I have notebooks filled with scribbled names of plants I’ve seen in gardens, on social media, or heard about from friends. My list of must-have plants runs to 68: a combination of annuals, vegetables, tender and hardy perennials, ferns, trees, shrubs, and one vine—so far. I’ve dug a deep hole. My winter dreams are as fantasy-filled as Santa’s workshop, but no one should garden if they can’t dream big.

I’m riffing, making up chords, composing new planting combinations in my head, but the truth is: I doubt I’ll receive a government stimulus check next year, and I don’t have room for the full list of plants.

I’ll make do.

Though summers are hot and humid, Kentucky is not the Deep South of live oaks and Spanish moss. We are a temperate Zone 6. Statistics record 46 inches of annual rainfall and nine inches of snow. Footnotes reveal acts of God—extended droughts, ice storms, tornadoes, and epic floods. Winters are gray, not bone-chilling cold, and even though there can be freakish zone-busting Arctic blasts, I have never seen Eisfischen über alles on a bumper sticker south of the Ohio River.

Gonna find out what’s naughty and nice

I rely on passionate garden barkers who cope with idiosyncrasies in their own jurisdictions.

I am a sucker for their pitches.  

I won’t be left off the Garden Rant love train for zinnias. They make good cut flowers. Carol Reese raved about the “Zahara Sunset Series.” My friend Annie LeGris likes Patty Pan squash. Brie Arthur mentioned Treasure Island sweet potato. Holly Shimizu wrote about the hardy (I hope…) ginger, Zingiber miosa ‘Dancing Crane’… “We harvest the edible flowers in fall and pickle them in vinegar.” I was introduced, at Sustainable Berea, to a delicious fruit I’d never heard of—Mandarin melonberry, Cudrania tricuspidata, an Osage orange relative. Paul Cappiello pointed out the full-flowering, shade-loving Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ on a windswept October evening at Yew Dell.

Ligularia ‘Last Dance’. Paul Cappiello photo.

Hans Hansen modestly tooted his horn for Knipfofia ‘Jokers Wild’—his exceptional breeding achievement for Walters Gardens. Jamie Burghardt pointed out a mounding Kentucky native, the round-fruited St. John’s wort, Hypericum sphaerocarpum, on a rocky slope at Louisville’s Waterfront Botanical Gardens. Panayoti Kelaidis, from the Denver Botanic Gardens, grabbed me in a single sentence with the Plant Select, native Lonicera reticulata ‘Kintzley’s Ghost.’ “Vigorous vine clothed with long lasting circular bracts the size and color of silver dollars subtending tubular yellow flowers.”

The list goes on…

Anyone heard of tasty Mandarin melonberry?

Scott Skogerbee of Fort Collins Nursery rediscovered this heirloom honeysuckle vine. Panayoti Kelaidis photo.

The tempting, new red-hot poker Kniphofia ‘Jokers Wild’. Hans Hansen photo.

So be good for goodness sake!

The majority will be on a month-to-month lease— these are the naughty ones that will give you fits but may grow up one day. Or not. Anticipate the stricken—bug-eaten, diseased, and forlorn—that fade faster than a falling star. Precious will be the surprising few that need little urging to astonish.

Go ahead and make a list.

Everything will be OK.

If a reasonable number of “which ones?” from your list grow and astonish, and you’re happy—and you should be happy—don’t be shy about showing off a little.

Be grateful and generous.