Salisbury, MD. The Gardening Grannies want to remind you that size really does matter when it comes to purchasing plants for your garden. When they say "size" they aren't talking about the size-upon-purchase, they are referring to the size of the plant at maturity. Just like clothing, many plants come in small, medium, large and gigantic and, for an overall good look, it's important to purchase plants on an appropriate scale for your size yard.
If you are working with a small yard, you will be pleased to know that many of the old stand-bys you knew as a child are now available in "small". On the other hand, if you are a "checkbook gardener" developing an estate, the Grannies respectfully suggest you build in the cost of a professional. For the rest of us, here are some points to ponder before purchasing.
1) Don't kid yourself into thinking that you can control the size of a standard plant by judicious pruning. Most of the Grannies have "Been There, Done That" and have a ratty t-shirt to prove it. You know the drill. You are nonchalantly doing a bit of plant shopping, when this absolutely gorgeous plant comes onto your radar screen. It's exactly the right color to complement the entrance at the front window and the price is right…..but the tag clearly states "20 feet at maturity". Then, this little voice somewhere in the insane portion of your brain says, "but, you can prune it hard every spring". Cut to the chase, the end of the story is that "they all did not live happily ever after"!
2) Many of those old standards that you loved as a child are now available in small or medium. Take, for example, lilacs. Remember that sweet lilac smell floating on the breeze when you visited your Grandmother's house or a local garden? Remember how tall they were? Twelve, maybe fourteen feet tall with a huge circumference of tangled trunks. But, you say, you just don't have room for something that size. The good news is that lilacs now come in much smaller sizes. Two years ago, Granny Griffith purchased three small….actually tiny….lilacs from one of those ads in the Sunday supplement of the Daily Times. She's not sure, but she thinks it was Spring Hill Nursery. Anyway, Granny planted them out on the edge of the woods and staked them….not because they needed staking but because she was concerned they would be trampled. The tiny lilacs survived the first winter, proving that some plants can survive being completely covered with snow for extended periods of time. In hindsight, the snow probably kept the deer from munching on them. They grew a bit last summer and then made it through this past winter without any special care. Last week, two of the three burst into bloom. The smallest doesn't look like it will bloom this year. The mid-sized one, now about a foot tall, has three lovely blooms and the tallest one, now nearly two feet tall has a half dozen blooms. While their size still renders them nearly "lost" in Granny's acre and a half, they would be so perfect in a large pot in a patio garden or in a small enclosed garden.
3) Now is the time of year those wild rambling purple wisterias have aggressively overtaken trees along the edge of the woods in rural areas with an incredible blast of color! Can these rascals be tamed enough to make them safe for your home garden? The answer is most definitely, "yes". There are several domesticated varieties out there that, with several prunings a year, the vines can be kept under control. You do have to shop your catalogs carefully and, for goodness sakes, don't dig up a roadside seedling in the name of economy! You will be oh so sorry.
4) Crape Myrtles are another garden favorite that comes in a wide variety of sizes. They can range in size from the towering White Natchez which can reach 20 feet or more to the diminutive dwarf varieties that mature out at about four feet. When purchasing Crape Myrtles, first, pick the height, then the color. Another suggestion worth considering is that you should always purchase plants in bloom when color is critical. Sometimes shades vary and, unfortunately, sometimes labels get switched.
5) In closing, the Gardening Grannies respectfully suggest that you carefully read the labels, heed their advice and keep in mind, size really does matter.
The Gardening Grannies are a group of avid and Master Gardeners who live, love and garden on the Delmarva Peninsula. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.