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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Change In The Garden

This is Asclepias tuberosa "Hello Yellow". It used to be an ugly weed that grew along rural highways, until the botanists tweaked its DNA to transform it into this striking perennial.The passionate gardener experiences a rush of adrenaline every time a new nursery catalogue arrives in the mail.

Once upon a time there was a clear distinction between a perennial and a weed. A perennial was a plant purchased from a nursery and planted in a garden, and a weed was a wild, invasive, noxious flower that grew alongside a road or in a meadow. That was over 50 years ago when the number of perennials, at least in my growing zone, was finite. Every now and then a new cultivar would be introduced, but that was a rare event.

About 20 years ago, nurseries specializing in perennials evolved from ‘cottage industry’ into 'big business'. It was accompanied by an insatiable demand for new strains of flowers that encouraged breeders and growers to expand the assortment of perennials available for retail sale. In their enthusiasm, they began to add true weeds to their lists of offerings, knowing that they were not being deceptive. Some weeds do perform as perennials, if not out-perform them in hardiness and self-propagation. It didn’t take too long for these weeds to become accepted as part of the basic assortment of perennials available to the gardener.

But an amusing thing happened along the way. In time, it became apparent that the growing habits of the wild perennials weeds were, umm, wild and could not be disciplined in the perennial border. Some of these flowers were not only messy but dull looking as well. Breeders were challenged to tame the vigorous growth of these once-weeds and to improve their colors. They also began to improve the appearance of many traditional perennials. New colors, plant heights, blooming periods and leaf textures all became welcome news to the passionate gardener.

If there is a new cultivar that has had the messiness bred out of the DNA of its mother plant, that's good news. My clients want neat gardens. If there are new colors that are richer and project better than older varieties, that, too, is good news. My clients want their gardens to look great from afar. Our never-ending enthusiasm to improve our gardens encourages breeders and growers to continuously create beautiful plants for us to enjoy. The arrival of a nursery catalogue, with new plants to tempt us, is a wonderful event.

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