Performance anxiety


In spite of drought, heat, and relentless animal assaults, there will be no quarter asked or given this weekend, when thousands of walkers fan out among the gardens of Buffalo. They’re not going to understand or appreciate beds and containers filled with wilting plants and/or chewed-up plants, or the bare dirt left by long-dead plants.

I came back from vacation to find three recently-planted hay-scented ferns croaked for no reason that I could see. They were well watered, and in shade—guess they just hated my garden. There are two colocasia that appear to be the exact same size as when they arrived via mail order in May, and now have been thoroughly overtaken by the plants they were supposed to be their foils. And then we have the damage—rose shoots eaten by … mites?, buddleia stalks broken off by … a groundhog?, and the holes left by drought-loving slugs.

Finally, as we’ve all experienced, everything is at least a week ahead, so that many floral displays counted on for the end of July have already bloomed their heads off. No matter. If I were the gardener I should be, everything would still look good enough, if not exactly at peak. Fortunately, even if I’m not that expert a gardener, I have made some choices that are going to get me through this weekend, like:

. My loyalty to old-fashioned macrophyllas pays off every year. Their colors are still bright, and, thanks to a mild winter, their blooms are numerous. As for the other types, I’m rethinking Limelight—its sprawling habit doesn’t seem quite worth it. The equally ambitious Annabelle ought to have been cut back early in the season, but it is still a magnificent shrub.

Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Golden Glow’. This tall heirloom may be commonplace, but it’s splendidly vertical in a plant market increasingly dominated by dwarfs.

L. Scheherazade and l. Black Beauty. The deep reds of these orienpet hybrids are still glowing, with more buds yet to open.

Colocasia. With giant specimens surrounding the pond and in containers throughout, these give just the correct touch of Victorian exoticism.

None of these plants are particularly special, but they have been the saving grace of my midsummer garden for many seasons.

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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. Elizabeth, have the dreaded lily-leaf beetles made an appearance over in Buffalo yet? They’ve absolutely decimated my lilies this year. I only have two stalks that haven’t been devoured, which is a good thing since I need to enter them in a flower show this week. I’m about ready to give up lilies altogether! Good luck on Garden Walk!

  2. As an addict, and always passionate to learn about ‘something new’, I will always try that new plant, even if I have no space, but it is the tried-and-true, old school plants that always deliver. My Bee-balm, Daylillies, Clethra, Cardinal flower and others, never disappoint and are always their asking so little and giving so much…

  3. Let’s hear it for the indestructible plants. For me, it’s nepeta, sweet joe pye weed, cup plant, downy sunflower, anise hyssop, and wild black currant. You always have to try something new and perhaps marginal for your conditions, but for the backbone of the garden, it’s the old ironclads.

  4. I always seem to start with deer- and bug-resistant herbs: lavender, santolina, hyssop, nepeta, thymes and oreganos. Spireas and Jupiter’s Beard are good foundations too. But I agree with Jason, it wouldn’t be fun without trying new stuff each year!

  5. Ah yes those darn plants that for whatever reason decide that they hate your garden, and would rather off themselves (and retire to the great garden in the sky with many, many of my plants) than continue living in your plot of earth. I’m glad that someone else occasionally has these growing in their yard.

  6. This is the first year that I did not take time to pick off lily beetles and I am regretting it. Still, the flowers are so fragrant, that I almost don’t care if they don’t have any leaves!


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