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Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 8 March 2002

A gardener gets a green thumb at the price of many failures. You have to learn from the results, mourn your losses, and move on.

Culver's Root grows tall, slender stalks with 6 to 9-inch flower spikes in August. I planted one with pale pink flowers on the back border of my Patchwork Garden, where the soaker hose would give it extra moisture. It had been established for years, without living up to its pictures, when I saw one in the lakeside garden of a friend. Her plant was so much more robust, with so much more bloom, I wanted to dig mine up and give it to her, so it could finally be happy too.

In a shady area I planted two herbs that want sun, but I figured they were tough enough to make it there anyway: Tansy and Costmary. Close relatives, they both have flowers like clusters of cute yellow buttons,* and leaves with aromatic scent. Well, they took well — but they grow leggy in the shade, flop all over, and spread aggressively. I'd like to plant something else there now — but when I try to get rid of them, they keep regrowing from even the tiniest piece of root.

Hollyhocks: I love how their tall flowering stalks punctuate the border. For many years I've had a few in the back — where it's too shady there for them, too. They grow spindly, and have to be staked. I'm hoping to find room for some in my new sunny beds.

There's only so much room in that area, but another I'm hoping to put there is Butterfly Bush, Buddleia, with its lilac-like summer flowers in white or colors from pale mauve to deep wine, blue-violet to deep midnight purple. I kept trying to grow them (again, my main challenge) in not enough sun: pathetic. I'm determined to get one flourishing.

Two years ago I grew about fifty oak-leaf hydrangeas from seed I got from the New England Wildflower Society. I gave away all but six, and planted them in various places around my yard. Though it's a tough plant, most of them didn't survive: they tolerate drought when mature, but not when just getting established. I'm thankful that one is still with me, its leaves a deep crimson red color in fall.

Failure is not a skeleton in the gardener's closet; it's a risk she lives with, every growing season. Every plant is an experiment.

Next Date

*Correction (?!) After I published this article in the paper, I went looking for pictures on the Web to link here. I found to my consternation that all the sites about Costmary agreed that it has small daisy-like flowers (as you can see on the page I did link to, above). Why did my own database say they look like Tansy flowers? Did I copy the text mistakenly? Another possibility is that since they grow tangled together in my garden, I looked at the Costmary leaves and saw Tansy flowers among them. Of course it's also possible I have an unusual variety of Costmary. I'll have to go check, when it's blooming.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark