why is it necessary to pick a fight with the very industry that brings all the unusual annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs to the gardener. A rant of “you vs. them” is a non-issue. That you don’t like certain plants is your prerogative, don’t buy them or close your eyes when you go by. That others find color in the landscape pleasing, particularly continuous color, is not a character flaw. This country is so polarized by politics each and every day, why rattle your saber trying to pick another fight?

  23. Thank you, Allan Armitage. That was what I meant, but you said it much better.–Carolyn Wylie (trying to garden in Austin, where my perennial, native coneflowers are suffering from the drought and refusing to bloom; consoling myself with, among other things, a couple of pots of very pretty periwinkles which, judging from the photo, are what the original ranter meant by “vinca”)

  24. I’m trying my best to learn the “correct” names for plants. Would someone tell me if I got this right?
    1. common periwinkle (Vinca minor) is an evergreen with blue flowers, kind of viney and spreads like mad.
    2. Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar Periwinkle) is an annual. Doesn’t spread and can be white or magenta or pink.

    Different plants, right?

  25. Right, at least about Catharanthus roseus; I don’t really know anything about Vinca minor or major, having never grown either. It is true that Catharanthus is often labeled “vinca” at garden centers. The color range includes crimson and apricot shades.

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