What’s old is new again in the plant kingdom

Sometimes “old” is better than new. In the horticulture industry, new plant introductions come at us fast and furiously. The introductions of the new varieties are put on the market as fast as possible to (1) be the first out with a certain attribute, which positions the company or nursery as a trendsetting breeder and/or (2) to satisfy the public’s seemingly insatiable desire for new plants—at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Not all the newest introductions are vigorous, however; vigor may come in the next generation or two for some plants.

Gardeners respond to certain plant attributes that stoke the impulse to buy. I fall prey to this impulse time and time again. A recent example is the Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Electric Blue’ (and it truly is brilliant blue!) even though I’ve never been very successful with the genus. In this case, the color was impossible to pass up. I’m the same way with hydrangeas, which is why I have 23 varieties in my garden (and I still regularly give into the impulse to add more even though I’ve run out of their preferred “morning sun, afternoon shade” situations).

Mercilessly, if they survive, the non-performers are routed out of my garden, either given away to someone willing to nurture them along to maturity or they become compost. A good example is ‘Blushing Bride’ hydrangea. It was floppy in my garden so away it went to a friend and apparently it is happier with her than with me. I am thrilled to have my old fashioned, excellent performing, brightly colored ‘Glowing Embers’ hydrangea and the new introduction ‘Expression’ hydrangea billow out of the spot instead.

I volunteered in the Marina Wyton garden, a garden on the 2010 ANLD garden tour. The plants most often asked about in the front garden weren’t the newest introductions, but rather the Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe Pye Weed. Both are vigorous plants that attract beneficial insects, a key to the garden’s wildlife habitat certifications. They are tried and true, old fashioned plants that added interest to the garden.

If Queen Anne’s Lace, Joe Pye Weed, hydrangeas, rosey-smelling roses, hens and chicks and so many other “old” plants are still intriguing gardeners, perhaps the fashion adage “what’s old is new again” is also true in the garden.

Do you have an “old” plant you and your garden can’t do without?