Barry Fugatt: Sometimes plants do the unexpected
BY BARRY FUGATT Garden World
Saturday, May 19, 2012
5/19/12 at 5:24 AM
Several years ago I stood with a botanist on a cold, windy slope of Colorado's Mount Evans. We were well above the timber line, breath was hard to come by, and the landscape was bleak and lifeless. Or so I thought.
The botanist, skilled in Alpine vegetation, knew better. He pointed to the base of a large boulder. And there, sheltered from the harsh wind, a tenacious little plant covered with tiny crimson flowers stood its ground.
It seemed completely out-of-place in such a desolate setting. But there it was, healthy and flourishing. Its beauty in the face of such a challenging environment was more inspirational than a flowery sermon.
"What do you think?" asked the botanist. An old saying quickly came to mind: "bloom where you're planted." The little Alpine was certainly making the most of its opportunity.
Plant performance is fairly predictable. They bloom (flourish) where they're planted only when their genetic capabilities match the environment in which we or nature place them. The little Alpine on Mount Evans would have little chance of surviving an Oklahoma summer.
Virtually every day, gardeners quiz me about poorly performing plants in their gardens. Often, the cause of plant failure has more to do with their selection and placement than with mysterious fungi and ravenous bugs. Like real estate, gardening success really is about location, location, location. The right plant in the right location can generally fend off disease, insects and environmental challenges.
Planting a Rhododendron, for instance, in full Oklahoma sunshine will often result in that plant being tossed onto a compost pile. Its genetics have prepared it to thrive in part shade or dappled sunlight. Likewise, planting sun-worshipping Bermuda grass beneath large trees in dense shade will generally result in a bare lawn.
Carefully read plant labels. That's good advice for novice and experienced gardeners. Labels may not be inspiring literature, but they are generally accurate. But not always. And the rebel in me loves that.
Two years ago, a West Coast nursery sent plants for us to test at the Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park. One of the plants was a real cutie, a ground-hugging specimen called Gold Dust (Mecardonia). It was covered with bright yellow flowers. The label stated that it was an annual and had no chance of surviving an Oklahoma winter.
Apparently no one informed little Gold Dust that it was an annual or that it wasn't up to our winters. It sailed through the record-breaking winter of 2010 with ease. And the little rascal is still blooming. It also has proven to have excellent heat tolerance. It bloomed throughout last summer's record heat.
Come see it at the Linnaeus Garden. I'm happy to report that Gold Dust is increasingly available in the retail nursery trade.
I like surprises. But I wouldn't make a habit of betting against plant label accuracy.
Original Print Headline: Sometimes plants surprise
Barry Fugatt is the director of horticulture for the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden. He can be reached at 918-746-5125 email@example.com.
Gold Dust, with its bright yellow blossoms, is a survivor. It wasn't supposed to survive an Oklahoma winter, but here it is. BARRY FUGATT/for the Tulsa World