This story takes off from my previous post here. Twisted Ankle and Busted Back (called TA and BB for now, because they haven’t twisted their ankles/ busted their backs at this point in the story) set out to create a perennial bed in their backyard. What started off as a search for Trek bikes on Craigslist suddenly morphed into a plant buying spree that only ended (temporarily) when they realized they had ended up with 130 potted perennial plants.
Reading about the perennial buying spree, you’d think TA and BB were impulsive plant buyers who had no idea what they were getting into. This was certainly true in the beginning.But there’s nothing like a 25 mile drive from Boondocksville with a carload to plants to make you feel the need for a Plan.
So TA and BB spent weeks designing the perennial bed they were going to create. Seventeen books were borrowed from the library on perennial garden designs, easy to grow plants, native plants, deer-resistant plants, hardy plants, flowering perennials, shade loving perennials and perennials for cold climates. Soon, one could not pick up a cushion on the couch or move a paper on the table without uncovering a book on perennial gardening.
All these books were pored over and copious notes were taken. If any university had offered a course on perennial gardening, TA and BB would have graduated with flying colors.
Artworks were created on pen-and-paper. These were detailed designs for the perennial bed, which had plans for how the bed would look like and where each plant would go. Surprisingly, TA and BB did not use computer aided design, or advanced graphics to simulate how their plant bed would look like. Even more surprisingly, they did not even draw a scaled down version of their perennial bed. The horror!
But nonetheless, they did have a detailed drawing of how their perennial bed would look like.
But they didn’t stop here. “Spreadsheets”, their minds shouted. “Where are the spreadsheets?” Obviously, drawings were all very well, but the geek in them knew that no information is complete unless it is neatly laid out in a spreadsheet.
So spreadsheets were duly created on perennials, listing out their common names and botanical names, the height and width they grow to, sun/ shade requirements, bloom period, color of flowers, pH levels of soil required, watering requirements, propagation (by seed, cuttings or dividing bulbs or rhizomes) and other remarks like what plant it looks best when planted beside.
The idea was to create a perennial bed with plants layered by height, with different plants blooming at different periods of the year, in varying color combinations.
Armed with this knowledge, TA and BB decided they actually knew a lot about perennials now. TA always carried a printout of the spreadsheet in her handbag. While buying plants, she would peek into it at key moments to appear knowledgeable. “Oh, this is a Coreopsis “Moonbeam”, isn’t it?” she’d say very knowledgeably to the seller. Or “I want a Dicentra and a Ligularia for the shaded front bed”.
Not that either TA or BB needed much help to appear knowledgeable. By now, they were talking in Latin with each other. Their sentences were filled with words like Aquilegia, Achillea, Agastache and Astilbe and worse, they knew exactly which plant they were talking about in each instance.
Sometimes, even the gardeners/plant sellers would be confused. “Achillea?” they’d ask in confusion. “Oh, I meant Yarrow”, TA would say graciously, for she knew the common name of these plants as well (as well as the different common varieties and bloom colors).
But too much knowledge can be confusing.
“No, no, Pulmonaria is Lungwort” TA would tell BB. “Is that what we wanted?”
“No, I think it was Tradescantia, Spiderwort”, BB would say. “It blooms in summer. Lungwort blooms in Spring.”
“Or did we choose Astrantia or Masterwort? That also blooms in Summer?”
Obviously it is one of these worts, but which one?
They asked Google. Google neatly evaded the question and added to the confusion by introducing them to even more kinds of worts, including Swallow-worts, Honeyworts, Moneyworts, Leadworts, Ragworts and Soapworts, Bruiseworts, Bellworts and even a St. John’s wort. There were Butterworts and Bladderworts that were insectivorus plants, and there was a Liverwort which was some kind of moss.
TA and BB had stumbled upon the universal naming technique for plants – think of any word in the dictionary, add the suffix “wort” and voila, you have a plant name! Now, to discover the elusive and rare species that will be named Lekhniwort.
All this newfound knowledge made TA and BB appear as expert gardeners. They could maintain this appearance for about 30 seconds. After that, invariably, they would have to talk about the plant they were looking at.
You cannot say “I love this plant with the funny green leaves and yellow flowers! Is this an Achillea “Moonshine” that grows 1 to 3 feet tall, blooms in summer, prefers full sun and mildly acidic soil?”
No, you have to be able to identify an Achillea when you see one. At least, you have to if you are posing as an expert.
But this is exactly where the spreadsheet was of absolutely no help. So while they had a vague idea of how the leaves of a geranium and a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) look, they had no idea about most other plants.
They could get away with this with the plants bought at the garden centers. Those pots all came with large name tags that identified each plant and had details about height and width and so on. But those 64 plants they bought in the Farmer’s Market? None of those had no name tags! TA and BB knew what they bought, but they did not know which of the plants was the Baby’s Breath and which was the Bachelor’s Button. Or which was a Goat’sbeard. They all looked like, well, plants.
So now TA and BB were left with a detailed spread sheet that told them all about every perennial plant they could think of. They had an even more detailed plant design drawing that showed exactly where to plant which plant.
But they had no idea what exactly most of the plants they had bought were. If they did not know what they had, how would they know where to plant it?
There was, of course, worse to come.
(To be continued…)