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

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Entries in native perennials (1)


Beautiful Plants: Can There Ever Be Too Many?

Azalea gardens, from

When the renowned landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme died last December, one of his pet peeves was reported frequently in various tributes to his lifetime accomplishments. Oehme abhorred Azaleas. Not only did he find them ubiquitous, but he also found their green foliage boring after the shrub stopped blooming.

 I am not comfortable with his assessment.

Azalea closeup courtesy of

The first time I saw azaleas, I was overwhelmed with joy. I thought I had magically stepped into a Technicolor Walt Disney movie. It happened when I first visited Rockland County, New York at the height of the blooming season; I was euphoric. 

Once, azaleas were new to me. I had never seen them growing in my area - that is until recently, after they were bred to be winter-hardy. Some might say that if I had grown up in a temperate climate, where they grow abundantly, perhaps like Mr. Oehme, I too might tire of them.  

But I doubt that would ever happen. Those of us who are moved by colorful flowers will admire them where and when we can, no matter how short the time to enjoy them.

The family, including rhododendrons, is quite versatile. Its  many varieties have proven to be visually effective even when used as foundation plants. Flowering shrubs in this group create a win-win situation for the gardener. They provide lush clouds of vivid color in late spring, followed by a proscenium of green foliage that not only enhances later blooming perennials and also camouflages the homes’ foundations. I will never tire of using them.

Understandably, it is an aspect of human nature that ubiquitous plants will annoy some gardeners and turn a few of them into horticultural elitists. They observe the same plant used so often, and in so many locations, that they cannot  bear to look at it. The question remains: - why do the rest of us continue to plant them? Because they are reliable.

Wild eupatoreum,

Endless miles of native species of eupatorium, asclepias, and achillea that I observed as a child on summer holidays left me hating these native perennials. Later in life, I would deliberately avoid using them. Then, one day, I noticed new cultivars bred from these families, growing in a neighbor’s garden; I was impressed how attractive they appeared.

That inspired me to reconsider my attitude and I began to incorporate them into my work. When they were combined with other plants to create impressive combinations, they proved to be among the more dependable specimens in my flowerbeds. Now, they are the workhorses that help make my gardens beautiful.

Hemerocallis Stella d'Oro,

A similar case can be made for Hemerocallis Stella d’Oro, and Knock Out Roses. They are considered by some to be good-old-reliables; they grow anywhere, pump out endless color, and return season after season with little effort from the gardener.

Knock Out Rose,

That they have become ubiquitous should not make us cringe upon seeing them. They are effective wherever they are used. It is fortunate that, living in unpredictable and changing climates, we can count on them to awake and rebloom each season.

In deference to the late Mr. Oehme, I understand his reaction to the seas of azaleas he discovered when he first arrived in America from Europe. Perhaps it is because he took up residence in a temperate climate that he disliked them so. Wherever endless varieties of plants grow in abundance, one has the privilege of selecting and discarding them at will. After all, there are so many from which to choose that eliminating one or several from one’s repertoire is not a serious matter.

We northerners cannot behave so cavalierly in our gardens. We work with a restricted list of plants that withstand our cold climate and short growing season. Consequently, we are appreciative of all beautiful plants. No matter how often they occur in the gardens around us, we never tire of looking at them. We are just grateful.