plant lust: when was your first time?

hardsoft-brighterIT WAS THE MORNING AFTER, WHEN THE CONVERSATION finally turned to confessions about our first times—the morning after my longtime garden mentor and I attended a garden lecture and dinner together, I mean. Back at my place the next morning, over toast and coffee, we made our confessions one by one: plants we’ve lusted over, and the first time we’d laid eyes on each seductive creature. Sigh.

We’d been to hear another old friend, Dan Hinkley, speak at nearby Berkshire Botanical Garden’s annual lecture with several hundred other winter-weary types, and afterward gone off with Dan and friends to eat.

We didn’t really talk plants at the meal; nine crazy gardeners traded pet stories. I know—insane. Either we are getting old and soft, or have spent too much time on Cute Overload. But the next morning my breakfast guest and I shifted from zoology to botany, stirred up by a few of Dan’s slides, including one of Mukdenia rossii ‘Crimson Fans,’ a shade plant Dan’s helped bring to market as part of his relationship with wholesaler Monrovia nursery.

My breakfast companion remembered his first Mukdenia…but he knew it by another name.

It was 1967ish, and the plant was then Aceriphyllum rossii. “I remember sitting by a stream in the New York Botanical Garden rock garden and seeing it for the first time,” said Marco Polo Stufano. “A good plant.”

At that moment I was feeling preoccupied with the one-trick genus Sciadopitys, and just finishing up a post on the umbrella pine.

“When was your first umbrella pine?” I asked, suspecting Marco’s “first” had been the same individual plant as mine. Yes, indeed, he’d been taken in by the same specimen at Planting Fields Arboretum as I, though we would have been strangers and seen it separately, years apart.

my bleeding heart And off we went from there: first sightings of really good silver-leaved things like Stachys and Ballota, first fill-in-the-blank…plants that touched our hearts (or made them bleed). Of course many of my first were at Wave Hill, where Marco made a career and an entire landscape of his pioneering plantsmanship.

“The first time you see a plant makes an impression,” said Marco, who always kept a little notebook with him on his travels to England and elsewhere, with a heading called “GET” for the ones. “You never really change your mind about the plant.”

So tell me, what were some of your memorable first times that rated a “GET” on your list? Was caused that instant and irresistible chemistry, and has the feeling lingered on?

  1. Donalds Texas Organic Garden says:

    In 2002 I lost my mother. One day as I was going up to her hospital room I passed a bed full of Scabiosa Butterfly Blue. I had never really noticed them anywhere before. For a brief moment my sadness vanished. It is amazing how powerful plants can be to one’s psyche!

    I now have a bed full of this Sabiosa that continues to multiply. It takes me back to that bittersweet moment.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Donald. No wonder that this plant is such a part of your consciousness, and garden. Thanks for your nice comment, and hope to see you again soon here.

  2. Gay says:

    Wild flower blood root is my passion. It grows along a winding country road here in Maryland. I rescue some every spring before the highway dept.mows and sprays the weeds. I slowly drive along the road until I spot the white flowers then park the car with my blinkers on, jump out with hand shovel and bag in hand. I take just a few each spring but worry the weed killer is depleting their population.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Gay. A beautiful wildflower indeed — and the double-flowered one is especially amazing. I don’t have it here and you are reminding me that I should adopt some, thank you.

  3. Janeen says:

    I remember traveling to Norway and seeing a whole bed of Lady’s Mantle –a drift of it — just after a rain. I’ve since incorporated this common, yet wonderful and versatile plant into various beds, and it has never disappointed me.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Janeen. I have a couple of drifts of lady’s mantle, though it sows around and is not uncommon, I always enjoy it — especially after a rain, as you say.

  4. Kath says:

    Brugmansia because why fall in love with a plant I could actually grow in the PNW? I did grow one as a house plant (out in the summer, inside in the winter), but it never grew to that mind-blowing size that I love.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Kath. Mine is so big now I have to lie it down in the cellar all winter. Not sure what size pot I will move it up to next — can barely move the one it’s in!

  5. Laura says:

    I grew up in the great plains and the first time I saw any kind of hellebore (in person) was early last May. I was at a plant swap in Cincinnati– floating in a dream of ACRES of discounted plants — and it stopped me dead.

    I don’t know what cultivar it was because I had to pull myself away before buying every one they had, but it was a very soft pink on the outer petals and cream on the inside. A very sly looking man said, “Oh, come on. Everyone needs one of these.”
    I smiled, feeling dazed, shook my head and walked away.

    Like this, only with a little more oomph.

  6. Camille Farias says:

    My parents divorced when I was seven, and through a very complicated series of events, I was sent to live with my dad. After a year of difficult adjustments, I spent the summer with my mother, who was now a working woman and who didn’t have much time for me. One Saturday in early June, however, she carved some time out of her busy schedule to plant some bulbs in her front beds, and invited me to help. It seemed like such a grown up task to me, and I felt so important as we carefully prepped the soil and lovingly laid the little things down. After all, mother had chosen me to help her with this task, and not one of my three older sisters. I watered them diligently for weeks afterward, waiting to see what would pop up. Imagine my delight when tall spears of Gladiolas in crimson, coral, saffron, and magenta emerged. I still look for Gladiolas every summer and remember how much those glorious flowers brightened such a difficult time in my life.

    1. margaret says:

      What a beautiful story, Camille. Really. Thank you for sharing it here. For me the plant is the lowly marigold or zinnia — my grandmother grew both in profusion, and let me help. :)

  7. Sherri Balmain says:

    Two biggest memories: my paternal grandfather bringing a little planter of crocus (purple and white) into the hospital when I was six and had pneumonia. He also brought an orange plastic “fancy” mum plant in a pot. This plastic “plant” has moved four times with me, and is about to make move number five.
    As I look back on it as a 48 year old I realize that Nani probably went to the trouble to buy both, but of course as a six year old ……Grandpa gets the credit.
    My maternal grandmother introducing me to bleeding hearts. (naked lady in the bathtub). Grandma was an alcoholic and died of lung cancer way too early, I have few memories, but I will always grow this plant because I remember the way her face lit up as she leaned down to demonstrate the way you bent it to reveal the “lady in the bathtub”
    These will always be my two favourite plants.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Sherri. What charming tales those are (and I have never heard “naked lady in the bathtub” as a common name — how evocative). I hope you will come back soon with more great stories. Thanks!

  8. elarieta says:

    For about 5 years I have tried to grow beautiful bug free Angel Trumpets.., & Brugmansia…flowers.
    I get them to bloom, but only one or two blooms..and the leaves always get those tiny bugs…Last year I did get my beautiful yellow plant to bloom, but it got those
    tiny bugs on the leaf at blooming time…..
    I have ordered plants, and grew them from seeds.
    NEVER TO BE REWARDED with a good blooming plant.
    I will try once more this year.
    I live in Chicago..So my plants are mostly house plants that go outside july and Aug..smiles)))

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