Garden Rant turns 10, It's the Plants, Darling

#TBT: Plant Lust

Here’s a May, 2007 post from Garden Rant co-founder Amy Stewart, in which she speaks of a situation that has only grown in significance since when this was posted.

dscn2814_2Gardeners Like Us are naturally suspicious of “branded” plants, particularly when that brand has a hokey name like Proven Winners.  There’s something condescending in the name Proven Winner; it assumes an uneducated gardener with unrealistic expectations and a need for constant reassurance.  It assumes that a plant can be guaranteed to thrive, regardless of the weather, the soil, the water, the bugs, or the gardener’s own miscalculations.  It sends this message to the gardener:  You just haven’t been buying the right brand of plants. Buy our brand and your garden will be a winner, too.

Maybe there’s just something a little too pedestrian about it, too mainstream. Kind of like Harold Bloom’s response to these citywide reading programs where everybody reads the same book at the same time:  he said it was “rather like the idea that we are all going to pop out and eat Chicken McNuggets or something else horrid at once.”  Joseph Epstein at the WSJ said something similar:  “A book has only to come with the municipal seal of approval for me to lose interest in it.”  Honest-to-god book lovers want the read the book that nobody is reading–the difficult, obscure, undiscovered book, or the old classic that other people only claim to have read.  It took me forever to get around to reading The Kite Runner or The Time Traveler’s Wife, because I just couldn’t stomach the idea of reading the same book that ten million other people were reading that week.  (By the way, they were both amazing.  Of course.)

Maybe that’s the problem with Proven Winners.  A big, well-marketed brand implies that everyone is doing it.  I don’t want the plant that everyone else has.  Or more to the point, I don’t want to want the plant that everyone else has.  I want that obscure, undiscovered rarity.  I want a handwritten label that says, “Warning:  Very Difficult to Grow.  Many Have Tried, Most Have Failed. You Undoubtedly Will, Too.”

So imagine my disgust when I saw that this euphorbia had a Proven Winners tag attached to it.  Folks, meet Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Helena’s Blush.‘  This plant is a work of art.  Its leaves are pink and green and burgundy and silver all at once; its flowers are chartreuse with just a drop of vermillion.  Being a euphorbia, it puts up with drought, spreads like mad (I hope), and blooms all season with no need for deadheading.  My only regret is that it grows to only about a foot and a half tall; I’d like to live in a forest of these.

And goddamnit, it’s available right now everywhere plants are sold.

Posted by on April 14, 2016 at 6:46 am, in the category Garden Rant turns 10, It's the Plants, Darling.
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8 responses to “#TBT: Plant Lust”

  1. I truly Love the Plant. From where I come from, My problem, As Amy’s, Is that I don’t simply want to have something that everyone has. I want to be unique. i want My garden to have those rear types.

  2. Tomi says:

    Now this is what I call a rant. I miss the days when Amy Stewart would post these. She really could make a point.

  3. David Mcmullin says:

    So of course PW is a marketing scheme and they take a stab at dumbing down the gardening public by offering these plants to the entirety of North America with the assertion that they will “win” in Albuquerque as well as Savannah… As a grower of plants to sell I am dismayed that these plants are often only available through this program and you are required to pay the fees for royalties and copious amounts of packaging and marketing materials – making the already small profit from plant sales even smaller and filling up land fills with more garbage.
    By the way – euphorbia stock has been plagued in recent years by “up and die” syndrome that seems to be related to some sort of fungal contamination in tissue cultured crops… Euphorbias are quickly disappearing from liner producers’ lists. I’m growing from seed and division of healthy plants. I love them and hate to see our carelessness eliminate euphorbias from gardens.

  4. anne says:

    I get where Amy was going with this. If you have an active brain, you avoid the marketing bullshivvy in favor of exploring the lesser known. “Proven Winner” sounds like a designation for those who don’t want to think for themselves, follow trends and color within the lines. But I love how she admits that in the end, she loves this proven winner, the book everyone is reading. After all, a plant is a plant, and our experiences are our own. In the end, who cares what everyone else thinks (thank you, Richard Feynman)? If you follow your curiosity, the marketing fluff disappears.

  5. Eliz says:

    My only problem with PW is the price.

  6. Lori says:

    I love that plant.

    I feel the same way about repurposing stuff. I love to repurpose old pieces and they used to be easy to find, but now that it’s trendy it bothers me and every barn sale is crowded with the Pinterest people LOL!

  7. Beth Urie says:

    Yes, beautiful plant and ‘Helena’s Bush’ reminds me of Carol Mackee daphne. It sounds an excellent option in shade under trees.

    You probably already know about euphorbias’ talent for spitting viable seeds and, as I found in Wikipedia for euphorbia amygdaloides: “It is among the few plants that thrive in the dry shade of trees, where it is used as groundcover. It spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes and can become invasive, though relatively easy to remove.[1]”

    This serves me well with Donkey Tail Spurge in spots. Otherwise, I deadhead
    flowers before I start hearing the seed pods popping on a sunny June/July day.
    But as a gardener, you’ll probably enjoy the task of cleaning Helena before seed pods pop.

    My euphorbia myrsinites doesn’t have the added caution of underground rhizones – think goutweed. But myrinites prefers sun.

    Neither are native, nor is Carol Mackee. My point is that these plants, including those purchased with the Proven Winners label, are ingredients that we use, hopefully having considered all the options. With PW, I find options of same/similar characteristics, but with a guarantee of freedom from systemmic or persistant chemical treatments, preferably organic plants grown close to home.

    Your blog is a great source of information and discussion, and an opportunity for learning between each other. Thanks much … great reads!