With freebies comes responsibility



And sometimes it’s just not worth it. As the years go by,
I’m realizing that I am probably not the ideal recipient for most of the swag
that companies like to send to garden writers for their review.  Which is fine, because I’ve been able to
find surrogate product-testers who are happy to try out the trimmers,
cultivators, and other pieces of equipment that are generally not needed on my
grassless, urban property with its relatively small beds. 


This Alpenglow is the standard for macrophylla success in my garden.

But hydrangeas are another story. I love hydrangeas and they
love my conditions: partly shady, protected from the wind, dense soil, and
intimate enough for a small shrub to really shine. Finally, something I can
use, I thought, as I ripped open a handsome package from the Endless Summer
folks.  Inside was one of their
newest offerings: the Twist n’ Shout, a pretty purple reblooming lacecap.

 It was not to be. In the eighteen months I have had this
small plant, it has done nothing. It has not grown. It produced a similar bloom
to the one that adorned it in the box when it (sort of) came out of dormancy
this spring, but that bloom is now brown on a wilted plant, (as you see)
despite the abundant rains this summer and our own regular irrigation.  Let’s be clear: I am not blaming the
plant or the company. For a cultivar to survive in the fiercely competitive,
crowded, root-laden, carelessly-weeded Licata property, it can’t be a small, tender cultivar like
most test plants. It needs to be a tough, savvy adult, with big shoulders and
strong roots. I think ideal conditions for testing plants would likely include
plenty of space that could be set aside for just that purpose. But in an
environment where everything needs to look good relatively quickly and there
are no out-of-the-way corners, a gardener can’t be as patient as we’re cracked
up to be.

 So I’ll continue to buy my big shrubs and big plants, and
here is a partial list of the products I would be happy to test and critique in
print or online:

Felcos (any size)
High quality teak and wrought iron furniture/décor (I can
use an almost limitless amount of sturdy trellises)
A big shipment of top-size tulip and lily bulbs every fall
Yeah, right. But even though my career as a garden product
tester might be severely hampered, I’ve love to hear from other who have been
successful at it—and what their recent favorites have been. 

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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 regular 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’m a big fan (ok, slut) when it comes to garden hats. Was sent some by Womanswork, Wallaroo and Tilley. I’ve got to say that I love them all.

    I was also pretty thrilled with gloves from West County, Ethel Gloves and Womanswork.

    Oh, and the lead-free, drink safe, purple hose from Gardeners Supply is truly kinkless, lightweight and stylin. Also their seed starting system, APS(?) I was also really happy with.

    Was also sent a tool called a Frisper, to suck the air out of plastic bags for food preservation. It didn’t suck (actually it did suck, because it didn’t suck) so was totally useless.

    Would love it if people would send me plants (or felcos, trellises or furniture). I have a big mailbox.

  2. Elizabeth — I’m with you. There is no test area in my garden so things must fit in with my design or they are out before they’re in. Because these plants are not things I necessarily want, I am bad about remembering to water etc. That said, I’ve had some outstanding accidental successes with bulbs from Brent and Becky.

    They came last year while i was on vacation, so began life in my garden already compromised. They’ve all come up and increased in the year they’ve been planted and bloomed their heads off.

    So B&B, if you’re listening, I’m ready for more bulbs. As a hat person, I’d love to test drive some hats and Mark would like to test stucco for his new tea house and perhaps some antique Japanese tea bowls!

  3. I just started a blog, mostly about gardening but also about some other random stuff that goes on around here (shameless plug for

    I’m hoping that no one ever sends me free stuff to try (okay that’s kind of a lie) because I already have so much gardening crap. Way more than any human being could ever use. Maybe I should start giving some of it away via my blog, just a thought!

  4. I love getting free stuff. I think my favorite garden freebies are always seeds, since I can just scatter them and see what happens. I buy a lot of them anyway since they are cheap. Bulbs, rhizomes and perennials are what I go to, hardly ever any annuals. Plants have to be really tough in my garden — no fragile beauties here. For what I actually use in my garden, it’s pruners, my wonderful hori hori knife that does it all, a couple of trowels and a few shovels. Do we really need the rest of it?

  5. This is my first year with test plants, and it’s a challenge to find a home for each in my garden, as most of the prime real estate is already occupied. So what do I do? Create new beds and buy even more plants to complement the freebies, creating even more work for myself. Fortunately, gardening rarely seems like work. I just hope I can get everything into the ground before the first frost.

  6. If someone would send me some freebies – say, some California native perennials, or fruits & veggies for the garden, Felcos & other assorted garden tools ( arbors & trellises included), or garden gloves that are simultaneously water-resistant, lightweight & durable – I’d be thrilled to blog about them. Honest ! Of course, I don’t have a blog at the moment ….

  7. The thing about swag, which I get a lot of in my newspaper job, is I am likely to try things that would otherwise never occur to me to buy.

    What with spending every last dime on plants, I’m not likely to fork over $40 for a pair of pruners or what have you.

    Best swag ever? My BonAire hose nozzle fashioned after a fire hose.

    Arrived after I wrote an article about lousy nozzles and how I’d rather use my thumb than anything else.

    Sold. I’ve bought 5 BonAires since then for all my hoses. Seriously. You can find them at Sears or do a Google search.

  8. I’ve no concern at all with free stuff, but I am bothered by “branded” plants that are sold on the coat tails of other successes and are not of similar quality. I have also experienced subpar growth with Twist and Shout hydrangea, though mine was considerably more than a small sample when planted and was given a good home. I’ll give it another year before tossing it out.

    I hope that the Endless Summer line doesn’t end up filling its brand with mediocre plants backed by slick marketing. I have witnessed branding failures by the Flower Carpet rose folks, and Gardener’s Confidence, with the result that the plant buying public loses its excitement for the brand. Quality plants sell, others are best left in the test garden.

  9. I get depressed when I get free annual seeds in the fall. I vow to put them somewhere where I’m sure to find them in the spring, and well, you know how that turns out. I just got the COOLEST gardening shoes the other day to review. I mean traffic-stopping gardening shoes. Can’t tell you what they are. You’ll have to wait until you see them in the mag!

  10. I tested some prototype Ethel rose gloves and loved them! I have lots of real estate and not enough plants to fill it, but each spring (and for a good bit after) I drain my bank account buying plants. We aren’t going to talk about the bulbs. I’d love to test something, anything, and it can have a prized spot.

  11. The new Twist and Shout may be infested with beatles.Take the Eay Way Out-you daytripper. The Long and Winding Road…

  12. The one hydrangea I like…I don’t care for the mop heads so much, but the lace cap looked like it might be interesting. I bought this one to replace something that should have died and ended up accidentally alive. Fortunately for me, my yard and flower beds are still developing so I had space in a brand new bed for Twist-n-Shout. It sounds like my plant had a bit of a head start, I bought it from a nursery in a 3 gal container (and paid through the nose for it). It was nicely shaped and lots of blooms. I have since deadheaded a couple of times and two more re-blooms. It may be blooming again, it has been swallowed up by the vincas, but it still looks pretty nice when you peel back the layers. I’m looking forward to next year when the annuals will be gone and it will have more elbow room.

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