Everybody's a Critic

Lloyd’s last

Exotic Planting sums up Lloyd’s famous conversion to the world of show-off plants, plants that scream “Be dazzled by my bright orange and purple flowers!” “Be amazed by my monstrous leaves!” “Marvel at this magical jungle and try to create something like it yourself—if you dare!” As Anna Pavord notes in her essay, “In horticultural societies throughout the land, members debated whether this was the end of the word as they knew it.” Well, the shock and awe has subsided considerably since then, but Lloyd’s bold combos continue to influence many gardeners, including me.

You have to be adventurous to take on many of the plants described in this book, especially if you live anywhere north of zone 8. But now that I think of it, quite a number of my fellow Western New York gardeners add oomph to their gardens every summer with the plants Lloyd loved. There is a separate chapter on cannas and dahlias; they are paired because Lloyd believed that the bold and often colorful canna foliage could make up for the less-than-attractive dahlia foliage (and stems, as far as I’m concerned). Calling them “perfect team players,” he talks about a wide range of attractive varieties easily available to anyone with access to the Internet or a good nursery and gives some not-too-terribly-onerous overwintering advice.

I was familiar with Lloyd’s canna/dahlia obsession, but he also writes about exotic edibles like bananas, Meyer lemons, olives, and figs, and recommends pumpkins and gourds for a jungle look. Other tender but ultra-showy foliage plants he surveys include papyrus, palms, and a tender eupatorium I had never heard of, capillifolium.

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The point of the book is that exotic does not necessarily mean tropical, annual, perennial, flowers, or foliage. And as with all the other Lloyd books, you’ll find yourself feeling sympathetically exhausted for poor Fergus Garrett (head gardener and close friend) and his crew as they plant, lift, move, transplant, weed, and save bulbs and tubers. (Not that Lloyd doesn’t always give Fergus full credit for all of his efforts and innovations.)

Though many other gardening books afford me better practical advice or wiser tips on exactly which plants are best for my particular terroir, I doubt I’ll ever enjoy them as much as I enjoy the ambitious, insouciant, and gloriously extravagant directives of Christopher Lloyd. His last? Here’s hoping they find another manuscript tucked away.

Posted by on November 21, 2007 at 5:00 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
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7 responses to “Lloyd’s last”

  1. Kim says:

    You forgot to mention that Frank Ronan put it all together… I have to mention that, but only because I have a huge literary crush on him. His articles in the back of Gardens Illustrated are always much anticipated here at my house. lol.

    That was a great review, Elizabeth. I skimmed through the book (for an hour!) at my local bookstore but didn’t have my purse with me at the time. I won’t make that mistake again.

    And was it Anna Pavord or someone else who wrote the devil’s advocate piece about how most people still don’t “do tropical” as well as Christo did, with his gusto and spirit? That was a great piece.

  2. eliz says:

    Maybe it was Helen Dillon–she writes in her book of how the fad got kind of tiresome. All the same, I was directly inspired by Lloyd to plant at least three-four cultivars I now depend on, and they have become the stars of my garden.

    Sadly, my luck with dahlias is intermittent.

  3. naomi says:

    Exotic plants? That’s called home in New Orleans. Sounds like a good book for us NOLA gardeners, where the national centers stock the plants that work elsewhere. Planting season starts in September here, and there is a dearth of info. Help possible (aside from this book)?

  4. eliz says:

    Naomi, I have two words for you. Plant Delights. Link at left.

  5. germi says:

    Christopher Lloyd put a spell on me with his magical plantings, and I have yet to be awakened from it. Thank goodness, I can mixx his palette of exotics with the drought tolerants I love, living in Southern California as I do. Thank you for this fantastic review – I’m buying the bood today!
    And thanks for this wonderful blog!

  6. CJ says:

    Actually, there’s another- “Cuttings: A Year in the Garden With Christopher Lloyd'” came out in May. It’s a collection of his columns for The Guardian newspaper. I have it saved for my winter breakfast reading!

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