What makes a plant your favorite? Does it have an easy
going attitude? Beautiful flowers? Lots of flowers? Great smell? No smell?
Was it a gift from a friend? Does it have great texture? Colorful leaves? If
you could only have one plant, which would it be?
Second question: why do most yards in most neighborhoods have all the same plants? Why do most wholesale nurseries grow the same plants to sell to your local nursery and landscaper, thus making all yards doppelgangers? Could it be the Twilight Zone phenomena, where only these plants can exist? It sure seems that way. But, really it is because these plants have proven over many, many years to be easy to maintain. This history has given the landscape industry a cushion of reliability. The reason most plants become popular is a combination of beauty and ease, with ease definitely weighing in more heavily. Not that we don't have choices within our landscape ruts. Take Azaleas or Bougainvillea or Crepe Myrtles or, well, any of the plants you commonly find at the nursery. Colors abound. Sometimes you can even chose between dwarf or standard. Growers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to come out with a new color or shape of a tried-and-true plant. Sometimes they just stick a fancy new name on an old plant to make you think there is a new choice. That really drives me nuts.
I find, though, that I am, alas, no better. This summer has been brutally hot with three weeks of temperatures at 100-plus. Our nights have been in the mid to upper 70's which is pretty unusual for us. Our mantra is water, water, and more water. We are fortunate because we grow a lot of plants that are drought resistant. In fact, to survive the summer here, it has to be one tough plant. It is not that we don't have the water to water with, it is that with 15 acres to care for, it is impossible to get to it all in a timely fashion. Basically, I run out of steam about mid-summer. So landscape plants here usually have to survive with a good mulch and water once or twice a month. Like the standard nursery industry with their tried-and-true plants, I have come to depend on these plants that I have grown for almost two decades. These plants that, more than any other, can take the rigors of central California's summer heat have become my best friends. When I go to landscape a new spot, I anchor it with these and then add the "new kids" to the plot.
Plants have a symbiotic relationship providing soil stimulation, shade and "encouragement" for other plants. Hopefully, some of our new additions will prove to be reliable old friends also. After all, that is how we found Powis Castle Artemisia, Island Black Sage, Statice, Black Eyed Susan, Gaillardia, and many others. As a matter of fact, most of the plants on our list are there because they have proven themselves to be worthy over a long period of time.
Yesterday, as I weeded my most recently planted 2-year-old patch of Island Black Sage, underplanted with Caraway and Coconut Thyme, my sense of deja vu was both overwhelming and comforting. While I use Island Black Sage extensively, I had not planted my two favorite thymes together for a long time. When I first wrote about these two, almost 15 years ago, I had large patches of them and loved the way they bloomed at different times. Caraway Thyme blooms in mid spring and Coconut Thyme is just now in full bloom--in the middle of 100 plus temperatures. Now that is an old friend to be sure.
Starting September 1st, we will be offering dozens and dozens of plants at bargain prices. This is a great way to discover the next tried and true plant for your garden.