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December 15th, 2017

Gardening With Amanda: Things I Learned the Hard Way

By Amanda Legare

•Sharpie permanent markers are not permanent.

Those plastic tags may last, but the writing on them doesn’t if you are using “Sharpies”. In terms of duration I have had the best luck writing with number-two lead pencils. Sharpie has come out with oil-based paint markers which should be much more permanent. I haven’t tried them yet. For larger tags in the garden I have used cattle ID ear tag markers.

•Blue flowers are rarely blue. They are actually purple.

The color blue is rare in nature, and so of course we all want true blue flowers. Flowers with the word “blue” in their name are usually dark purple or shades of lilac. “Easy Wave Blue” petunia, “Blue Hawaii” ageratum, “Blue Clips” bellflower and “Prairie Blue Eyes” daylily are all shades of purple, not blue.

•Free Plants can be a problem

If someone brings you a grocery bag full of roots and says, “This perennial really grows really well”…plant with caution. Ajuga, tansy, and Kwanso daylily, come to mind.

•Perennials do not instantly fill a space.

There is a general rule of thumb for perennials: First year they sleep, second year they creep and third year they leap. A common mistake is planting perennials too close together. In a few years they may crowd each other.

•Knowing the scientific names for perennials is a good idea.

If you are looking for a specific plant, it’s a good idea to know its Latin or “scientific” name. Every plant and animal on earth has a common name and a scientific name. Common names vary from region to region and from person to person. On the other hand, scientific names don’t vary and are recognized worldwide.

I have been asked for the “naked lady singing in the shower” flower and for the “she loves me, she loves me not” plant. The latter is shasta daisy, I still don’t know about the first.

Pulmonaria “Mrs. Moon” is a shade perennial with pink flowers that change to blue as they age. In Vermont it is often called the “Mary and Joseph” plant. The leaves are usually speckled, and it is also called “lungwort” and “Jerusalem Sage.” One customer called it the “Spotted Dog” plant and in the UK it is generally called the “Soldiers and Sailors” plant.

The use of Latin plant names can be confusing to the home gardener and even intimidating. I’m sure I mispronounce half the Latin names, but writing them down (or bringing a photo!) before you visit a nursery might be a good idea.

•Do not believe everything you read on the printed tag in the plant pot.

I often remind customers that the commercial tag they are reading in Vermont is the same tag someone is reading in Florida. The growing conditions are extremely different. In the south, plants that grow in the shade often do fine in full sun in Vermont. The color of the blooms on the tags is also often misleading. So take the information on the printed plant tags with a grain of salt and consider it to be a general guideline, not fact.

In fact, plants grow differently even within a few miles of each other. One person may have difficulty growing a plant that someone else describes the same plant as “invasive.” In the spring when I shop in the Barre area, the lilacs are all blooming, while at home in Cabot, mine are in tight bud. In the fall I admire the blooming annuals in Montpelier. Mine have all bit the dust because of frost.

Gardening is a delightful and rewarding challenge.

Amanda Sessel Legare operates Amanda’s Greenhouses and Perennials in Cabot, where she has field-dug perennials and four greenhouses. www.amandasgreenhouse.com

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