What in the world has happened to garden center plants, people? Sunflowers and Asters in bloom at only 4” tall? Nicotianas with no scent and Dianthus that die a month or less after planting? Yes dear gardeners, this nasty trend which started more than 10 years ago is accelerating quicker than you can squash a bug. Last February, in front of my neighborhood supermarket, I felt super horrified as I noticed the African Marigolds on display by the front door. They were in full bloom (in 6 packs!) at no more than 5” tall. Gadzooks!
African Marigolds are supposed to be huge. To 3 or more feet tall and 3 feet across. If you’re a young gardener, you may not even remember them being so grand and fabulous with their bushy multi-branching form and loads of 4”-across, extra double, dense blooms fantastic for cutting. Here at the nursery we call them “Day of the Dead Marigolds” as they are still grown in Mexico and South America to create altars and stunning displays for the holiday.
So you can imagine my chagrin to see what the nursery industry has done to them, all in the name of being able to serve the customer what they say we want – 6 packs and 4″ pots in full bloom. And for heaven’s sake it was February ! Umm … freezing! Obviously, they were greenhouse grown, so now you can watch them die in your yard from the cold which they are so not fond of.
I know that “each to his own” and I’m glad when anybody gets outside and digs their hands in the earth, but don’t you think it’s sad that taller varieties, with all their grace, lovely form and charm are being pushed out (and forgotten), only to be replaced with squat, charmless blobs of color? What can you do with them? Line them up like orange and yellow tennis balls just like at the gas station? Nice.
More and more plants are being sold all dwarfed and squatty. Many of our seed sources are dropping the taller varieties across the board and it has become harder and harder to find original proper sized species.
Here’s another calamity :
Okay, you gotta give the person who designed this carpet bedding some points here for being creative with what they had to work with. But wouldn’t you prefer your Ageratums to look like this?
To 3’ tall and 30” across, Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ has big, fluffy, butterfly enticing, sweetly scented flower clusters – great for cutting. That’s a 15 gallon pot you see here and those blooms lasted for months. When dead headed they go on blooming all summer! That’s another big problem with those boinky dwarf plants. The bloom time is very short, especially when they’ve been blooming at the growers and then at the garden center before someone comes along to buy them.
Okay, one last depressing example. Dianthus. Dianthus is one of my all time favorite, awesome and reliable perennial standbys. They’re in full bloom in my back yard and at the nursery right now and they are really, really showy. They totally make my gardens pop with their profuse bloom and romantic colors and fragrance.
Truthfully I don’t think you can even find them at many nurseries or garden centers any more. Because they’ve been replaced with this:
These are Dianthus sinensis. Squat, die-pretty-darn-fast, scentless and disappointing annuals (which are often sold as perennials!). They grow to 6” tall at best. You’ll never see them bloom like the one plant of Dianthus plumarius ‘Pinkerton.” Nowadays, I’m afraid a lot of folks think I’m delusional when I tell them how much I love my Dianthus. Our beloved “Pinks,” (Dianthus plumarius and D. gratianopolitanus) are one of the oldest of all cultivated perennial plants and they are in danger of becoming so obscure and hard to find that they may soon be banished to garden memory oblivion. It makes me sad that up and coming young gardeners may never discover how great they are.
Lastly, a great garden includes plants of varying heights, forms and textures, of course. But with these “box store” offerings, everything ends up being the same size! Well, that’s not very fun. And I don’t think it’s as aesthetically pleasing – or rewarding enough – to really draw folks into the wonders of gardening.