Provenance. This horticultural term identifies the geographical source of the seed or plant. When purchasing container grown plants, make sure that they have been grown in your gardening zone, or as close to your region as possible. Buying apple trees from an Ohio nursery to grow in the Southeast will not be fruitful, because the northern variety will not be able to tolerate the South’s humid and hot climate. Purchase fruits and nut trees specifically grown for the region where the landscaping will be installed, especially fruits needing a set amount of chilling hours. Most vegetables are treated as annuals and can usually be grown throughout the year with warm and cold season varieties, although the season to plant them and the length of time to grow them will vary across the country.
Pollinators. This term covers two different types of pollination: plant pollinators and insect pollinators. When selecting fruit and nut trees, check to see how pollination occurs. Does the species need a different cultivar, a different sex—male or female—or multiple plants to ensure pollination takes place? If the plant needs insects for pollination, attract bees and butterflies with a perennial garden in your landscape design. Good choices for local pollinators are endemic native flowers, shrubs and trees. My favorite flowering plant species for bees and butterflies are African Blue Basil, Ocimum ‘African Blue,’ Mexican Heather, Cuphea hyssopifolia, Milkweed, Asclepsis spp., Salvia ‘Indigo Spires,’ Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia and Clover.
Persistence. When growing all plants, persistence is important to remember. Sometimes plants die. It just happens that sometimes diagnoses aren’t easy and—just like people—some plants are healthier than others. I subscribe to Tony Avent’s philosophy. Mr. Avent, renowned plant hunter and nurseryman, whose Plant Delight’s catalogs are gardening enthusiasts’ collectors’ items, is funny, but also reality-based: “I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself—at least three times,” he writes. His words remind me that even master gardeners and nurserymen’s plants sometimes die. Don’t give up. If you’ve assessed your site properly; selected the proper plants for the location, and done your best to maintain your landscape (with university-recommended practices), when a plant dies, try a new approach. Chances are you’ll get it right the next time.
I visited a client named Mary, who asked me to review her landscape and suggest ideas to enhance her gardens. I eagerly strolled through Mary’s property. As she identified her areas of concern and her desires, I noticed a nice-sized vegetable and herb garden. As we leaned over the garden, she and I both plucked easily recognized but unlabeled herb leaves to taste and smell.
Finishing our conversation about the herb and vegetable garden, Mary moved on, but an emerging bright green onion or leek-type plant caught my eye. A devout onion enthusiast, I reached down and pulled a portion of the leaf off and popped it in my mouth and swallowed. Immediately, I knew I had done something awful. My mouth started to salivate and my throat tightened up. Meanwhile, I nonchalantly kept following Mary and nodding, wondering how was I going to get to the hospital. Visions of headlines banners touting “Well Known but Stupid Horticulturist Dies in Client’s Yard” streamed through my brain.
Finally, I wiped my mouth and politely asked, “Oh Mary, what is that growing next to the parsley?” She promptly responded: “Those are my daffodils; I refrigerated them for ten weeks, they’re going to be beautiful this year!” I coughed and thought, daffodils… every part of the daffodil is poisonous. My eyes watering and throat still tight, I ended the meeting, without an embarrassing close call of dying in a client’s yard, and got into my car. While still in the driveway, I managed to call the office secretary and said, “Anna, if I die before I get to the hospital, I’ve eaten a part of a daffodil.”
Fortunately, for myself and for my reputation, I stopped and bought a soda, and within 20 minutes, I was fine. I must not have eaten enough to cause me harm, because I had no side effects except for humiliation. And I could have just panicked at instinctively realizing the plant I had nibbled on shouldn’t have been eaten. Many common plants, such as the tomatoes, potatoes, cherries and almonds come from poisonous genera containing toxins in non-edible parts of the plant—but they are safe to eat when used correctly. Make sure that all plants that are in a designated edible landscaping area can be eaten, all poisonous plants are labeled, and that the homeowner is educated on the specific use of the plant. The moral of this story? Never plant poisonous plants in an edible landscape, unless you label them clearly and permanently.—Teresa Watkins