Close this search box.

When plants become a collection


Creating a garden starts out as an innocent pursuit. You just want a pretty patch of flower or vegetables that flows and looks beautiful at least three seasons out of four. But there is that one plant that outshines the others. It outperforms them by looking great or by being the big, bold bright spot that everyone comments on. And you start doing a little bit of research on what it really wants, because let’s be honest, you got lucky by plunking it in the right place. And the next year it is even more beautiful. And you want more. More. More. More.
You are hooked.
This is how plant collections start. At least this is how mine have started and most of them have snuck up on me. I don’t set out to have a “collection” of a specific plant, I just really like them and suddenly have a whole bunch of them (and often, a lot less money in my bank account).
My first plant collection was clematis. The very first clematis I planted was Mrs. N. Thompson and I didn’t plant it right. But she defied the odds and was still a looker. The second one was Ken Donson and he was like the crack dealer on the corner: gave me just enough to get me totally hooked.
Clematis 1
Mrs. N. Thompson was my first clematis.
Guernsey Cream is a favorite that does well for me in a good amount of shade (note the fern and hosta friends it has).

Ken Donson was the clematis that really sucked me in.
Once you decide you love a plant you start searching out different cultivars: the usual suspects you can find in your neighbor’s garden just won’t do. You search out specialty nurseries who will sell those unusual cultivars and, you hope, send you better plants than you can pick up at a local nursery. You’re really in trouble when you start buying books on a specific plant and scope out plant-specific online forums.
Since Ken Donson came into my life I’ve added 12 more clematis. Fourteen plants is a drop in the bucket to collectors of some kinds of plants (talk to the host people who often have more than 1,000 cultivars growing in their yards) but I still think of clematis as my first real fascination. And oh yeah, I have five more ordered for delivery this spring.
The only thing that keeps me from seriously collecting Japanese maples is cost and the fact that many of them are marginally hardy here (see the sad tale of my lovely Kamagata maple). I only have two (Orangeola and Acontifolium), but that doesn’t mean I don’t scope them out every time I look.
Acer japonicum ‘Acontifolium’
I probably have more different varieties of heucheras and heucherallas than any other plant, but that’s probably more because I just really like trying new ones (and there are a lot available through the Yahoo co-op). I have a lot of hostas for the same reason, a handful of roses (which I should just give up on because I don’t do roses well), and I’ve tried just about every new echinancea that comes on the market (with limited success, by the way; they just seem to lack longevity here).
Echinacea ‘Summer Sky’
I might have gotten just a bit carried away with the hostas a few years ago when I had 50-some of them growing out in pots waiting to be planted in the garden.
I’m not sure hydrangeas qualify as a collection or fascination for me, but as you know, I do love them. Limelights are, of course, the star here, but I also love my climbing hydrangea, my new Little Limes, Incrediball and even my old-fashioned Annabelle. Oakleaf hydrangeas are stunning shrubs, but not one I’ve had a great deal of luck with. I also have a Nikko Blue which is a full-on zone 6 plant but she’s bloomed for me in the past and I won’t give up on her.
Nikko Blue hydrangea
I feel the pull of new collections, too. I’ve recently developed a fascination with tree peonies (again, a plant that requires a great deal of patience. What is with me?) The world of conifers is amazing, but it’s one I feel I really need to study before delving into because in many cases it requires a healthy space requirement (and even on 1.3 acres space is a precious commodity). And the charming little Ginko ‘Gnome’ that I ordered on a whim last year got me totally excited about Gingkos as well. Plus, there’s that whole toad lily thing that I learned last week I’m totally missing out on. We’ll just have to wait and see where my wandering obsessions lead me to next.
Do you have any plant collections? How did you get started with them?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

What would you like to know? Search, or jump to categories below.