Monday, April 20, 2009

Old Hat or All That?

On this plant list in particular and also throughout the semester there have been a few plants labeled something like, "Plants You May Find In Your Grandma's Yard" or as Michael Dirr may say "The Over The Hill Gang". These are the plants that used to be really popular but were eventually replaced with newer, more trendy plants. As a landscape designer, horticulturalist, or someone in production, hearing this information in class may have deterred you from ever using these "stale" old plants in any area. After all, this seems to be a strategy many professionals seem to be taking since really, these plants don't appear in modern landscapes hardly at all.

As someone kind of partial to these old favorites, here's a few exciting varieties worth taking a second look at:

Syringa vulgaris or Common Lilac: The straight species of this in renouned for its intensely fragrant flowers, and great lilac spring color. But, it is also scraggly, prone to mildews and diseases, and confusing when it comes to pruning. Cultivars such as 'Little Boy Blue' (blue) and 'Prarie Petite' (pink) have a more compact habit which makes it more versatile in the landscape. 'Prince Wokonsky' has double flowers, and 'Elsa Maasik' (deep purple) is more disease resistant than the straight species. 'Albert F. Holden' is bicolor.

Chaenomeles speciosa or Common Floweringquince: This may be dismissed as too scraggly or wild, but the flower show is what really makes planting a Floweringquince worth it. Going from there, lots of different flowering varieties have been released covering the gamete between white and dark red. 'Jet Trail' (white), 'Minerva' (red), and 'Texas Scarlet' (red) are a few of the more compact varieties if the Floweringquince's legginess is too much for you. 'Scarff's Red' is a thornless variety available, although the thorns may come in handy for a barrier or hedge.

Spirea prunifolia or Bridalwreath Spirea: ... Ok that one may not have any hot new varities, but take a look at it at this time of year. Its one of the greatest for full white spring flowering, and attracts tons of wildlife including honeybees and ladybugs (both of which are necessities for any healthy garden). And the rest of the year, it makes a nice green mounded background for your summer and fall flowering colors.


Dirr, Michael A. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. 215-216, 962-963, 986-991
Common Lilac picture 'Albert F. Holden' from
Floweringquince picture 'Texas Scarlet' from
Bridalwreath Spirea picture from

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tulip Mania!

Since the dawn of civilization, man has come up with currencies with which he would buy, trade, and sell things. In early Egypt, grain was a great commodity; in the Americas and some African countries, beads were used. As Americans, we are more familiar with copper, nickel, silver, or paper which represents the value in gold of what we are buying. In 16th and 17th century Holland, the insatiable desire for tulips (of all things) drove the country's economy until 1637 when the economy basically collapsed. How did the Dutch even get to that point?

Introduced to the Netherlands by a botanist at the University of Leiden, it was discovered that the very bulbs that performed so-so in other European countries happened to thrive in Holland. Struck by the beauty of the flower - the ones discolored by a mosaic virus were particularly sought after -- the royalty and the wealthy of the area would pay outrageous sums to possess the bulbs. Later on in the Tulip Craze, they would even pay for the promise of a tulip, which could take more than ten years from sowing the seed to the actual flowering. Because these seeds were hybrids and not propagated from bulblets, these people had no idea what the flower would even look like. All this in the hopes that when their tulip flowered, it may be the next hot variety -- possibly the desired black tulip (like our 'Queen of Night' today).

As could be expected, the Tulip Mania brought out some real maniacs. In his book The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan tells a story of a poor man who finds a black tulip growing in his yard. He sold it to some wealthy businessmen for an outrageous sum of money. When they came to collect it, they threw the bulb to the ground and crushed it. When the man in horror asked what they were doing, they told him that they had developed a black tulip of their own and they didn't want his to compete with theirs on the market. Thats all pretty nuts for a bulb that only flowers for about two weeks max once a year, and only produces a single flower!

Although tulipomania and other factors brought the Dutch to economic ruin, the Netherlands remain the world's greatest tulip producing country. So when installing a mass of tulips in a large-scale project, or a nice clump in your home yard, be careful -- this bulb has a dark past.

Works Cited:

Tulip Mania:
The Black Tulip story: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
'Queen of Night' picture:
Cracked tulip picture: