Since 1951 I have been debating the question whether to get some Rodgersias for the garden -- those sw,-2 sk,2 ld,10 great perennials that from a basal rootstock produce large leaves like a horse chestnut, or flat roundish leaves like platters.
The minute I ran into these foliage plants (which are perfectly hardy, preferring half-shade and damp soil that never dries out) I knew they were plants I had to have. Still, they were extremely hard to locate, not being in general commerce in America.
This year may be the year I actually plant some, as Wayside Gardens has been listing them the past two years. If I do get a couple, 35 years after passion for them first flared, it will prove once again that Rome was not built in a day and that gardeners are sometimes a trifle slow on the uptake.
As any gardener will understand, however, I have mentally filled various spots in the garden with Rodgersias for some decades, and the mere fact that they have not physically been there has not bothered me much. Once you know where a plant is to go, it is a relief, and if it takes a while actually to acquire and plant it, no great harm is done.
My browsing about for plants commonly results in long lists. Sometimes I run the list up to several hundred dollars, then set it aside for further reflection. Then time passes and all of a sudden it's too late to order anything for that year. Never mind. There is next year.
Some plants, like the Rodgersias, have been on lists for decades.
Now when the gardener sees a plant listed for sale, that he is on fire to have and that he can afford to buy, he should fire off the order promptly, not putting it off till next year, because next year the plant may not be available.
I well recall putting off Clematis texensis. There was a time it was not too hard to find. I used to grow it, and cannot think of a plant that ever gave me more pleasure. It covered 60 square feet with a dense mass of cherry-colored flowers for weeks on end, against a wall of marble blocks. Stupidly I moved it and lost the plant. I should have replaced it immediately but what was the rush? And then, with no warning, this plant was no longer obtainable anywhere -- I still don't have it. So the lesson is, don't delay.
This from a man who has sat around 35 years for Rodgersia pinnata superba, yes.
Browsing through this catalogue I am also smitten hopelessly for Peltiphyllum peltatum, another fine foliage plant good for damp spots, and a plant I have lost before.
This may well be the year I break down and take my hardy geraniums seriously, especially G. endressi 'Wargrave.' These hardy geraniums, or cranesbills, are very different from the subtropical bedding plants we call geraniums. These hardy ones have divided leaves and small saucer flowers ranging from blue through magenta, and heavy (most of them) on rose or milky magenta colored blooms. As a group they bloom freely, off and on through the summer. They are very good for creeping about in a small way under roses, or weaving themselves here and there between clumps of larger things in half-shaded borders.
A plant I have long planned to acquire is Kirengeshoma palmata, a waist-high perennial with leaves like a maple, and hanging bell flowers in October, somewhat like an abutilon. It does not sound so great, but when you see it, it is a plant any gardener will fall in love with. Again, for years I have dawdled.
Potentillas are best known (though not common in gardens here) as small shrubs about waist high. They are not very distinguished, but in places where they flourish they are great workhorses, being covered with nickel-sized white or yellow saucer flowers from May till frost. My experience with them has been that they bloom like mad in the spring then just sit there the rest of the year. I think they should be heavily pruned here, and then they might flower steadily, but in any case I took against mine, dug them up and gave them to a gardener from England who was living in Washington. (The English love potentillas, for reasons never clear to me.)
Very well, then, these are potentillas I don't much care for, but there are other potentillas that are not shrubs at all but soft perennials, and among them is 'Miss Willmott.' She has two-inch flowers of fierce magenta rose with a touch of black at the center. Not a common plant now, though once common enough, and I am glad to see her back in commerce.
The late Margery Fish, a fine gardener and writer of western England, liked to use this potentilla with her various hardy geraniums, winding up with splendid clashes of magenta and rose of many different intensities; and I think I might like that.
All too often we get in ruts in our gardens, to the point we lack all sense of adventure. We find a few plants we like and stick with them, which is all very well, but it really is good for us to try something new for a change -- especially when that something new is a first-class plant such as those I have mentioned.
Really, now, one would not wish to be the sort of gardener who through sheer lethargy sits around for 35 years waiting for a Rodgersia to drop from the sky.