The Truth, Nothing Butt the Truth?  Forget About It.



Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) on the High Line in New York City last month.

I have a soft spot for forsaken plants. The Allegheny spurge quickly comes to mind. Pachysandra procumbens should, without hesitation, be planted in more shady gardens.

Do not spurn this spurge.

There are hundreds of worthy plants and seeds, hidden in the shadows, of dozens of 2020 garden catalogs. These shy introverts may be lacking only a little sizzle.

Here’s your chance for an award-winning plant description. All you have to do is write a short, I-must-have-this-plant description about your favorite nowhere-near-loved-enough perennial, tree, shrub or edible plant. Leave your description in the reply box below.

I will judge entries and recognize the best two descriptions here on this post, next Wednesday. The winning entrant will have their choice of one of two grand prizes. The first option is a piece of Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’ dug from my garden. I’ll ship a small plant in April. The 2nd option is a copy of Planting in a Post-Wild World, a book full of provocative design ideas and substantive plant suggestions, written by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West. Author and entomologist Doug Tallamy described the book as the “universal how-to guide” and a “masterful accomplishment.”

Here are a few homework tips before you tackle the first Garden Rant Challenge of 2020.

Keep it short.

I wrote nursery and seed catalog copy for over 35 years. Advertising doctrine once suggested that a good photo might be worth a thousand words. I no longer think the word count part of that analogy holds. My impression is that readers these days seldom take time to read 200 words—for anything. Blame it on Digital Distraction Disorder. I should have focused on photography.

Be as cutesy as you want, but be careful.

In the mid-1980s I offered a tulip variety in the Holbrook Farm and Nursery fall catalog called ‘Clara Butt.’ I dreamed that thousands of customers would plant Ms. Butt in gardens across America. I felt confident that my customers would hang onto every word of my description. If they had, they would claim spring dominion by yelling across the garden fence: “Howdy neighbor…Guess what? Clara Butt’s up!”

Clara Butt did not come up and never caught on.

Don’t get hung up on the whole truth.

Planting in a Post-Wild World authors, Rainer and Wild, tell the truth about Pachysandra procumbens. ‘The Allegheny spurge adopts a conservative growth strategy, focusing on slowly spreading under limited light conditions.” This is code for: pokey in the shade.

Mark Twain wasn’t tied to the truth. He once said, “Never let the truth stand in the way of a  good story.”

Plant nurseries and seed companies have to pay their light bills. A few plant details, a little storytelling and a good photograph—when coupled well together—will help keep the lights on.

“Stunning floral show” on Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’. Photo credit: Plant Delights Nursery.

Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery knows how to let loose with plant descriptions. You know immediately how passionately Tony feels toward the plants he writes about. The full truth may be withheld sometimes, but that’s OK.

Tony found an Allegheny spurge far from the Alleghenies near the gates of the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana. The cultivar is appropriately named ‘Angola’.  Pachysandra procumbens has a natural range over a wide swath of Eastern North America.

Tony writes, “Most Pachysandra procumbens in the trade are from cooler climates, so when we stumbled across this attractive clone near the gates of Louisiana’s Angola Prison in spring 1999, we thought…well, we thought we’d better get the hell out of there, but not without a piece of this attractive heat-loving clone. After six years, this selection had made a stunning 4′ wide clump in our garden. The new foliage on Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’ is heavily patterned pewter against the olive-green base color, making an attractive combination. Starting in early March (NC), the patches are adorned with a stunning floral show of masses of sweetly fragrant 4″ tall stalks of white, bottlebrush-like flowers. This is hands down the earliest and best flowering clone of Pachysandra procumbens we’ve ever seen…great when used as a groundcover in the woodland garden.”

I claim pachysandra kinship through my late mother. She was the undisputed queen of homegrown pachysandra growers. Mom rooted cuttings of the common, evergreen Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) and stuck them in shady spots every chance she got. Mom would try any plant once, but she wasn’t crazy about the Allegheny spurge. (Admittedly, she never grew ‘Angola’.)

“What about the silver-gray mottled leaves in late winter and early spring?” I asked.

“The leaves are not shiny green like my pachysandra,” she said.

“Do you like the little white blooms?”

She rubbed her chin and said, “I guess they’re okay, if you like flowers that resemble a limp bottle cleaner brush, but they are fragrant. I’ll give you that.”

I had an ace in the hole: “But it’s native, mom!”

She answered, “Yeah, right. So is southern blight.”

Do me a favor. Ignore my mom’s comments.

Don’t let the truth, nothing but the truth, get in the way of your good plant descriptions.

Best of luck!


  1. I love P. procumbens as ground cover for my japanese maples. As such:

    Splurge on this spurge!

    Looking for a great native ground cover for those tricky shady areas? Imagine the flecks of silver sparkling from these Allegheny spurge’s leaves (Pachysandra procumbens) under the shadows of your taller plants. A great underplanting for your Japanese maples (ironically you don’t have to worry about over competition from the japanese spurge Pachysandra terminalis) that really shine when the tree leaves fall or just start to leaf out. Submit to this spurge; purge the urge to exclude this spurge.

  2. Ardesia japonica “Chirimen”, will create an delightful ankle-high forest with miniature oak-like foliage that grows slowly in shade or partial shade. This red-stemmed marlberry has tiny bells of pink flowers that turn into red berries that help to encourage fairies to visit often. Must-have for northern themed gardens even in the South. Not suggested for tropical plant enthusiasts.

  3. I feel like I should cross-post this with the Bulwer-Lytton folks.

    A eucalyptus and a foxglove walk into a bar, hit it off, pollinate and make babies. So smitten by every stunning jewel tone, they name them all Penstemon grandiflorus “Prairie Jewel”. Tall sturdy spikes of sparkling tubular gems draw swarms of native bees in May, supplanted soon after in June with tiered tiaras of pointed emerald pods, each held above the one below with a perfectly pressed collar of glaucous blue green. Tolerant of less than perfect drainage, P. grandiflorus will, when happy, change your image of native prairie forbs forever.

  4. Hey Allen, I’m not much for contests but as you know, I love your posts.
    You know my plant Zone, so if that prize plant will grow here, can you just me one anyway? Thanks!
    And in return, I will send you one of my (own) favorite haiku, featured by PK himself in a blog post, a while back.
    We are getting closer to Spring, my friend.

  5. Ruby Slippers Oakleaf Hydrangea: An exquisite compact deciduous shrub covered in dark green oak leaf-shaped foliage and large cone-shaped blossoms that arrive white and advance to a dazzling ruby red. Foliage becomes mahogany in fall. Enjoys full sun or part shade and works in smaller landscapes, foundation or mass plantings, hedges, and borders.

  6. Looking for a four-season shrub, that you will really love every season of the year? Look no further than this charming Hazel, with its twisty-turny stems and branches. This is no shrinking violet; no ‘now-you-see-then, now-you-don’t’ garden plant. No sir! Corylus avellena ‘Contorta’, this bold beauty is a plant that will cause your neighbors to know plant-lust and make you the talk of the ‘hood. In the spring, this beautiful shrub will give you yellow chains beautiful flowers, like elegant golden earrings. Summer will bring lustrous, green foliage that will shelter your garden songbirds as they nest. Fall brings out the beautiful red blush to the wonderful foliage. And in winter, this plant becomes the garden Star, stealing the show, as the stems and structure become fully visible, and absolutely stunning under a frosting of snow! Every garden should have a Corylus, and now yours can too! Also available in a purple-red form; ask for the variety ‘Red Majestic’ at your favorite garden center!

  7. So, I can’t resist a chance to write a little purple prose, sorry!:

    My friends scolded me for bringing him into my beds, telling me he would jump the borders. Yes, I’m talking about spearmint (mentha spicata)! And yes, he does wander, like a dog presented with an open garden gate. But, I have my needs…I can’t walk past my spearmint without stroking his copious emerald, spear-headed leaves to inhale his refreshing, rejuvenating fragrance. Yes, when he’s in bloom he flirts with every bee in the garden. But I’m not above snipping his minty, delicious, erect tips for my sauces, lentils, salads, tea and cocktails. His lush leaves adorn my desserts, giving them a spark of herbal delight! And he propagates wantonly, spreading his roots wherever he goes…I share a piece of him wherever friends are willing to take him into their beds. It’s hard to imagine a garden without him!

    Interested in a plant that checks all the boxes? Low maintenance,3 seasons of interest,attracts hummingbirds, AND it’s a native. The greatest demand on your time with your Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) will be answering the same question from passers by, “What is that gorgeous tree in your yard?”
    12′ x15. Z5-8

  9. Hey, gardener. Are you looking for a darling deciduous shrub that drips with bright colored berries and a dash of pizazz? Have we got a sweet treat for you. She’s a surprising charmer, that Coral Berry we also call Symphoricarpos orbiculatus.
    The Cinderella of woodland shrubs, Coral Berry’s a real native princess, and all too often lumped in with her unruly stepsister Callicarpa americana. Dear little Coral Berry may be petite at less than 5 feet, but she is a pleasure from her pink-skinned new stems to the tips of her fresh young leaves. The birds and the bees all adore her. Her graceful foliage drapes down to ever so lightly to kiss the ground where it suckers just enough to be cheeky, but not enough to be dangerous. She likes it hot and cold, moist and dry, but she’s hardy down to a cool Zone 4. In a warm hot place she likes, she’ll keep her leaves, but below Zone 8, she’s sure to shed them and the only thing she’ll wear all winter will be a matched set of purple-pink BB-sized berries guaranteed to catch your eye. So reach for your wallet. You know you want her–Delightful Miss Coral Berry. (I have the book already, but this was fun. Reminds me, I should bring Coral B to the ‘burg.)

  10. P. procumbens is a great little plant. I speced it out for a client in Ohio for something different than the Japanese one all her neighbors have

  11. Our property borders the highway that runs through our small village, and we are the only ones who maintain the shoulders and adjacent ditch. Several years ago I decided to start slowly ripping out the grass and weeds, so I could turn the ‘slope’ into a flower border (just as my gardening grandmother used to do). I decided a backbone of daylilies would assist with erosion control and fill the space on a budget. I bought quite a few plants from an on-line sale, and then bought more locally when I could actually see them flowering in the field. For the most part, I love best the ones I picked in bloom- but then there is my favorite, which I’ve divided and scattered through the ditch beds.

    While I currently grow more than seventy cultivars and species, if I had to whittle down to just one it would be ‘Autumn Minaret’, which I’ve been growing since about 2000. At that time it was difficult to obtain, which is happily no longer the case. It has many virtues, chief among them the tall elegant scapes (5-6’ high), with graceful mid-sized blooms starting in July and continuing for some weeks. In addition to the ‘ditch’ beds, I have several stands in a naturalized country garden, where they tough it out in poor and heavy soil, still increasing annually, and blooming even in a drought. The thin and lofty stems rise up gracefully behind perennials of all sizes, and frequently attract hummingbird (sphinx) moths. Soft tawny yellow flowers are accented with a rosy apricot halo that harmonizes with just about every color (except bright coral and magenta). The foliage holds up better than most, but I guess I’ve been staring up to hard to be sure. While I have it spotted in several locations around my garden I feel certain I could do with more.

  12. OK, so, droughtier…(our summers are) yes. And low maintenance…(we busy and tired) is best.
    Growing in cracks… (a damn petunia) gone wild. A dry rocky slope… (or open meadow) can be trialed
    Humilis humble…(submissive?) not a chance. Born in North America….. (not England) not France
    So Ruellia… (like your auntie) is maybe not so glam. But, it’s lavender dishes….(think satellite) are my jam.

  13. For Perilla frutescens, a lovely self seeder/ promiscuous plant slut:

    There once was a girl from Atlanta
    She wasn’t that great of a planner
    Loved purple perilla
    Thought it’d be a great filler
    Now she’s struggling to find
    Her hand tiller

  14. In the dry shade, perhaps where a mature tree has helped lift the surrounding soil into a gentle rise, imagine a cluster of elegant white butterflies hovering just a few feet above the ground. That dreamy moment can be a fleeting annual event in a garden planted with Iris tectorum ‘Alba’.
    The Roof Iris is so named because it purportedly thrived growing on top of traditional buildings in Japan where enough organic matter had allowed this drought-tolerant and shallow rooted specimen to thrive. But the delicate mid-Spring flowers are actually not the most compelling reason to plant Iris tectorum ‘Alba’. Its wide strappy leaf blades continue to grow with clumps forming arching fountains of celery green in places where deeper green foliage add contrast to make them pop. That foliage is compatible with other lovers of dry shade, like Epidmedium, various Carex, and unfussy Hosta

  15. Looking for an easy, hardy, colorful native for pollinators in the spring? Then the Hoary Puccoon is for you! This drought, heat, and cold tolerant charmer blooms petite bright yellow flowers spring through early summer. It serves as both a pollen and nectar source, feeding native bees, swallowtail, and fritillary butterflies! Truly low maintenance, it will grow in sun to part shade, and actually prefers dry (to moderately moist) soil. It will provide a bright splash of color wherever needed! It is robust without being invasive, growing 6 to 18 inches tall, and over a few seasons spreading to 24 inches. Get ready to brighten up the border or that difficult spot with this cheerful yellow fellow!

  16. I’m sure it’s too late to add to this post but I just found it. I’m going to be 63 this May and I have a plant duo that truly is beautiful, the pollinators love, and allows to me actually have time to enjoy my garden.
    They are: Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum muticum and the annual Senorita Rosalita Cleome or the the shorter Pequna Rosalita. When I lived in Ohio, I saw this cleome planted in several locations at the Toledo Zoo. Zoo horticultural staff have little time for plant preening. I live in Colorado now on a small suburban lot, which is now devoid of Kentucky blue grass. The mountain mint I order from Select Seeds. The Cleome is so hard to find here, I order it online, direct from Monrovia. It blooms from the day I plant it to frost. There is simply no deadheading for this tired gardener


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