The Truth, Nothing Butt the Truth?  Forget About It.

The Truth, Nothing Butt the Truth?  Forget About It.


Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) on the High Line in New York City last month.

I have a soft spot for forsaken plants. The Allegheny spurge quickly comes to mind. Pachysandra procumbens should, without hesitation, be planted in more shady gardens.

Do not spurn this spurge.

There are hundreds of worthy plants and seeds, hidden in the shadows, of dozens of 2020 garden catalogs. These shy introverts may be lacking only a little sizzle.

Here’s your chance for an award-winning plant description. All you have to do is write a short, I-must-have-this-plant description about your favorite nowhere-near-loved-enough perennial, tree, shrub or edible plant. Leave your description in the reply box below.

I will judge entries and recognize the best two descriptions here on this post, next Wednesday. The winning entrant will have their choice of one of two grand prizes. The first option is a piece of Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’ dug from my garden. I’ll ship a small plant in April. The 2nd option is a copy of Planting in a Post-Wild World, a book full of provocative design ideas and substantive plant suggestions, written by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West. Author and entomologist Doug Tallamy described the book as the “universal how-to guide” and a “masterful accomplishment.”

Here are a few homework tips before you tackle the first Garden Rant Challenge of 2020.

Keep it short.

I wrote nursery and seed catalog copy for over 35 years. Advertising doctrine once suggested that a good photo might be worth a thousand words. I no longer think the word count part of that analogy holds. My impression is that readers these days seldom take time to read 200 words—for anything. Blame it on Digital Distraction Disorder. I should have focused on photography.

Be as cutesy as you want, but be careful.

In the mid-1980s I offered a tulip variety in the Holbrook Farm and Nursery fall catalog called ‘Clara Butt.’ I dreamed that thousands of customers would plant Ms. Butt in gardens across America. I felt confident that my customers would hang onto every word of my description. If they had, they would claim spring dominion by yelling across the garden fence: “Howdy neighbor…Guess what? Clara Butt’s up!”

Clara Butt did not come up and never caught on.

Don’t get hung up on the whole truth.

Planting in a Post-Wild World authors, Rainer and Wild, tell the truth about Pachysandra procumbens. ‘The Allegheny spurge adopts a conservative growth strategy, focusing on slowly spreading under limited light conditions.” This is code for: pokey in the shade.

Mark Twain wasn’t tied to the truth. He once said, “Never let the truth stand in the way of a  good story.”

Plant nurseries and seed companies have to pay their light bills. A few plant details, a little storytelling and a good photograph—when coupled well together—will help keep the lights on.

“Stunning floral show” on Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’. Photo credit: Plant Delights Nursery.

Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery knows how to let loose with plant descriptions. You know immediately how passionately Tony feels toward the plants he writes about. The full truth may be withheld sometimes, but that’s OK.

Tony found an Allegheny spurge far from the Alleghenies near the gates of the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana. The cultivar is appropriately named ‘Angola’.  Pachysandra procumbens has a natural range over a wide swath of Eastern North America.

Tony writes, “Most Pachysandra procumbens in the trade are from cooler climates, so when we stumbled across this attractive clone near the gates of Louisiana’s Angola Prison in spring 1999, we thought…well, we thought we’d better get the hell out of there, but not without a piece of this attractive heat-loving clone. After six years, this selection had made a stunning 4′ wide clump in our garden. The new foliage on Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’ is heavily patterned pewter against the olive-green base color, making an attractive combination. Starting in early March (NC), the patches are adorned with a stunning floral show of masses of sweetly fragrant 4″ tall stalks of white, bottlebrush-like flowers. This is hands down the earliest and best flowering clone of Pachysandra procumbens we’ve ever seen…great when used as a groundcover in the woodland garden.”

I claim pachysandra kinship through my late mother. She was the undisputed queen of homegrown pachysandra growers. Mom rooted cuttings of the common, evergreen Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) and stuck them in shady spots every chance she got. Mom would try any plant once, but she wasn’t crazy about the Allegheny spurge. (Admittedly, she never grew ‘Angola’.)

“What about the silver-gray mottled leaves in late winter and early spring?” I asked.

“The leaves are not shiny green like my pachysandra,” she said.

“Do you like the little white blooms?”

She rubbed her chin and said, “I guess they’re okay, if you like flowers that resemble a limp bottle cleaner brush, but they are fragrant. I’ll give you that.”

I had an ace in the hole: “But it’s native, mom!”

She answered, “Yeah, right. So is southern blight.”

Do me a favor. Ignore my mom’s comments.

Don’t let the truth, nothing but the truth, get in the way of your good plant descriptions.

Best of luck!

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