That “New Plant” Experience

The first time I ever saw Fritillaria michailowskyi in person was this spring when it bloomed in my garden.

It is a joy to grow certain plants for the memories they invoke and the anticipation of their familiar scent, sight, taste, and other beloved qualities, as well as the pleasure of seeing them expand and perhaps self-propagate in our gardens.

However, it is an equally delightful experience to find or make a place for a new plant, unfamiliar except in books, photos, or maybe just an alluring catalog blurb.

I remember the first time I tasted a serviceberry. Each description I read of its flavor heightened my curiosity. It was only satisfied when I was able to savor and analyze that taste for myself. Now I look forward to the unique mix of cherry and almond every June… but as no supermarket carries the berries, I couldn’t have that experience if I didn’t grow the shrub (mine are actually a tree form, Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) in my own garden.

Serviceberries have moved from the “new” category to the “must-have” category for me. I have already planted a couple of them in my new garden, and I wouldn’t want to be without them in a future garden.

What cat doesn’t appreciate fresh-picked catnip brought to her by human slaves?

Of course, the size of your garden does limit how many plants can become must-haves. And chances are, the longer you have been a gardener, the longer your list of must-haves. So it follows that, the smaller your garden and the more experienced you are, the tougher it can be to get that “new plant” experience.

That is one reason I love the strategy of vertical layering. Adding groundcovers under a hedge, or woods’ edge shrubs under a mature tree underplanted with shade-loving perennials, or letting low running plants surround the feet of leggy flowers, are all fun ways to bring new plants into a seemingly full garden.

I also find great pleasure in temporal layering. It’s a little tricker since the timing doesn’t work the same every year, but what an engrossing game it is, trying to make a combination that remains effective despite yearly variations. Some ways to extend the season include planting bulbs and spring ephemerals that emerge and bloom earlier than their companions, and adding late-emerging perennials to cover fading foliage of the first bloomers.

As an additional benefit, vertical and temporal layers increase plant diversity, which increases wildlife diversity, and diversity fosters interspecies connections such as predation and mutualism, and those connections strengthen the stability and health of the garden.

Early-blooming bulbs lend color, erosion control, and pollinator habitat to a lawn and foundation shrubs.



  1. Do you get enough service berries to make jam or pie? I am lucky if I get to taste a not quite ripe berry because the birds LOVE them. Flocks of cedar waxwings descend wearing their black robber masks. Robins are greedy thugs, getting into screaming wing beating fights with each other. And then there are the much cursed squirrels. So much entertainment, but no fruit for me. So I planted two more trees.

    • Tibs, I am much more of a “grazer” than a baker, so I don’t even try. But I agree with your strategy: if the birds are taking the berries, plant more! And plant a variety of other berries.

      I suppose this is why Fruit Houses were invented. A shrub form of serviceberry would be easier to enclose, and that might be worth looking into if you need a quantity of berries.

      On the other hand, how fun that you get to see all those cedar waxwings!

  2. My cat gets so high on catnip that she peed in the laundry basket. My cousin had told me of a similar incident with her cat, so no more catnip for my girl.

    The serviceberries were fantastic last spring, and we were able to eat lots of them because there was enough other food for the birds. Unfortunately the bunnies ate my serviceberry shrubs this winter, so only the tree will be producing, and I’m assuming that food will be in short supply again this spring so probably no berries for me. Sigh.

  3. when I was a child some 70plus years ago I went wth my aunt to a “sarvis” tree to get sarvis berries for a pie. Many rears later I found out it was service berries. I now have a tree in memory of my aunt.

  4. Great post, Evelyn. We have a garden cat who makes love to all of my Nepeta as soon as it emerges and sometimes before. The other day I caught him using a cushion of Nepeta as a pillow.

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