Confessions of a sizeist


Roses can be depended upon to get high for me.

It is getting harder and harder for me to find the plants
that I need. It’s nobody’s fault, really. I have access to excellent garden
centers, and they carry the hot new introductions as well as the
usual suspects. I can also call upon a galaxy of mail-order sources.  It’s not their problem that—clearly—other gardeners don’t require as many tall perennials as I do.

I am surrounded by high, narrow buildings, and more than my
fair share of good-sized trees. In this context, climbers and tall plants seem
to work best. I also have a couple of enclosures that were put there by the
previous owner, and they demand plants that can quickly put on a foot and a
half and then keep going.

These colocasia have gotten nice and tall and I've allowed the coleus with them to grow strangely vertical as well.

But when I look at catalogs and nurseries I am always seeing
“New! Dwarf x,” and “Improved! Shorter y.” I rely on oriental lilies,
colocasia, buddleia, clematis, and everything else that climbs, as well as a
small group of perennials (tall ferns, various rudbeckia, boltonia, heliopsis,
a few others) for height. Self seeders like the tall verbena bonariensis or the
various species nicotianas are also workable. With the narrow spaces I have to
offer, up is the best direction to go.

Of course, once you’ve become a sizeist, it’s kind of a
vicious circle. Shorter plants don’t thrive too well in the shadow of their
lankier neighbors, so everything has to get big fast or perish.

So these new, squat little echinaceas or any of their dumpy
brethren don’t do a thing for me. (And I’ll never buy mini-hostas.) I like the
undisciplined look. Lanky, weedy, gangly, leggy. It’s all good by me. Breeders, are you listening?

(I am joined in this peeve by Angela Treadwell-Palmer of
Plants Nouveau, who ranted about this recently in her enewsletter, The
Weeding Gnome

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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. I am so with you on this–I don’t mind having to stake a tall plant, because I think they are magical.

    One of the most astonishing things about 19th century photos of American gardens is how tall the plants are–before the breeders got busy making sure no homeowner ever has to use bamboo.

  2. I love my 5 foot tall Japanese Anemone – “Honorine Jobert” – it started blooming a few weeks ago and typically continues ’til first frost. Growing underneath? Nothing – the basal leaves are attractive throughout the season.

  3. Yes, I agree..”can grow up to 8 or 10″ tall is musical. My Plant Delights-purchased Jonesboro Giant Ironweed …(probably should’ve written that in all caps) would be at least fifteen tall if I had the time to construct a scaffold. As it is, it just lays along the fence so passing traffic can see it bloom.

    thanks for this rant!!

  4. So true… I’ve ranted about this on my blog before too… The problem is, big tall plants that look lovely in the garden, tend to look lanky and terrible in a little pot on the bench in the garden center — and are a pain for big nurseries to grow as they need staking, fall over, and get all tangled up in each other. Little round lumps of things are easy to manage, easy to ship, and look cute in a 4 inch pot. They ain’t, however, worth much in the garden. Too many breeders forget they should be breeding for gardeners no producers.

  5. Apparently the nurseries & the breeders think no one likes plants more than eight inches high. Too short for cut flowers, too short for anywhere but the front of the garden. This is happening to annuals as well as perennials (has been for years, but seems to be getting worse).

  6. I was just at the “Edible Gardens” section of the New York Botanical Garden last week (wow!) and they had…CLIMBING SPINACH! You can have your tall plants and eat them too!

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