Plant Descriptions – Actuality

We gardeners are always looking for something new for our gardens. “New” means we haven’t grown the plant before and if we haven’t seen it in another garden, we have to rely on plant descriptions written by authors or nurseries to sort out just what a particular plant is like and whether it is what we want.

One hopes that garden book authors are writing from personal experience with the plants they describe and provide enough descriptive information to give us a realistic idea of how a given plant will perform in our gardens. This isn’t always the case and some plants haven’t had much written about them. When our libraries fail us, we must turn to nursery catalog descriptions to learn about plants new to us. This is particularly true for plants fairly new to cultivation. Space being at a premium in nursery catalogs, the descriptions are generally brief.

Just what do those terse or glowing descriptions in nursery catalogs really mean? Not always what you’d think from the words on the page (or computer screen). It’s not that nursery catalog writers are trying to deceive us. The vast majority of them spend many hours at the task of describing plants and do an estimable job. But, nursery people are also in the business of selling plants, so sometimes they tend to use adjectives that don’t quite reflect what could actually happen in our gardens…of course, everybody’s mileage can vary and plants do behave quite differently in diverse environments.

After thirty years of gardening, I’ve learned the hard way that some descriptive terms have red flags attached. So, Tony Avent’s publishing of some “trade secrets” from Trade Secret Gardens inside the back cover of his fall 2001 Plant Delights catalog, inspired me to share with you (with my added comments) the…