Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Friday, January 20, 2012

Garden Catalog Season Is Here!

It's that time of the year again.
Porteranthus stipulatus
Catalogs with seductive plant photos promising outstanding blooms and easy care arrive in my mailbox everyday. How's a plant starved gardener able to resist! (I've written about catalogs  before go here)

Guidelines!  You've got to have guidelines.

The guidelines fit the spirit of this garden and the spirit of this gardener. 
Without guidelines, I would be stuffing my cart (online or at the nursery) with plants that might be seductively beautiful, but, not make sense for Clay and Limestone.  My guidelines are quite simple;  before I  place any in the cart I like to make sure:
  • It has a good chance to survive the difficult conditions at Clay and Limestone?
  • It's a nectar or pollen source for pollinators?
  • It's  a host plant for pollinators?
  • It will add to the diversity of my pollinator friendly garden?
  • It isn't available locally.
Witch hazel with pollinator~Must Be The Season of the Witch
Not all natives make the cut!  To make it to the checkout cart they need to be able to survive in my nearly neutral shallow clay soil that's sticky icky wet all winter and dry as concrete all summer.

 Hypericum frodosum
   Central Basin (Middle Tennessee) natives do. They hardly ever let me down. They are tough, they don't get root rot in our wet winters or burn up in our dry summers.
 The Susans never fail to bloom and charm.
  I love Central Basin natives.  Just look at those Susans!

Of course, guidelines can be amended~I shy away from any plant with "must have moist well draining soil" (Moist Well Draining Soil) or most plants that "need sharp drainage/will not survive in wet clay" (Not The Climate For Xeric) I will make an exception for a few of them.

Lobelia is an exception to the guidelines.
It's a powerhouse pollinator magnet and the late summer color is too wonderful to pass up
 Exceptions are saved for plants that are pollinator magnets,  like Lobelias, Agastaches and Salvias.  They will  get extra special treatment to make sure they survive,  like a big gulp of water once a week; planted in containers where their special growing requirements are easily met; or planted in soil that's been heavily amended with  a product like shale for sharper drainage.  Are they ever worth it!

There's one other way a plant makes its way to the cart.

It makes me smile.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone."


  1. This post certainly makes me smile. As I sit here freezing my buns I feel warmed by the sight of these beautiful blooms and am lulled into thinking the hummm of the furnace is strumm of the insects buzzing about. Ahhhh.... Have a great weekend Gail.

  2. Wonderful words of wisdom, my dear friend. Guidelines have certainly helped me, a terrible impulse shopper online, hold on to the treasure to be better spent on those things that can survive our growing season and conditions, clay and all. But it is fun to look, and dream...


  3. My first rule/guideline is: Does it appeal to my senses? Fragrance may rule this season. Great guidelines and ones I shall think about more carefully.

  4. For the past few years I have been paying a lot of attention to whether a plant is native or not. Fortunately our part of the world has many many native plant families. And my climate and soil are less challenging than your have. I'm adding agastache this year. Deer repellent too.

  5. My friend, you are a wise central Tennessee basin gardener. I wish I were more wise sometimes.~~Dee

  6. Gail, your photos are like a breath of fresh spring air this morning--so beautiful! The catalogs are so tempting--I want at least one plant on every page:) In recent years, though, I've tried to buy most of my plants locally--gotta keep the local garden centers in business! I try to keep my orders down to only plants that I can't find here. Agastaches will definitely be on the order list, though.

  7. Excellent guidelines dear Gail! Your photos are pure delight! Fabulous!! Stellar Hypericum shot! Perhaps you might add ~ must be photogenic!! Your blooms certainly are. Have a lovely weekend. Carol

  8. Your photos are stunning! Good advice too.

  9. I'm trying to become more wise...your words are good guidelines towards that end.

  10. Your guidelines are a great focus. I have tried to hold off on buying plants without a thought as to where I can place them. Try to think of the pollinators and birds (food source) and of course a little for my benefit with fragrance. Of course there are exceptions to some of our rules....so very much want a Daphne odora ---still trying to figure out where she would go.

  11. See, I fall down on that last guideline, the smile part? That's the one that wants to override all the others ;) Actually, here, I have become much better with restraint. We have the opposite problem to you, most of our soil weathers to almost sand (my last two gardens were clay though). It's perfect for our regional natives, but troublesome for other plants that want rich soil. It takes huge amounts of soil amendments and compost to make those happy, so I shop for natives first. Once in a while something else will slip in though, usually because, like you, it made me (and the bees) smile.

  12. Haha - I was feeling completely amazed at your self control, setting such careful guidelines for plant orders, until the last couple of paragraphs. Phew. Gail is at least a little like the rest of us, and gives in to a gotta-have-it plant now and again :-) Personally I'm trying to get rid of my guilt for buying a plant that I know won't work very long in my garden. Sometimes I just want to grow it for a year or few and see it in action before admitting that it really won't work. But that's what people do when they plant annuals, right? So it must be OK . . .

  13. I do a lot of online shopping and I also use guidelines for my choices. I really like that at many nurseries you can stick a plant in your cart and then go back a few days later, after mulling over your choice, and change it. I know it's spring when my plant orders arrive. :o)

  14. I like your last guideline the best... "it makes me smile". I'm ready to start digging into those catalogs as the temps here get colder and colder.

  15. Gail you have more discipline than I will ever have.

    Your photos are fantastic. Love the one with the two hoverflies facing off over the St. John's Wort. And sorry if this sounds gross but your iris photo has me smiling AND drooling.

  16. I like your guidelines. Perhaps I should make a list of my own. I suppose I am still filling in gaps, and so I like adding variety.

  17. Gail, bravo for having guidelines and sticking to them! I just received yet another catalogue in the mail and had to stop myself from throwing my wallet at everything in sight. I'm trying very hard to be strict this year and only buy the essentials. Easier said than done when all those delightful flowers are waving their petals at me.

  18. Hahahaha...I love it! I'm the same way...there are certain criteria plants really have to meet...but there is always the exception to the rule :-)

  19. Hi Gail,
    I'm trying to remember if I've seen that photo of the front of your home with the irises, wild columbines, and such. I love it!

    I enjoyed your other photos and words of wisdom, too. I'm thinking I've tried lobelias, and they didn't grow well for me. I may try them again. Yours are lovely!

    I don't have any seed catalogs coming these days. I did order some seeds with a co-worker who had a Baker's Creek catalog last year. I seem to be able to find the seeds I want locally. I don't plant perennials from seeds because I am too impatient. We have a lot of good sources for plants around here. I may end up looking for some that I read about, though.

  20. Great to see so many blooms at this time of year. January has been so mild, but still the daylight is short.

    We have had several cataloges already, and have a series of coloured tags attached to various pages to remind us of the goodies inside. We never order as much as we tag but its good fun all the same!

  21. such a gorgeous and wonderful post, i can feel the breath of summer amongst my winter day. thank you.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson