warning: reversions in progress…

sensation-revertsTHERE APPEARS TO BE A REVOLT GOING ON around here. A mass reversion, to be specific…so far noted in four plants. What’s a gardener to do?

First, the ‘Sensation’ lilac went mad, with some of its blooms going the palest of pinkish-whites (top). You’d think after 70 years or thereabouts as a named cultivar it would know what it was supposed to look like, but no. Then I saw a choice hosta called ‘Touch of Class’ go ’round the bend in a pot out back, sending up half of its foliage in blue, not blue with gold (below). ‘Touch of Class,’ which comes from the exceptional cultivar called ‘June,’ is even more vivid…well, at least it is when it cooperates and stays stable.



My variegated kerria, Kerria japonica ‘Picta,’ reverts every year (above), bless its little heart, making sure I get to undertake the tedious work of teasing out every bit that wants to misbehave and sprout larger, all-green leaves when I want tiny, green-and-white ones. We’ve been together about a dozen years, so by now it’s just a standard part of the to-do list

And then there’s the pot of little-leaf ivy I just had to have at the Trade Secrets charity sale the other day (below), to use in large containers as an over-the-edge thing this year. (Does the gardener get to go over the edge, by the way, or just the plants?) Not only did it contain an all-green branch, but the leaves on the reverted piece were full-size, not diminutive at all the way I want them. His/her double-bad.


The cure, of course: Cut off the undesirable parts whenever they occur back to where the desired characteristic shows itself, which is often all the way to ground. In the case of the hosta, I’ll unpot it and clean off the roots to see what I really have on my hands, whether one variegated and one blue shoot or an actual half-and-half plantlet in the clump. Or plant them all together and tell visitors it’s the latest thing: a Reversion Garden.

  1. Paige says:

    This post represents a level of sophistication in gardening thought that I can only dream about (or maybe it’s a nightmare??)

  2. Andrew Ritchie says:

    The Reversion Garden: it sounds positively science fiction, full of shape shifters and chameleon imposters. No worries: Margaret’s on it!

  3. Carol, May Dreams Gardens says:

    My Kerria ‘Picta’ does the same thing and I’m out there every spring cutting out the “all green” leaves. This spring I actually wanted to cut it all the way down to the ground but didn’t get around to it. Next year!

  4. Fern R says:

    I realize that from a gardening perspective, it’s pretty annoying when a plant doesn’t do what it is “supposed” to do, but from a different perspective, it’s kind of amazing and humbling. We (the most intelligent/powerful beings on this planet) breed a plant to do one thing, but some tiny fragment of DNA buried deep inside these plants has decided to do its own thing from time to time.

  5. margaret says:

    Welcome, Fern R. I am regularly astonished by what is expressed outside, and as you say humbled. I remember writing about this feeling maybe 20 years ago in this essay, at least a little, and many other times since. There are definitely forces bigger than any tissue-culture lab’s test tubes at work outside. Great comment.

    @ Carol, Paige, Andrew, Nancy (and Fern): I am glad this post drew a response. I noticed these reversions and thought, do I post about it?…no, maybe it’s not something of interest…hmmmm…and then just went ahead. I am endlessly fascinated by everything outside. So it’s great to hear from everyone on this. Thanks.

  6. nichole says:

    I have a couple of hosta that do this to me every year,it used to drive me crazy but I’ve decided to let nature take it’s course. Who am I to mess with mother nature!

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Jayme, to A Way to Garden. OK, then that’s two votes in favor of the lilac doing its own thing…

  8. Joy says:

    Holy Cow Batman !!! … is this going to happen to my lilac too ? .. now I will have to keep a beedy ? focused ? eye on it to see if “Mr.Hyde” breaks through ! Yikes !

  9. margaret says:

    Welcome, Joy, er, Robin, Boy (Girl?) Wonder. (Am I ever confused now. Yikes.) Yes, we must be vigilant…or just sit back, have a glass of wine, and watch the plants decide who will look like what and where they want to plant themselves, which frankly after three rainstorms today in between gardening attempts and another night in the high 30s coming up sounds pretty good to me.

  10. chey says:

    This is an interesting post Margaret, as reversions are something that we all encounter in our gardens. From your photos it is evident some reversions can actually be striking, and not unwanted. I like your unique idea of a Reversion Garden:).

  11. Arthur says:

    Margaret, are your of Southern heritage? (bless its little heart). It’s such a Southern thing to say!!

    PS: I enjoy your blogs and your garden.

  12. margaret says:

    Welcome, Arthur. No, am NYC born and bred, and lived most of my life there most days of the week. But not now…

  13. Lisa says:

    I planted green and white hosta years ago and now have several patches of all green hosta, gave my neighbor the same and hers is mostly all green now…also had green and white snow on the mountain(I think that is what it is called), and now it is all green planted blue forget-me-nots and had them turn pink in some places and white in others(but all were blue when planted)…I thought it had something to do with the soil ph like with hydrangea and their different colors…so you say it is called a reversion…hmmm…I love your lilac, and I enjoyed watching the forget-me-nots as their colors changed…

  14. margaret says:

    Welcome, Lisa. With your Myosotis, or forget-me-nots, I don’t know if that’s a reversion technically or just the natural range of variability in the plant. Many times Myosotis will change a bit as the flowers age/fade, and there are also distinct color possibilities available, which breeder select for (all-pink strains, for instance).
    I am not a botanist, but in seed-strains there is often this range expressed in many plants; in the case of the lilac, a single individual (the one shrub) is displaying multiple personalities! A branch is reverting, but the rest of the plant is still the typical look.

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