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Report From An Opinionated Gardener – November 1

Some years ago I did a consultation for a store and recommended that they plant three dwarf Hinoki’s in the front bed. Notice the emphasis on the dwarf. I wrote it out for them, Chamaecyparis obtusaNana Gracilis’, underlined Nana and explained that this term meant that the plant would grow very slowly and stay smaller.

When I drove past the store a few weeks later, there were three Chamaecyparis in place all right…but they were six feet tall, lean and mean varieties (‘Templehof’?) standing in a group.

Now, when I want to impress on my clients the importance of using the cultivar I’ve specified, I tell them to drive past this establishment and see “The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in the front yard” and notice how they stand out from all the other plants. My customers remember this story because they’ve laughed at my naming the ill-advised grouping.

I have my own group of three in my yard. Two years ago I put in three Irish yews, Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’, on the slope behind a weeping pear. Mike Dirr says that these shrubs can get 4 to 8 feet wide, so I planted them six feet apart. They’ve only grown an inch in all directions, and the weeping pear isn’t developing too quickly either, so these three look a bit awkward and comical right now. I’ve named them Larry, Moe and Curly.

These two groups of three evergreens bring to mind another well-known trio: ready, willing and able. We need to be ready to recognize that a name can be important. Just because one variety of a plant is right doesn’t mean others in that same species will look similar. We should be willing to see that it’s easy to criticize others for their mistakes, but watch out because we’re likely to do the very same thing. (I didn’t choose the wrong cultivar but I did end up planting a rather clumsy looking group.) And we’re well served if we’re able to laugh at such situations. It’s a group of plants, for heaven’s sake, so why not see some comedy in these circumstances and move on?

The Irish yews are dark when everything else is backlit with the setting sun. This is how the entry garden looked in May, with Larry, Moe and Curly on the hill at the end of the garden.

Here is how my three stooges looked this morning. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

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