Wednesday Vignette – know your plants!

Or – as we all find and fall for new things – at the very least do some research first. On my walks, I often pass by this new planting, just down the street from us. The other day, the hired installer was there, so – with some hopefully not too obvious disbelief – I asked him if that plant really was what I thought it was – Senecio (or Brachyglottis) greyi. He confirmed, so I gently asked him if he knew they easily get 5′ wide – meaning it would soon gobble up the little Hellebores planted around them. He said he did, which made me think that maybe this might just be a case of stubborn client ignorance and insistence.


How about that? I have never seen Senecio greyi used as a bedding plant before…. It will be interesting to see this planting evolve. Is there some dwarf version of this plant I don’t know about?

To add insult to injury, facing east and north, the light aspect of this particular planting is far more to the liking of Hellebores than it is to anything Brachyglottis. Maybe they are banking on that to stump its growth? Since I possess intimate, empirical experience in this matter, I could have told him that if it doesn’t get enough sun, it will get rather leggy, and lean toward whatever light it gets. I planted one in one of my sunniest spots, but it still wasn’t enough. As as saving grace to its deprived condition, last year my neighbors removed an old Cypress, which had an instant brightening effect on that entire bed – including the Senecio. But, since I figured I had probably annoyed the poor landscaper enough, I didn’t offer up this additional bit of unsolicited advice, and instead moved on. Maybe he really was doing exactly what he was told to do, against better odds. If so, I feel for him – it’s never fun to have to do things you know will soon be doomed.

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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27 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – know your plants!

  1. tonytomeo says:

    One of the main reasons I can not work for landscapers is that we so regularly stuffed landscapes full of plants just because we could charge more money for it. The wrong plants were more profitable because they caused more problems that we charged more money to correct. (I do not mean to imply that is what your neighbor’s landscaper was intentionally doing. It is just what we did, and what is quite the norm here.)

    • annamadeit says:

      I think often they are trying to appease the client’s desire for an insta-garden. Cram it full of little plants, and edit later, as things get bigger. That decision often comes down to client patience; are they willing to wait, or not?

      • tonytomeo says:

        That is also the reasoning for big boxed trees and recycled mature palms. Some work quite nicely, particularly palms. The most popular boxed trees do not work out so well. Some of the boxed trees cost more than a new Buick, but are likely to die within a few years. For those trying to sell an expensive home real fast, it is worth it. They do not really care if the trees die after they are gone.

        • annamadeit says:

          That’s true. I often find that smaller plants are easier to establish than big ones anyway. Just like spontaneously seedlings seem tougher than the little 4″ starts we try. Gardening really is a sport where patience is key… And, what a terrible shame it is to see the kind of big trees you mention go to waste like that. Sigh…

          • tonytomeo says:

            The worst was a client who was using our big boxed rhododendrons as ANNUALS; and what was even WORSE is that there was no one living in the home where they were planted to see them bloom! Rhododendrons happen to be one of those plants that do quite well as bi boxed specimens, so I would have no problem growing and selling them. Our client bought a truckload of them annually for the same house up in San Mateo County. I thought was odd that there was always more room for more rhododendrons. The family who owned the home lived somewhere else, and only had the ‘gardener’ maintain the grounds so that it did not get too wild. However, the ‘gardener’ was always devising new and sleazy ways to spend the clients money. He installed the very expensive rhododendrons late in winter so that they could bloom as they do through spring. When they were done, he had them all removed. They would be replaced the following winter to repeat the process!

          • annamadeit says:

            WOW!!! That’s despicable behavior… I hope his client wizens up to his antics. 😦

          • tonytomeo says:

            I really do not know. All we could do was to not sell to him. He did not understand why we would not sell to him. He thought that all we cared about was selling our products.

          • annamadeit says:

            Well, good for you for standing your ground. Hopefully he eventually figured out that there is more to life and love than money.

          • tonytomeo says:

            I really do not know. I never heard from him again.

          • annamadeit says:

            Maybe Karma caught up with him? 🤞🤞🤞

          • tonytomeo says:

            So many of those sorts get into what they call ‘landscaping’ because they flunked out of everything else. He is probably still doing what he was doing then, but does not do business with us. It is that sort that really give the horticultural industries a bad reputation.

  2. Tina says:

    Here in Austin, I see that type of thing all the time. I agree with what Tony says above: I think there’s probably some client pressure, but also, may landscapers simply stuff gardens, disregarding the mature sizes of plants. I think it comes down to a uniquely American personality trait: we’re impatient and want everything NOW–even a fully complete garden.

    • annamadeit says:

      I think that instant garden mentality you mentioned is very, very true. I replanted almost my entire front yard a couple of months ago – mostly with smaller plants. I’m like an anxious dog around the front yard… I absolutely CAN’T WAIT for it to grow bigger. (I should add that once it does, I will have to edit too…)

  3. Peter Herpst says:

    So, you’re saying that plants grow and gardens aren’t things that one just installs like new light fixtures during a remodel of a house? Hmm.

  4. Alison says:

    Well, given I don’t like this Senecio much and don’t understand its appeal/popularity, maybe the owner will get lucky and they will all die in their non-optimal position. I did a Wednesday Vignette post today, for the first time in months! WooHoo! It’s here:

    • annamadeit says:

      Really? You don’t like it?? It is one of my favorite foliage plants. And it’s great for bouquets! I hope they have more room in the back of the house, so they can move them later, and still get some enjoyment out of them.

  5. You may have wondered then about the three Senecio greyi in my garden? I know how big they’re supposed to get, but they never will, because I’m always cutting on them for material to add to vases. Of course the fact the one in the front garden gets very little water helps to keep it in check too.

    My WV:

    • annamadeit says:

      You have three? Wow, that’s a lot, but I wholeheartedly agree with you. They are a fabulous addition to bouquets! I imagine you probably have enough to supply the local florist industry. And, I know that you know your plants, so I’m not worried. But this neighbor of mine is likely in for some future consternation…

  6. Kris P says:

    That does strike me as a very odd pairing and, whether a client asks for a particular plant or not, it seems to me that what you’re paying a landscaper for is counsel on plant selection, not just installation. I’ve never hired a landscaper but a friend of mine did and I bugged her (mainly out of curiosity) to share the plant list with me in advance. I warned her about some choices (too many Pittosporum planted too close together and a geranium that ought to be classified as a weed here) but she didn’t engage her landscaper and now, years later, her backyard plot is a mess.

    • annamadeit says:

      One would think that would be the case, but I have a distinct sense that landscapers often use whatever is easily available, cheap, and definitely the extras left over from previous jobs. It’s kind of disconcerting, and I’ve made landscapers come back and remove things they have installed, in cases where they’ve strayed too far from my specifications. It happens quite a bit. I always let them know that I’m a stickler for plants, and if they need help locating them, that I would be happy to help. But even that is often too much work for them, it seems.

  7. Great post. Sad post. Maybe he plans to limb up the Brachyglottis since they’re going to be tall and lanky anyway. Who knows? I too see stuff like this all time and sometimes in my own garden. 🙂

    • annamadeit says:

      You know, Grace – I see it in my garden too, because I’m constantly pushing boundaries. That’s what we plant nerds do, right? But when a person hires another person to create them a garden, this kind of thing is – like you said – sad. It just shouldn’t happen.

  8. I would scoff but for the fact I have done similar things in my own garden many times. Though at least no one was paying me to do it for them.

    • annamadeit says:

      Haha – haven’t we all? I push boundaries all the time! But as you said – it’s very different when you pay for someone else’s expertise. I tend to only offer tried and true solutions when I do work for others. And, if I ever experiment, I will let the client know that there is a chance it won’t work (for this, that or the other reason), but if it does, it will be fabulous. Then I let them decide. Oh – and I only ever do this if the client is a gardener, open to outside-the-box solutions.

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