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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Tough goodbyes

It’s a plant, not a pet, as Kerry Ann Mendez reminds us in her book The Right-Size Flower Garden. A rational gardener should be able to throw away any plant that’s not doing what she wants it to do. Perhaps it’s grown too big, the flower color isn’t what you wanted, it’s turning out to be aggressive, or maybe it’s just failing to thrive. Failure to thrive in humans is a reason for a hospital stay. In plants, it means it’s time to throw the sad sack on the compost pile.

Discards in the compost bin

    Although my rational side knows this makes sense, I get attached to plants. Some of my houseplants have lived in the house as long as I have. They seem like part of the family. How could I have the heart to discard them?

    This summer as usual I have to force myself to throw away some plants I can’t use. One of my container staples is elephant ears (Colcasia esculenta). In summer my New England landscape starts to look blah, with all the deciduous leaves around the same size and color. The huge light green leaves of elephant ears, up to two feet long and almost as wide, add some much-needed drama to the yard after the spring flowers have faded. 

Elephant ears add a bit of tropic flair

    Otherwise known as taro, this plant was one of the first crops cultivated by humans. It’s easy to grow in tropical areas of Africa and South Asia, where the fleshy roots provide a useful starch. It multiplies just as easily for me, and at the end of the summer I often have more elephant ears plants than I had the previous spring. This year I’ve used all I can in containers. I’ve got three burgeoning specimens left that I’m going to have to discard. It hurts.

    Then there are the plants that are sick or dying. This weekend I admitted that two of my African violets were probably never going to do well. 

I kept hoping these African violets would fill in

If I were willing to try, I might be able to rehabilitate them by cutting off the stems and re-rooting them. I’ve got more than I need already, though, so it’s time for these to go. Another sad parting.

    I took the pruners to the variegated kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta) that’s been growing against a north-facing wall along the driveway for at least twenty years. It’s made it through a lot of hard times, but now it’s infested with scale for the second year. I don’t want to use pesticides, beyond removing each insect with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. So I’m going to try replacing it with a native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). 

    I cut the poor kiwi off its supporting wires to send out as yard waste, making sure to pick up any infested leaves that fell to the ground. 

Kiwi vine in the yard waste. The cottony white blobs are scale insects

A lot of memories go with that vine. I hope the honeysuckle will live a long and scale-free life.

Honeysuckle blooming near the ill-fated kiwi. This native vine is tough.

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