Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not Buying a Plant Because of Its Flowers?....pshaw!

My first, but hopefully, not my last Dahlia.

I read a recent blog posting on GardenRant that linked to a list of garden "hard truths" and one of the truths sort of bugged me, stuck in my craw, if you will.

"Flowers, from a design standpoint, are non-essential--throw pillow equivalents. It’s foliage that makes the garden. Or, as a former Sunset garden writer once put it, 'Buying a plant for its flowers is like choosing a wife for her bonnet.' "

I have heard this advice/truth before and its always bothered me. It seems to me that it seems to imply that "real" gardeners don't care about flowers, short-lived and fragile -- they just take away from the true stars of the garden -- the foliage. I know there are Hosta collectors out there, and people go ape for rare types of conifers, but I couldn't imagine a garden that didn't have flowers. I can imagine visiting such a garden once, but not returning to it. So in defense of the lowly flower, I will supply these photos as a rejection of this "hard truth."

I supposed the foliage is lovely on these California Poppies and Nigella damascena, but I wouldn't have planted the seeds if they didn't have these delicate and delightful flowers

My new favorite rose is this Belinda's Dream. It reblooms, it smells nice. I can offer no comment on its foliage.

This Carefree Spririt Rose is all about the flowers, contantly, non-stop. I supposed you could argue that the rose is great not because of its flowers, but because it is drought tolerant and disease resistant, but I think the flowers are really nice.

This Strawberry Candy Daylily is a repeat bloomer and drought tolerant, but I just think its pretty.

My floribunda rose, "Sun flare" does has terrific foliage, but I certainly wouldn't care about it, if it didn't have the most lovely yellow buds throughout the summer.

Two of my favorite plants, Lavender (Munstead variety) and Yarrow (Achillea). Both have that gray, spidery foliage that is popular these days, but I love the combination of the flowers, the soft purple spikes with the contrasting white umbrels.

Everyone seems to be putting down the lowly Rudbeckia (brown-eyed Susan), but it blooms for over a month, is drought tolerant, and the yellow contrasts with almost everything in my pink and purple garden, especially this Flowercarpet rose (a line of roses I am totally in love with).

I think the Rudbeckia also works well with my Rubrum Lily, which has the most wonderful scent, and blooms for quite a while.

I did buy this Caryopteris divaricata for its foliage, but I love how it provides a framework for the Cosmos to weave through. So I do admit readily, there are qualities to plants besides their flowers you should absolutely consider, like drought-tolerance, length of bloom, disease resistance, and whether a plant's form/foliage/color will complement its plant neighbors. Considering how a plant will look after its lost is flowers, perhaps should be emphasized more, but buying a plant just for its foliage seems to be missing the point a bit.


List of Plants:
Purple Dahlia
Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-Mist)
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Rosa 'Belinda's Dream'
Rosa 'Sun flare'
Rosa 'Carefree Spirit'
Rosa 'Flowercarpet Pink Supreme'
Caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy'
Lilium speciosum Rubrum (Red Species Lily, Rubrum Lily)
Cosmos bipinnatus (Cosmos, Mexican Aster)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Brown-eyed Susan)
Hemerocallis 'Strawberry Candy' (Daylily)
Lavender angustifolia 'Munstead' (English Lavender)
Achillea sibirica (Siberian Yarrow)


  1. I have to agree with you, without the flowers you wouldn't have the insects and other wildlife and I'm afraid they are they reason that I do garden in the first place.

    As a race, we have taken so much from nature that we simply *have* to give back what we can, where we can.
    So not only are many flowers beautiful but they are also key in the food chain, without those flowers there would be no bees and our whole food economy would collapse.

    So yes, flowers are essential to a garden.

  2. I think this is a case where the message; consider other features besides the flower, is sort of lost in the delivery. The delivery, "you dummies shouldn't buy plants for pretty flowers," just irks me so much, I had to talk about it.

  3. I agree- there are many reasons to choose a plant- and most are put into a garden for a variety of those reasons. I like some for flowers alone... and you have beautiful pictures to prove the point :)

  4. What a great post. I have plants I choose for the folliage but the flowers are the art of the garden and I can't imagine gardening without them.

    On another note I just discovered your website! I, too, am a recent transplant to Mass and live up in Beverly. My blog is at www.gardenontheedge.blogspot.com. Feel free to email me at DEQDAVIS at gmail dog com if you want to talk garden centers, travails of cold winter or gardening around dogs!

  5. I disagree too...flowers are needed to attarct bees.Gardening isn't about just having a beautiful garden but about creating and sustaining natural life in your yard....well for me..=)

  6. flowers are the garden. Brown eyed susans and phlox work so well for me