Great Expectations

By: Deb Pavlosky

So, it wasn’t long after I started working at Maas Nursery that I encountered a customer walking through the center aisle of bedding plants with a paint chip card.  I thought, hmmmm, that’s interesting.  Trying to match paint color to the blooms on flowering plants is quite ambitious, but ok, to each his/her own.


This little scenario does bring up an issue that I suspect all landscape designers/retail nursery workers have.  Sometimes, customers do have unrealistic expectations of a plants appearance, performance, as well as availability at the nursery.  Plants are living things – they don’t always look exactly as you expect, grow as you expect, bloom as you expect, and they most definitely don’t look the same year round, year after year after year.  That’s just life.  Plants grow and change and bloom and wilt and die too.  Their performance/success in your garden is very much up to you the gardener.  It’s you who has to make sure you have your plants growing in the right conditions and with the right care


Magazines and Pinterest are great places to get basic landscape ideas, but they often include very ideal pictures of established plants at their peak performance and, many times, the plants used in the articles/pins/etc. just don’t grow here.  Check the article, those beautiful hostas you see growing in full sun are probably somewhere in the Midwest, definitely not here.  You may be able to get a different variety that does grow in our zone (often with protection from our afternoon sun), but sometimes, you just have to pick a completely different plant to get the look you desire


So, what about gardening with natives?  YES, native landscapes are great for many reasons, but if they aren’t planned well, they will often look very unkempt in their off-peak seasons.  Most beautiful landscape plants (native or otherwise) need a fair amount of work to keep them in tip-top shape and looking good.  Trimming, fertilizing, watching for pests, keeping diseases under control and proper watering are key (even natives will need some water in drought periods)- All good garden stewards know to stay ahead of the game.


And, I know this won’t be a shocker to our loyal customers, but not all plants are available in all sizes year-round.  I think most of us know that annual plants are available by season (for example – snapdragons in winter and vincas in summer).  But we all don’t seem to know that many perennials are also only available from growers for short periods of time.  Some plants grow VERY quickly and getting them in smaller sizes (or at all) is very difficult later in their growing season.  For instance, you may be able to get flats of 4″ verbena in late spring/early summer, but by mid-summer all you can get are quarts and gallons.  This tends to be an issue with seasonal perennial color plants more than others, but it’s an issue we encounter with many other landscape plants as well.  If you can get the plants from growers, it is going to be a little more stress on your wallet than if you had bought them earlier when they were available in smaller sizes.


So, what does all of the above mean?  Really, the more you know about your zone and your specific growing conditions and plants that do well in your area, the more successful you will be in your garden and the better your landscape will look.  But, such is life, nothing is guaranteed.  Plants are ALIVE.  They have needs and if those needs aren’t being met, you won’t get good performance from them.  Gardeners can certainly be dreamers, but they also need a healthy dose of realism mixed in there too.  Your plants are not going to look magazine ready year-round without some serious planning and work in the garden.  Great expectations can be met in the garden with a healthy dose of care and understanding.  And, as we often say in the garden center, there is no such thing as a care-free plant unless it comes from a local craft store.