Friday, January 1, 2016

New or Not

Gardening in Canada, eh? There’s nothing but snow and slush in the garden and I’m going crazy, cooped up, poring over old seed catalogues. I briefly considered opening a sanctuary for abandoned poinsettias, but I’ve seen quite enough of them this past month.

There's an old saying that goes as follows — people want one of two things: something that everyone else has, or something that no one else has. That's why some love to grow petunias, impatiens, or geraniums and little else, while others become obsessed with possessing the rarest plant in the world.

In this consumer culture, we are encouraged, even, dare I say it, conditioned to go for the new and exciting, except the object of our desire only remains something that no one else has for a very short time. Before you know it, it's ubiquitous.

When Joel Roberts Poinsett returned from Mexico in 1828 with Euphorbia pulcherrima and plunked it on his dining room table, I imagine all his dinner guests said, Wow, Joel, that is so cool, man. Where can I get me one? That's why, for the last month, poinsettias have been disrupting dinner table conversation in every home in the country.

What's your choice, commonplace or unique? Are you adventurous or do you tend to stick with the familiar? Are you a golden oldies fan or are you into indie rock? Is it reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies for you or do you prefer to be on the edge of your seat (or rolling on the floor) with the latest episode of (fill in the blank)? There's nothing wrong with the familiar — it's soothing, comforting, and it brings back happy memories. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion.

I like to see familiar plants thriving, yet I'm always keen to find something different, rare, or difficult to grow. I'll often grow something out of pure curiosity.

Rare doesn't necessarily mean hard to grow or difficult to propagate. It could be a newly discovered plant, a new hybrid, or one that's been neglected, almost forgotten until rediscovered and reintroduced, sometimes with a new name. For instance, I saw Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) listed in an online catalogue as "New". New? It's been growing in my garden since at least 1992 and elsewhere forever. 

I guess nothing sells better than new and improved, and if it's new to you, it probably doesn't matter, especially when you consider there are three or four hundred thousand plant species to work your way through.

The variety of seed and plants available each spring, however, is largely dependent on what the growers choose to produce and market. If a particular plant has not been popular, then there's the possibility the variety could disappear.

Many new and even improved plants will appear this spring. I’m afraid I don’t need another waving petunia, or a new variety that's a slightly more intense pink than one introduced last year, but as the old familiars sprout in my garden for the umpteenth time, I’ll be out there planting something rare or unique. I'll also be wearing my ancient but comfortable, one of a kind gardening coat, the one no one else could possibly desire. 

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