Christmas was fast approaching, although cold weather was not yet a companion. My daughter Heather wanted to take the opportunity to have her car washed before she went out for Christmas shopping.  Her mischievous twin boys, Ben and Will, were with her and off they went to the Kirkstone Car Wash. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon. 

In the meantime, Susan and I were also in Augusta doing some routine errands of our own.  About 2:15, Susan decided to check in with her daughter to see how things were going.  Just a routine mother/daughter chat.

As she was talking, Heather suddenly screamed, and screamed once more. And then the phone went dead. 

I would like to say a chaotic lifestyle was not the norm for Heather and her 4 young children, but I would be lying. So while we a little concerned, we were not yet in a panic mode. However, Susan called once, then twice and by the third time we were getting worried.  We decided it was time to go to Heather’s, and make sure everyone was okay. 

When we arrived, the SUV was there, and we found Heather outside the car. Old towels were everywhere; my daughter was totally soaking wet and oh boy, was she fuming. The kids were nowhere to be seen. “What happened?” “Why are you so wet?” “Why didn’t you call us?”

Heather wiped some water from her eyes, pushed back her sopping hair, and said, “We were going through the car wash, and Ben pushed the sun roof button!” “The car must have a foot of water in it.” And it did. The names she called her boys were creative and non repeatable, suffice it to say that took off as quickly as they could.  

We nodded sympathetically, and agreed with her about her boys, and then drove away.  We didn’t even get 100 yards away before we had to stop the car; our eyes were watering with laughter. started laughing. That had to be one of the best Christmas stories we ever experienced.

I am sure all of you have similar stories with your families - after all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about. 


Merry Christmas




AuthorAllan Armitage

“We discard varieties too soon.”  Such were the sentiments of one of industry’s leaders concerning the introduction of new plants. He had been introducing new varieties for many years, and could explain in detail the good things and the not so good things about the patent system, licensing, and the status of plant breeders’ rights America and Europe. In other words, he knew the mechanics of new crop introduction as well as anyone in this business, and I considered his comment quite telling. 

I write a monthly column for a national industry magazine, Greenhouse Grower, and on more than one occasion, I have stated that there were too many crops in our business. Too many cultivars of petunia and hydrangea and heuchera - and too few consumers to sustain the rush towards more, more and more.

I understand why the plant industry feels the need for new. After all, nobody walks into a garden center and asks, “What’s old?” Perhaps I am just frustrated knowing that another 10 cone flowers and 30 cultivars of calibrachoa will be introduced again this season, just like there were last season. There is just something not right; the industry is feeling like a Tokyo subway car at rush hour - more and more being squeezed in. 

Too much “new” makes the buying experience more confusing and difficult. Essentially logic suggests that “too much new equals to little old”.

In a horticultural business now predicated on promotion and advertising dollars, it makes sense that those dollars will not be spent on something old. However, in the rush to cram in new cultivars, older ones have to go. This would be fine, except that the definition of “old” means something very different to a breeding company compared to 99% of consumers, from retailer to gardener. 

While the industry thinks anything over two years is old, it usually takes twice that long for information about that new cultivar to get down to the user level, (even longer for my daughters) and by that time it is on the chopping block. A new double Digiplexis may be really neat to those who bred it but, good grief, people, gardeners and retailers are now just hearing about any Digiplexis, and it is 4 years old. 

Have you tried to find an old-fashioned purple coneflower lately? Those are the ones that everyone’s daughters are successful with.  Today, yellow, orange and strawberry coneflowers are everywhere and the purple are considered boring and don’t get the shelf space anymore.  

I am by no means upset with new cultivars; I revel in it – heck, I introduced a bunch of them myself. New crops will always be the lifeblood of the landscape and gardening industry. However, I caution my colleagues that we must be careful about throwing out the wine before its time.  Let’s give gardeners and plant lovers a chance to learn about them before something else is stuck in their faces.

Once upon a time there was a well-known horticulturist named Adam who thought he knew what was best when choosing and designing plants for his house.   When it was time to plant his window boxes, Adam’s wife deferred to his experience and simply said, “I want them full and colorful.”  “No worries,” Adam said.

Adam knew the best plants from his experiences and went to a local garden shop.  He could not find any of the cultivars he knew were excellent.  He went to two other locations in town and the story was the same; either the cultivar name was not on the tag, or they were old and tired selections.  Adam had not shopped much before; after all he worked with plants and always was able to find what he needed from the greenhouse.  He was understandably upset when none of the plants he told people about could be found.   His wife, on the other hand, saw lots of color, but even she could not find a nice white or clear pink, regardless of varieties. 

They came across some alyssums and finally spied a handsome mix of petunias and verbenas in a container.  Looking at the plant mix, Horticulture Adam thought of ways he could separate them and use them in his boxes.   Together they walked out of the store, plants in hand, ready to work – he the plant guy, she the decorator.

The boxes, soil and the plants were assembled on his table and everything was done “by the book.”  The boxes were filled with top-of-the-line planting soil, and properly moistened.  However, he quickly realized that he could not easily separate the plants without doing significant damage.  No worries, he thought, I’ll simply slide the combinations into each end of the boxes.   Susan came out and gave the thumbs up, and went back in.

Being the professional he was, Adam knew there was one more thing to do.  As he always did when planting in the landscape, he proceeded to cut everything back, hard.   His knew from experience that this would help with overcrowding, disease issues and aeration, and the plants would of course grow back and be even more colorful in a few weeks.  He proceeded; and finished hanging three of the four boxes when he heard Susan gasping in horror. 

“Where’s my color?”  “Where are the flowers?” “What have you done?”  Adam jumped aback with each question and tried to explain that proper horticultural techniques demanded they be cut back.   She countered that this was her house, not one of his landscapes that people would not see every day or one of his experiments in trialing – “Do the other one properly!

Adam could win an argument with his crew, but not with his wife.   Putting away the shears, Adam dutifully hung the last box up, unshorn and flamboyant.   Stepping back he looked at his handiwork then let out a huge sigh; he realized she was right.  There was no comparison nor would there be for many weeks. 

The moral of the story should be obvious. Gardeners and decorators are not professionals.  Gardening and decorating are not jobs; they are simply meant to bring pleasure.  There is no wrong way to plant a petunia nor is cutting back necessary or even desirable.  Who cares? 

Kudos to Susan for reminding Adam why he loved his work so much; we can all use a little reality every now and then.