An irreverent plantmaster strikes again



Now we know what it takes to get people in State College, PA excited about plants in the middle of winter. Just include caricatures of the major players in Penn State’s recent sex abuse scandal as part of the anarchic mash-up of headline-makers appearing on the cover of this year’s Plant Delights catalog. Apparently, the college’s powerful alumni community is in a frenzy over the depictions of Paterno (who was still alive when the drawing was commissioned) and Sandusky, who appear along with the usual cadre of political candidates and other public figures.

I like the zany cartoons Tony Avent commissions from Raleigh artist Jack Pittman for Plant Delights’ catalogs for the same reason that the irreverent plant hunter says he uses them. They’re different. The bizarre scenarios are suggestive, but never seem to make any kind of conclusive political point. Which is the point. Usually I look at them long enough to identify the major figures and get a sense of the central theme, then I turn the page to read the plant descriptions (which are usually way more entertaining than the cover drawings). Then I try to figure out if I can afford to buy anything. To be honest, this cover didn’t seem any edgier than last year’s Facebook theme or the one a few seasons back about health care.

But that is because I am not a college football fanatic. Clearly, I will never understand the fervent loyalty of those who are. I’ve never seen my alma mater the University at Buffalo’s team play, I’m not even sure what their name is, and couldn’t care less if their season is 10-0 or 0-10.


This summer, while all the football teams—college or otherwise—are at their training camps, I’ll be evaluating the performance of my own players, which I hope will include some of Tony Avent’s starting lineup. I always buy at least one hellebore, a couple colocasia, and as many interesting perennials as I can afford. Though I’m not a huge fan of all the funky new Echinacea varietals, PD is offering several unusually tall hybrids. If they get higher than 3 feet in NC, I’m guessing they’ll stretch even more in a coolor climate with a bit more shade. I also have a Patrinia scabiosifolia (Golden Lace) circled. Tall, airy stems with chrome-yellow flowers and takes light shade. Touchdown!

I will be passing by Raleigh just in time for a Plant Delights open house on the way back from the beach this year, and hope to add a few impulse purchases, as well as get another look at the ever-evolving Juniper Level botanic gardens. As some of you may know, especially if you receive the PD enewsletter, Tony Avent lost his wife Michelle a few weeks ago; she had been battling cancer for four years.

Best wishes to him. And many thanks to both him and Michelle for all the great plants.

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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


  1. I have no idea if Tony’s covers help or hurt his business, but I sure appreciate their originality, their departure from the typically bland world of plant marketing.

  2. The cover you posted above is the new one that PD modified a bit to calm the angry mob. Paterno’s face was removed from the scarecrow and the Penn State logo was removed from the lion (Sandusky).

    By making such a stink over satire the Penn State crowd is making themselves look worse than they already are. It is too bad they don’t direct their rage appropriately.

  3. I appreciate Tony Avent’s willingness to push boundaries in many domains..certainly, he’s received criticism and praise alike for inclusions of marginally hardy plants in their zone designations, just as he’s receiving both flak and cheers for a provocative cover. He breathes passion into his work and the plantworld, and we all benefit from his wave-making. If he were playing it safe, we wouldn’t have a lot of data about his “Woody Lilies” in the southeast, a list of Epimedium to rival the Brits, and descriptions of aroids to make the faint-hearted blush.

  4. greg,

    Not all of us here are the “Penn State crowd” and some of us have an actual reason to not really find much humor in that cover.

    Many of us, despite the broadbrushing, are sickened by the entire thing, and it goes well beyond football. At it’s core, this is not about football….this is about an institution that employs many of us potentially enabling a child predator to operate in our community.

    One of our dear friends has the misfortune of living next to Sandusky. They have a six year old girl and a baby boy. They, along with Sandusky, share a border with an elementary school property. Throughout this past winter, Sandusky lounged on his deck while the children at the school were at recess. A recent court decision okayed this. He can be outside.

    Our friends have a difficult time explaining to a young girl why she can no longer wave at the man next door. She doesn’t quite understand why, but she knows now he is a bad man, and this bad man is right next door.

    On top of this, we who are appalled and saddened by the scandal are constantly labeled “pedophiles” or “enablers” due to living here….including our friends. Just imagine how maddening that would be – it’s YOUR FAULT this monster is next door, YOU enabled him.

    As if that’s not enough, they also enjoy gardening. How would any of you like to have to worry that Jerry freaking Sandusky might be outside some 30 feet from you while you were trying to enjoy your garden? Yeah….didn’t think so.

    This isn’t even touching on the real victims of all this – the boys this lowlife raped. Their lives are damaged to an extreme that many of us can’t imagine. For most of you, this is just something you can express shock over at the water cooler and then move on. For us in the area, and especially for our friends next door to Sandusky, this is something we will struggle with for a long time. And his direct victims may never get over it.

    You’ll have to excuse us if we don’t find any humor in it.

  5. I find the covers amusing and do admit to spending some time trying to figure out the characters being portrayed. The “Wall Street” protesters were my favorite portrayal. I think pretty accurate. But as a marketer, I know the cover did exactly what it should: set this catalog a part from the rest, made you spend some time with it, enticed you inside. I agree with Elizabeth that the plant descriptions are far more interesting and entertaining.

  6. The information in the article is out of date at publication. Indeed, the cover on the Plant Delights website no longer shows the picture you’ve included – the changes began on 2/24 and were complete on 2/27.
    Mr Avent made the changes to the cover, after some discussion, out of respect for Coach Paterno and his family, and to make the satirical intent regarding child abuse a bit more clear.

    1. Paterno’s face was removed from the scarecrow
    2. The satirical version of the PSU logo was removed from the lion.
    3. A link to RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) website

    More details can be found in this article and the comments.

Comments are closed.