See one flower, see them all The mongrelization of gardening

Caroline Seebohm

June 21, 1991|By Caroline Seebohm

THE visitor to America's suburban gardens during this year's blooming season might notice a disturbing phenomenon.

Many of these back yards seem colorful, but isn't there something oddly similar about their colors?

Isn't it strange that in garden after garden the rows of peonies always include three identical colors -- white, pink and dark red?

Isn't it odd that along the driveways and rockeries, clumps of similar pink, mauve and white creeping phlox are in flower?

Do our eyes deceive us, or is that rather dull pink rose growing in hedge-like profusion exactly the same rather dull pink rose planted in an identical row along almost every fence in the neighborhood?

Consultation with a horticulturist quickly confirms our suspicions.

Yes, there are more than three colors in the peony family.

No, there is no rule that says every gardener in America must plant three colors of creeping phlox together.

And even the most amateur plant person surely knows that roses come in colors across the spectrum.

Something is definitely odd here. Something that looks a little like George Orwell's nightmare society of mind-control.

Consider a few current nursery advertisements. In the Spring Hill catalog, we find: "Creeping Phlox Collection -- Save 25 percent! Super savings on three each of all four Creeping Phlox varieties -- just $17.99!"

White Flower Farm advertises in the June-July issue of Horticulture: "Double Peonies -- Old Time Favorites at Old Time Prices -- includes 3 plants, one each of red, pink and white, for $24.95."

As for the pink rose, Jackson & Perkins, the largest rose growers in America, call it Simplicity -- "specially hybridized to grow like a hedge!" You can buy this "blooming fence" for the spectacular price of five plants for $19.95!

Each year plants get more expensive and gardeners turn to these cut-price packages offered by commercial nurseries.

Nine astilbe flowers (red, white and pink) sell for only $44! Three day lilies (pink, citrus yellow and scarlet) sell for only $18.95!

Tempting, indeed, but economic pressure is turning horticulture into a thing of imposed design, imposed color, imposed variety.

Because of financial stress, gardeners are forced to submit to some catalog compiler's idea of pink hedges, tricolor mats of ground cover and hallucinogenic day lily borders, while relegating their own taste to the compost heap.

Do not succumb, gardeners!

Remember Vita Sackville-West's all-white garden at Sissinghurst!

Remember the clusters of blue bellflowers in the Hillside Garden at Longwood and the drifts of purple crocus at Dumbarton Oaks!

Beautiful gardens never got created from "colorful" great-value bulb packages, nor were landscapes ever helped by a great sale on pink blooming hedges or blue-rug juniper.

Avert your eyes from these super-saver suggestions. Buy one glorious white Madame Hardy Damascena rose instead of 50 modern pink mongrels.

Plant free or die!

Caroline Seebohm is author of "Private Landscapes: Creating Form, Vistas and Mystery in the Garden."

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