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!

26 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’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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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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