“When will the tulips be at peak bloom?” We sure hear that question at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. A lot! Best guess up until a month out, mid-April. But every year is different. Weather. In Cincinnati.
But today is April 12th, and, this year, 2023, they came in right on time. The weather was perfect and the crowds were out. Pure saturated color stimulation. The animals got looked at much less than usual but they’re down with it. They’re dazzled by all the color too.*
You gotta love crowd pleasers! And 100,000 tulips never disappoint. But neither does the scent of hundreds of judd, Mohawk, Burkwood, and Koreanspice viburnums, and, wow, they were pumping out the perfume this morning. Not to be ignored, Exochorda, crabapples and redbuds were rocking their flashy spring fashion.
For subtler beauty, some early perennials and ephemerals were strutting their stuff. For quieter still, oaks, katsura, oakleaf hydrangeas, Japanese maples and others were unfurling new leaves. Elsewhere, there was the promise of more yet to come–big fat buds on technically still dormant trees and the crowns of summer perennials poking through.
I love all this stuff. All the above. It was a good day to go out and get photos. It was a good day in general.
Midway through I had an epiphany of sorts. Having just gotten back from the CAST tour in California, a tour of breeders and growers which focuses primarily on new annuals, I’ve been trying to wrangle in my head how these very different types of plants, along with their associated followers, how they all fit together as horticulture moves forward into a weirder and wilder future.
Because a lot of people see all that color in black and white. Whatever their view of plants, from annuals to shade trees, exotics to natives, they see them opposed against each other. It’s a battle of winners and losers. I’ve never seen it this way. To me, that feels like just another way overworked and underwater human beings cope with complexity. “Ah, well, just screw it,” and then settle on overly simple, easy answers. Lock on, grip tight, shut mind, open mouth.
That said, I could never articulate why that kind of thinking never worked for me in regards to horticulture because I could never map it on some org chart in my mind. Turns out, I was seeing it all as static. Frozen in time. Bullet points on paper. Signed, sealed, delivered. But today it dawned on me. That isn’t how it works. Nothing is static. Everything is in motion. Moving forward. All of it all at once, and whether it is our thing or someone else’s, it’s humming along with the rest, running in parallel.
Highly bred tulips don’t do much for pollinators. Conceded. But their sheer unadulterated beauty lifts people like little else after a long winter. And there is a lot of value in that! Swear! And where are they planted? In a few big beds, generally in public spaces, to be followed by annuals.
And annuals? Well, first, the very showy ones, which, admittedly, are also not particularly useful to pollinators, generally speaking.** But most of them go into hanging baskets and patio containers where they bring a daily dose of beauty and joy to people who wouldn’t otherwise experience it. Plants where no plants would otherwise be. That’s a score. Right?
In other words, virtually none of these plants are going where a goldenrod might have been planted. ***
Are mistakes made? Sure. Can we do better? Yes. But more plants everywhere is the only easy answer here. Which ones where is more nuanced and there will always be room for tweaking and constructive debate. But the fact is we need more gardeners first, better gardeners second, and argument discourages the former from becoming the latter.
So let’s hop this train. It’s moving fast, we need all the constructive time we can get, and, believe me, it’s a better way to live.
*All photos taken today at the CZBG.
**Some annuals are excellent for pollinators and can be grown in small gardens or containers as a sure way to provide pollen and nectar throughout the growing season.
***Several goldenrods make excellent garden plants and should be used much more than they are.
Yep. Well said. Tired of the black and white arguments. Vive la nuance!! —MW
And you know I’m always seeking your approval, even while knowing I’m probably better off without it. Seeing myself type these words, I’m realizing I am much like Solidago ‘Solar Cascade.’ (See below).
I’m a somewhat new gardener (this is my 4th year since starting) and I fully agree that the biggest hurdle is just getting started, and us new gardeners need all the encouragement we can get, before we start fretting about details.
So, what are some of the “good” goldenrods?
How about tulips that are better for pollinators? Are species tulips better?
Hi Sarah, all the best wishes for your gardening success! I really like ‘Fireworks.’ It’s garden-sized and not too aggressive. And, boy, does it draw the pollinators! ‘Golden Fleece,’ is an oldie but a goodie. I don’t see it much anymore. ‘Solar Cascade’ can be a good one. If treated poorly and malnourished, it really does cascade. Given anything resembling TLC, it flops.
“Pure saturated color”. No statement better describes the tulip. Alas, my love affair with tulips waned after our local deer herd made it impossible to grow them in our garden. (We do have a pot of apricot Menton tulips on our deck, safely secured from Bambi and friends).
For me, true spring arrives when our Korean Spicebush viburnum blooms. Although chastised by my “native only” gardener friends, I find the smell of this non-native shrub to be intoxicating. We have one planted underneath our living room window, another one next to the “cocktail patio” and others scattered throughout the backyard.
We first fell in love with this aromatic shrub while on a college visit to Denison University in Granville, Ohio. This charming small town is located approximately 25 miles east of Columbus, Ohio. Denison’s entire campus is designated as an arboretum. There were Korean Spicebush, Judd, and Mohawk viburnums in bloom during the campus tour with our son in spring 2001. We were smitten not
only with the shrubs, but the beautiful Denison University campus.
During that visit, an early Sunday morning drive through the nearby Dawes Arboretum was equally spectacular. The Dawes collection of flowering crab apples underplanted with the native Spring Beauty wildflowers was a delight.
Tulips are show offs and rightfully demand attention. However, I prefer the fragrant scent of a flowering viburnum wafting through my open windows in spring.
Just spent a few minutes reading outside as dusk descended, the scent of V. x juddi making me sigh in ways I hope my neighbors did not hear.
You’ve hit the nail on the head,Scott! I struggle with the natives only viewpoint. Here in the UK,we are encouraged to ‘ leave a patch of nettles ‘ for caterpillars,even though these were introduced to Britain with the Romans and are not native. Is there a cut off point? What about all those blow – ins arriving via jet stream and bird’s feet?One of my greatest pleasures is to hear the bees in rugosa roses; they sound like a tiny kazoo band. Not native maybe,but not harmful either.
Maybe humans need to be glad that wildlife clearly does adapt, since we’re in the process of screwing up the climate for ‘ true ‘ natives.
Thank you for this. I am constantly working these things out in my mind these days. Native shaming has set me off. It is complicated but your wise words make it easier to think about.
That’s a wonderful compliment. Thank you for expressing it!
Bravo Scott!!! “Nothing is static. Everything is in motion. Moving forward” and we humans are a part of that wild mix.