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Report From An Opinionated Gardener – April 20

I saw a planting today that I periodically drive by, and I remembered that some eighteen years ago this bed contained the blue flowering Rhododendron ‘Starry Night’. This reminded me of the time a woman came into the garden center and asked if we had this shrub.

“No,” I replied, “we don’t carry it. It’s not a nice plant.” Before I could continue, however, she replied, “It is a nice plant!” and stalked off in a huff.

I never had the chance to explain that ‘Starry Night’ was prone to severe dieback and in this area the shrub seldom lived more than two or three years. The flowers may have been blue, and when fresh from the grower the plant was lovely, but it steadily died over the next couple of years. This just isn’t acceptable no matter how pretty the color when in bloom.

Two conclusions here: customers want what they want when they want it. Sometimes they’re open to education but many times not. As plant geeks/garden center works/horticultural educators we can only do what we can do…and there are times when communications between human beings are bound to break down.

Secondly, we can’t save people from themselves. You Al-Anon members are familiar with this concept, right? In the garden and in the rest of life, it’s regrettably, frustratingly, but totally true: sometimes we just have to let people experience all of life’s ups and downs for themselves.

With such deep blue-purple flowers, it's no wonder people get seduced by Starry Night. In my area, however, it's a heartbreak plant. I've not seen a single one live more than three years.

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