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Plants I'll Never Use, Redux
updated: Jun 25, 2011, 9:45 AM
By Billy Goodnick
I'm sure the Pulitzer Prize committee frowns on cheating, but what can I do? It's noon Wednesday, my deadline is noon Thursday, and I'm sitting at a tiny table at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, shoving an overly mustardy ham sandwich into my yap, downloading photos, and praying Ed forgets he's already published this story. This is my week to post, but the conference is all consuming and there's no way I can write a new article worthy of you fine, loyal readers. So I'm dusting off one of my favorite stories from a 2008 (with a few edits, cuz I cringed rereading it) and adding new pictures. Enjoy my thoughts about plants I'd never, ever, ever use in anyone's garden.
High on my Most Loathed list: Algerian ivy and tam juniper. Keep them separated by at least one zip code.
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"Aahh, you don't know how to eat!" My mom was offering me "just a little bite" of pickled herring and I was making "that face." Lovely Linda of Lemona, as she was known, had opinions you'd expect of a strong-willed Brooklynite. She ascribed to the philosophy, "You have your opinion, I'll have the right one."
The herring didn't fall far from the tree. It just morphed from Linda's food pronouncements to my beef with tacky gardens. Ask my wife, Lin. A drive with me is a ponderous soundtrack of the transgressions I'm witnessing. I have no idea how she tolerates me, but as long as I keep my window up and speak at a civilized volume, she smiles and shuts me out.
My biggest gripe is with combinations of plants that have no business being seen together, let alone sharing the same ZIP code. They're the ones people mash together without regard for the plants' needs, (light, air, water, space for roots) assuring their slow, but inevitable demise.
Another thing that gets my thong in a twist is seeing aggressive, spreading plants like Bougainvillea ‘Rosenka' (the light pink one everyone plants) crammed into teeny tiny spaces. These botanical SUVs easily reach twenty feet across and launch salvos of thorny branches ten feet high.
"It's pretty. I'll just prune it."
Famous, illogical last words. People buy bougainvillea for its showy flowers (which sprout at the tips of the branches) ignore genetic reality. The result: endless work keeping their special friend from engulfing the house.
In the spirit of fun and with a desire to inform, I give you Five Plants I Wouldn't Put in Anyone's Garden (Even if You Threatened to Do Something Terrible to a Cute Little Kitty Cat).
Algerian Ivy (Hedera canariensis): This pestilent, rat-harboring curse of Mother Nature has to be first on my list, since it is an obnoxious, spreading plague. It knows no limits, will climb trees, swallow walls, and provide safe-haven for any number of lost objects. Wondering where Jimmy Hoffa went missing? Check the ivy. There is no reason for this plant to be propagated, sold, or purchased ever again.
Impatiens, aka Busy Lizzie (Impatiens balsamina): If you can buy it in front of a drug store, I don't want it in my garden.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis): I think it's the official flower of Santa Barbara. If that's the case, I nominate the giant Mexican white fly for our official bird, because the two go hand in hand. The flowers are quite pretty and the color range presents great design opportunities, but the threat of whitefly infestations and lack of effective non-toxic remedies means I just can't use them.
Tam Juniper (Juniperus sabina ‘Tamariscifolia') is an inoffensive plant so demonized by misuse I can't imagine planting it anywhere. It's used as a ground cover, growing 18" tall. Fine, but it also grows 15 feet across. Unfortunately, nurseries used to advice planting them three feet apart. Anybody see a problem here?
The result, seen throughout older neighborhoods, is massive green-topped blocks and brown sticks poking from the edges. Ersatz gardeners sometimes shape them into gawky tendrils terminating in green, Dr. Seussian green poofs. Better off buying a block of green Styrofoam, dropping it at the curb, and shutting off the water.
Azaleas and Camellias (Azalea indica/Camellia japonica) Two plants, but to me they're inseparable. When I moved to Santa Barbara in 1976 to work at La Sumida Nursery, these were the big sellers. They're beautiful in bloom, handsome in form and foliage, sport soft pastel colors winter and spring, and have absolutely no business setting down roots in Southern California. They evolved in high rainfall areas of Asia, thrive in acidic soil, and binge on heavy doses of organic matter. If a plant's survival depends on heaping helpings of peat moss, special feedings, and sucks up water like a Sham-Wow, it's off my list.
I strive to create gardens that are beautiful, useful and sustainable. This approach has a low tolerance for plants needing continual pruning, feeding, watering, and spraying. Besides, the more you have to mess with inappropriately selected plants, the uglier they turn out, and the more power-tool noise and air pollution we have to put up with.
I have a deep-seated belief that we should use plants that thrive with little or no help from us - plants that don't require life support to add beauty and usability to our gardens.
So that's it. Five plants you can scratch off your list.
Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.
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