GBQ&A: what do you think?

Rainbow leucanthoe

As you may know, we stop by Means often. Occasionally, there is an irresistible bargain on offer. Richard came home with several rainbow leucanthoe with the idea that they would make good hedging material. After all, they were only about $3 each, and had nicely variegated foliage that is evergreen. Then I saw the above specimen in an open garden visit and my perspective changed.


As a specimen plant, its arching branches give it an elegant, vase-like shape, frosted with flowers that resemble those of Pieris. This raised a question in my mind. I hope you can help. Does the “specialness” of a plant depend on its use? Can a plant that is common as dirt rise in status when it is well placed and spotlighted? I’m beginning to think I should dig up one of the hedge plants and move it to a place of honor, where it can flourish like the one shown at the top of this post. Do you have any ordinary plants that you have cast in starring roles? I would love to hear your thoughts and examples. I’m trying to do a Q&A post at the beginning of each month. Won’t you join me? Just write a post posing a question you would like your blogging friends (and mine) to ponder (if you link to this post, you will tap in to my blog buds, who are rife with info and opinions), then leave a comment here with a link to that post. C’mon…it’ll be fun!

30 thoughts on “GBQ&A: what do you think?

  1. I have a varigated Elaeagnus that I know is used as hedging , so must be pretty common. I love it , and I feel that I have elevated it , at least for me . It may be next to our heat pump, but it’s a stand out all year long.
    I also have some sort of weed growing in my tropical patch. It comes back every year . It gets generous amounts of water as it’s near the hose . And becomes quite the star…for a short time !

  2. I can’t think of a question but I can offer my two bits on your dilemma. I think a common plant placed in the right spot can make a fantastic feature focal point. And I think that discovering these little fortuitous nuggets are at the heart of good design. There is only so much “book knowledge” a gardener can accumulate. Getting out there and moving plants around until things look the way you want–this is where the real fun of gardening lies. And I’ve found that re-purposing a plant I already have feels maybe even more pleasant than buying a new plant. … Someday I’m going to drive to Portland and visit Means Nursery. I love a good bargain.

    • I hope you make good on that visit to Means. I’ll sweeten the pot with a piece of pie and a cool drink on our deck, ‘cuz you’ll be nearly to Delusional Drive when you get to Means…and a hop and a skip from Joy Creek and Cistus. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’ve certainly earned the right to opine on all things garden.

  3. I’m of the opinion that it’s your garden therefore you can do what ever you like 🙂
    I do like the Leucothoe in the top picture and the fact that in bloom nothing is distracting the eye, it looks even better. I am presently trying to train a Leucothoe as fence cover and it’s lending itself beautifully to being tied in and arching out in just the right places providing I give it a little snip here and there.
    Go for it ricki – you know you want too 🙂

  4. I’ve enjoyed planting my commonorgarden succulents as a formal garden. That way I can revel in the foliage colour and textures. And the flowers are an exuberant bonus.

  5. The leucanthoe looks great on its own.

    There are quite a few plants in my front landscaping that are typically considered ordinary in my area. Visitors are surprised that these commonly used plants are stars when massed or highlighted and allowed to grow naturally. Our choice of common plants was intentional for less maintenance over time.

    • I guess one reason plants become “common” is that they are so easily grown. All the more reason to employ them. Your garden is a perfect example, as no one would make the mistake of calling it common.

  6. I have to agree with what both Grace and Tammy said. I think plants only become “common” when they aren’t put in a position to shine. I know I gripe a lot about how various plants are not very exciting, but – although fuzzily expressed – what I’m really saying is that they often tend to be used in uninspiring ways. I can only imagine how chaotic things would get if everything was forced to be a star… (This goes for people as well as plants, come to think of it…) Lately, I’ve been giving myself the challenge to change my “meh – response” to a particular thing by forcing myself to juxtapose it in a way to make it the star – or at least a strong supporting role. Not everything (or everyone) is star material, but on the other hand, no star is a self made thing. No exceptionality (is that even a word?) happens in a vacuum. For example – I love the foliage of Amsonia hubrichtii enough to want a lot of it, but the wimpy flower color always bothered me. So, I challenged myself to coming up with plant partners that would make it sing – or at least look purposeful. I came up with Stachys ‘Bello grigio’ and Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’. I have yet to enact this combo, which I’m sure will be beautiful. (I just bought a pot for my experiment yesterday.) Anyway, the Eryngium part brings me to my question – do they take well to moving? I moved an E. giganteum a couple of weeks ago, thinking I did it a favor, and it instantly died. I’d hate for the Sapphire Blues to do the same thing… Any advice on this?

    • Interesting challenge you have set for yourself. I hope you will post about the results. I’ve been tweaking parts of the garden in that way, hoping to create little vignettes that will shine for a time, when everything comes together at once. I hope someone who reads this will be able to answer your Eryngium question. I have had spotty luck with them even in the seemingly best of situations, although E. agavifolia seems to be taking hold (fingers crossed). Thanks so much for your long and thoughtful comment.

      • First off, I love Anna’s challenge and I’ve been looking at numerous plants with new eyes this year. In regards to transplanting eryngiums, the taprooted ones like E. giganteum, ‘Sapphire Skies’, variifolium, etc. don’t transplant easily except for small seedlings. The ones like E. agavifolium have more fibrous root systems that should transplant more easily.

        • Thanks Evan! It was the Sapphire Skies I had in mind. I rescued three last year – they were pretty much dead, but still apparently had some life left in the roots (and to my great joy). By now, they are by no means large – one is about a foot tall, and the other two even smaller. If it wasn’t so darn hot, I’d take a chance and dig one up, but I think I’ll have to hold off until we’re at least back in the 80’s. (Even though I’m itching to try my combo out.) But I’m still thinking I shouldn’t – about a month ago, I dug up a small Miss Willmott’s Ghost, and it…. gave up the ghost. (sorry!) I wish I would have researched them before plunking them into the ground – this kind of indecision can get expensive!

          • I have never been able to coax Miss Willmott into my garden (seeds, plants, passalongs). What the?…I thought her reputation was built upon fasting seeds that infiltrated ever garden in sight.

  7. Like so many other things, how we see a plant shapes our reaction to it more than the objective qualities of the plant itself. A plant is common as dirt in a certain setting, move it to someplace new and it is unique and fascinating. Grow it differently and in a different sort of place and you may see it differently – but then again it may just look odd to you. It’s all subjective, of course, but sometimes the person who starts using a plant differently will make lots of people see it in a different way over time. Rambling, so I’ll stop now.

  8. Like Angie, I hold to the “whatever you like” philosophy. I think a lot of “common” plants have received a bad name because, despite being sturdy and reliable (or maybe because of that), they are frequently seen growing in the wrong place or in situations that are too abusive even for them. Parking lot plants and foundation plantings come to mind. In the former situation, plants are rarely given even the initial care necessary for them to get established, much less chosen appropriately for the location and given the proper long-term care, however minimal that may be. In the latter, plants are frequently chosen that will get too big and then have to be cruelly pruned and end up looking like deformed blobs. Seeing a plant widely used yet poorly grown can leave lasting negative impressions. Personally, I love leucothoe and want more ‘Rainbow’. I also have a major crush on Leucothoe keiskei. Sean Hogan has a large-flowered form that I fell in love with instantly.

  9. Yes, I found myself nodding to the comments of the others. Most of the time I don’t read others’ comments on a post, but I was curious this time. Great idea for a meme! I’m crazy behind this month, but hopefully I can join in in the months ahead. Regarding a “common” plant that I try to highlight … hmmm … I guess it would be the Asclepias tuberosa, or Butterfly Weed. Why is such a lovely, bright orange bloomer that attracts butterflies and helps the Monarchs and provides nectar for pollinators called a “weed”? I’d grow more of it, but I don’t have enough sun. Love the draping motion of the Leucanthoe!

    • I just ordered some of the orange milkweed. What I have is a pale, dusty pink. I thought at first that it was dirty looking, but upon closer inspection, it has some lovely markings. It also increases rapidly and brings in the butterflies. I hope you will join in soon. No one has yet done a post of their own to link here the way most memes work, but I do get interesting, helpful comments.

  10. I always think that something ‘common’ that is growing really well in the situation it enjoys is more interesting than something ‘special’ that isn’t happy – not quite the answer to your question but sort of related.

  11. I love the idea of your GBQ&A and will give some thought to a topic for next month. As to your current question, I think gardeners get hung up on what’s new in the plant world just like fashionistas do with clothes. I’m guilty of that myself but, after inheriting a garden full of old classics (like Agapanthus and Hemerocallis) 4 years ago, I’m trying to focus greater attention on what works, especially as I struggle just to keep things alive in the face of temperature spikes and water restrictions. “Common” plants that have found a home in my “new” garden include Gazanias and Osteospermum. Common plants that I’ve tossed out on their pretty blossoms include Impatiens and Begonias – although I love both, they could only survive on life support here.

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