A reality check: 14 symptoms of a plant collector

“We should all be able to say no to that offer of a hundredth hosta or cranesbill and concentrate, not on hoarding plants, but on making our gardens beautiful.”

— Tony Lord, author of Best Borders, 1995

If Tony Lord’s remark makes you a little bit mad, then you may have a tendency toward plant collecting.

Or, like me, you may be in full-blown pursuit of plant collecting and feel indignant that someone should use such a distasteful word as “hoarding” to describe a passion for plants.

Besides, who could possibly have too many hostas or geraniums?

If you’re not sure whether you are a plant collector, here is a list of 14 symptoms (check all that apply):

1. Your garden can best be described as eclectic (or chaotic, depending on who is describing it).

2. You care more about individual plants than the garden as a whole (see 1).

3. You tell fascinating stories about the plants in your garden, and ignore the glazed look in visitors’ eyes.

4. Your decision to add a plant to your garden is based on whether the plant is interesting, not if it will actually grow well in your garden.

5. You optimistically assume a plant’s will to survive will overcome such trivial matters as the right soil and the right amount of sunlight and water (see 4).

6. You wholeheartedly subscribe to the notion that when it comes to gardening there are no mistakes, only lessons learned (see 4 and 5). After all, what is gardening if not an ongoing experiment with plants?

7. You have several plants still in containers that haven’t made it into the ground yet.

8. You like to spend time studying plants, and leave tedious tasks like deadheading and weeding to nature.

9. You have a library of books with names like “Sassy Succulents” and “Squash for All Seasons” (see 8).

10. You enjoy taking artsy, close-up pictures of the plants in your garden and sending them to relatives as Christmas cards.

11. You take lots of notes about the plants in your garden, even if you can never find the notes later.

12. Your radar for plant sales spans a tri-county area.

13. Your friends offer you ailing plants so they don’t have to throw them away; you always accept.

14. You accept your friends’ plants because, really, who could possibly have too many hostas or geraniums? (See 1 through 13).

According to Roger Turner, author of “Design in the Plant Collector’s Garden: From Chaos to Beauty” (2005), there are several remedies for the confirmed plant collector’s garden. One piece of advice is for gardeners to display a modicum of restraint by limiting the collection of plants to a particular color scheme, such as white and different shades of purple or pink.

A plant collector’s garden can also look more harmonious by creating separate areas or “rooms” in the landscape where similar styles of plants are organized. Sprinkling a few of the same plant in different parts of the garden will also help to unify the overall visual effect.

Many plant collection gardens lack a focal point, which can be addressed by adding larger green shrubbery as a backdrop and interspersing similar shrubs within the garden. Rocks, water features, plant containers and yard art can also serve as focal points, but beware. Plant collectors also tend to be yard art collectors, and a whimsical appearance can quickly degenerate into the look of a yard sale.

On the other hand, one person’s garden havoc is another person’s heaven. No matter what Tony Lord says, a healthy garden, enjoyed by its gardener, is a beautiful garden even if it is eclectic (OK, chaotic).

— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at rnowak30@gmail.com. For picture of her eclectic garden, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.

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