Saturday, May 24, 2008

Work-related: Three plants I just don't get.

Amid the various pretty flowers and stuff at work, there are a few plants we sell where I just don't see the appeal. These are them:

Gomphrena 'Gnome Purple'

Gomphrena is the basis for a small running joke at work: Younger Co-Worker commented a few months ago that the name sounded sort of like a disease, and so whenever I'm feeling kind of run-down I try to mention to her that I'm having another flare-up of the ol' gomphrena again. There's a second joke behind the first joke, which is that I think the real-life disease she was referencing was most likely gonorrhea, which does add a little something to the humor even if I can't quite put my finger on it. (There's even a third joke to be made off of the previous two. Something about purple gnome gonorrhea: I can feel that there's a joke there but I can't figure out how to make the joke work properly.)

Anyway. I don't find this a terribly objectionable plant. It's behaved well in the greenhouse, and we even sold most of it, so it's okay. It still strikes me as being a weird thing to try to sell to people. The flowers aren't especially showy, and there are other things out there that will get you the same color. So I shrug.

Lobularia maritima 'New Carpet of Snow'

Alyssum is also just okay, as far as I'm concerned. The flowers smell nice, but the plants don't seem to stay looking very good for very long. We have a real problem with not being able to ignore the plants that want to be left alone; after enough overwatering, Lobularia start looking kinda weedy. Or not even weedy. Weeds, after all, often look quite vigorous and healthy. Our Lobularias start to look like weeds that have migraines. I do understand wanting to buy them when they look good, and so far at any given moment we've had some looking nice, for anybody who wanted them, but even when they look nice they're not especially showy, and it's not like it's hard to find substitutes with small white flowers (Bacopa or Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost,' e.g.). They're also so tiny -- which could be our fault, not the plant's -- that it's hard to imagine any practical gardening use for them. Which is probably a failure of imagination on my part.

Ageratum 'Azure Pearl'

Ageratum, though, wins the prize for winning the fewest prizes. Unless it does something really cool later on in the summer, I cannot imagine why anybody would want one of these. I mean, hell, I actually forget that they're there, a lot: the leaves are nothing special, the flowers are simultaneously small, somewhat unflowery-looking, and a washed-out color to boot. Also, we have at least three varieties ('Azure Pearl,' 'Hawaii Blue' or 'Blue Hawaii,' and a third one that I can't think of right now), but the flowers are, as far as I can tell, all the same kinda washed-out, very slightly purplish baby blue. Looking Ageratum up on-line didn't help answer any of my questions, either.

So I submit the question to you, the reader: what, if anything, do these three do? What makes them something that people would want to buy? Do you like them yourself? Etc.


Karen715 said...

I don't really get the appeal of the others myself, but Gomphrena can be stunning when large and mature, in mid-to-late summer. Especially beautiful is the red cultivar 'Strawberry Fields.' Gomphrena also dries very well. I can see why you aren't impressed; you really don't get the full effect when they are small plug-sized plants. I remember the first time I saw Strawberry Fields at the NY Botanical gardens. It was planted in several places and I just had to find out what that lovely plant was, even though I didn't have an outdoor garden at the time. Unfortunately, now that I do, I don't have a good place for it.

Hermes said...

Do you think many buyers think beyond 'that's pretty' and only think where to put it / how it might grow, when they get home.

mr_subjunctive said...

Some people buy without thinking about it, sure, but there are plenty of others who agonize over every detail and won't leave unless they're sure that the plant will work for the particular spot they want to plant. There are also a batch of customers, not terribly common, who want their hands held through every step of the process: they want me to tell them what plants to buy, and how many, and they want me to pick out which particular specimens to get, and so on and so forth.

I have mixed feelings about the hand-holders. On the one hand, it's nice to be treated like somebody who knows stuff; on the other hand, I generally have about fifty other things I need to be doing, and a customer like this can easily eat up a half-hour, maybe even 45 minutes, which means that when I'm done with them, there's that much more to do. I've had a few customers now tell me that they want what they had last year, who nevertheless want me to go with them and pick out what they had last year, and tell them how many they need, and etc. It's like, hey lady, you were there last year, and I wasn't, so what exactly do you expect me to be contributing, here? Either you remember what you had or you don't.

The question with this post is more, what were we thinking, buying these? Who's going to want them? Which I can believe that the Gomphrena is pretty when older, and WCW tells me that the Lobularia is mainly purchased for the scent. So I don't have so much of a problem with those.

The Ageratum, as far as I can tell, only has going for it that it's a color we don't have in much else (very few genuinely blue flowers in the greenhouse -- I don't know if that was an oversight or if it's just hard to find them. We've got some Lobelias that are true blue, and everything else, Browallia, e.g., is more purple), and they apparently don't need a lot of care. Impulse buy or considered buy, I don't see the appeal.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

I'm not a big fan of gomphrena (what we southerners call bachelor buttons rather than cornflowers.)

However I do like sweet alyssum. Not only is the honey-scent heavenly on a sunny winter day when I'm doing my transplanting, it just lasts and lasts filling in all over the garden during the spring. I replant it every fall although I've never had much success growing it from seed.

Sarah Mary said...

I work at a gardening center and deal with these guys all day long. Though I'm not a personal fan of dried flowers, karen715 made the good point of gomphrena drying well. Alyssum looks wonderful in big patches. and Ageratum has a name that sounds like a big, mythical sea creature. When I water it at work I sometimes go "aarrr, matey! yer tentacles be looking a little dry!" (watering can be tedious and occasionally needs something to spice it up; I'm sure I don't need to tell YOU that.) We have euphorbia diamond frost, and the ones that hung around awhile suddenly all lost life, shriveled, yellowed, and generally made themselves look unappealing to customers. I was bummed, as I loved it when it came in.

mr_subjunctive said...

I was pretty surprised by the 'Diamond Frost:' it's a useful filler and has a number of nice qualities, but we got a ton of it in and it was still one of the first things we sold out of. I couldn't believe it.

We also sold out of spikes (Dracaena indivisa? I'm not sure what the correct name is.) early, which personally I think are about the lamest thing you can put in a group planting (yes, lamer than Asparagus ferns), but people snapped them up anyway. Couldn't believe that either.

Paul said...

As MSS stated -- alyssum has a wonderful fragrance and fills out very well over a summer and just blooms and blooms. (Something understandably hard to envision in your lil plugs)

It will also often cascade a bit over the sides of pots or the walls of raised beds.

Then too if one is a veggie gardener, it can be handy to have patches of alyssum amongst garden plants to help attract wild bees. This gets the bees used to looking in that area for food so when your veggie plants begin flowering, the bees are already there to get to work.

Paul said...

Oh an forgot to mention that with Ageratum, as you already noted, the color is a bit unusual which can be part of its appeal. Then too, texture-wise, the flowers do have a different look than the majority of flowers.

Kiki B. said...

Alyssum makes a great ground cover, and in the case of my own garden, it helps keep the cats from using my rose bed in the front of my house for a litter box. Less dirt showing = fewer kitty visitors.