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

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Entries in Big box garden centers (2)


Dianthus barbatus interspecific “Dynasty Orchid”

Ya’ gotta hand it to Home Depot, They sure know how to market perennials. Most, if not all, of their plants are sold in substantially sized pots which assure generous blooms during the first season. Usually, the plants are already flowering when they are displayed. This retailer stocks flowering perennials on tiered racks that hit the consumer right at, or just below, eye level. That's why, when shopping, no beautiful perennial can be missed. Although the bulk of my plant ordering comes from growers, in the last few years, I have also purchased too many client-appropriate plants from Home Depot simply because their stock was so floriferous. I don’t know what they do differently from the independent nurseries but their perennials are always more substantial looking. This mass market retailer has also introduced plants to my growing zone that other nurseries don’t have, can’t get, or prefer not to carry.

Last season, Home Depot pulled another first-in-town-to-have when they offered Dianthus barbatus interspecific “Dynasty Orchid”. This variety of mini-carnation is slightly scented and double – blooming, with well-branched, upright strong stems. Try Googling this plant on line and it cannot be found anywhere in plant form; only from seed houses. Perhaps, by ensuring exclusivity, Home Depot has the edge in marketing.

I was rather surprised to find this plant in the perennial section. I my younger days, the barbatus varieties , known then as Sweet Williams, were considered biennials. Yet, the information offered online clearly states that Dynasty Orchid is a perennial. That, I can only confirm if this plant reflowers in my test garden during the next few months. What a bonus, if Dynasty Orchid is truly a perennial. Biennials are too frustrating for impatient and passionate gardeners.

There are three distinguishing features that attracted me to this specific Dianthus: First, it is a double carnation. The second is its unusual color. The seed catalogue describes it as purple-red, but it is actually a blend of grape, pink, violet, red and purple, all blended together to create a rich and unique shade. Because the color is on the somber side, I refer to it as glowing somber; it is best appreciated at the front of the border where it can be admired up close. There, I surround it with lighter pink plants that highlight its regal color. Finally, the velvety or crepe-paper texture of the petals appears fabric-like and, for me. that sets the plant in a class of its own. While it is sold as an all - season perennial, Dynasty Orchid performs best in cooler weather.

The next two years will determine if this plant will become a keeper. Each year, many beautiful plants do not reappear in the garden either because nurseries prefer to ignore growing information when they buy for their climate or because of the deceit of the growers who misrepresent hardiness. In an age when the marketing of plants takes priority over accuracy or truthfulness, it becomes necessary to wait a year, and sometimes two, to determine if a beautiful plant will sustain.  


Big Box Garden Centers

This variegated plant is Lavender x intermedia "Goldberg". Because my clients expect me to plant top quality perennials, I avoid shopping at big box stores as the inventory of living matter there is often abused. Sometimes it’s the staff that neglects to water the plants or drowns them in too much water. Other times it’s the wild swings in spring temperatures that top-freezes the unprotected stock or broils it in the sun.

I am happiest dealing with growers and upscale nurseries that coddle their perennials up to the point of purchase. And yet, from time to time, because I am a hunter at heart, I will stroll through the garden centre of a big box store just to see if they are offering anything unusual. Generally, the assortment of perennials they offer tends to be safe and boring, containing a lot of plants that will grow in spite of neglect. And yet, it was at such a retailer that I first saw Salvia nemerosa Plumosa and Penstemon Mexicali Red Rocks, two of the most vividly colored plants in my perennial collection.

Yesterday, I found myself at one of these stores and discovered a Lavender plant with a variegated leaf, a Gaillardia with a peach colored flower and an Armeria, whose very tall red flower balls will bloom from May to September. None of these plants are destined for my clients. I must grow them first in my garden to determine if they will be suitable for strategically composed flower beds.