Gardening 101

Be Careful of Fake Gardening Information

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Fake information is all around us—and I’m getting tired of it. Surprisingly, it exists in many of the national gardening magazines, especially in lists compiled by writers who obviously know little about gardening. As readers—and gardeners—we have to beware of some of the print.

I believe that a good gardening article should educate the reader. And therein lies the problem with fake information: Often editors of general-themed magazines will assign a gardening topic to a non-gardener. This is a bit akin to someone who doesn’t cook writing out a recipe on how to make crème brûlée, resulting in the novice cook throwing up her hands in failure.

I recently came across an article, “The South’s Best Fragrant Plants for Your Garden,” leaving me to shaking my head in disgust as this article could only lead to disaster. “Climbing roses” headed the list. Now I know a lot about climbing roses. Some are fragrant and some are not. Just because a rose throws out long canes does not mean it carries an aroma.

In the second place, “wisteria” sent shivers up my spine. Our native wisteria, W. frutescens is not as aggressive as the Asian wisterias, but it still is a beast that needs to be tamed. As Alan Armitage, a renowned horticulturalist at the University of Georgia, famously said, “Within five years it will have covered half of your house.” As gorgeous and fragrant as they are, the exotic wisterias should never be planted in our gardens—and the native wisteria is not for the inexperienced gardener.

Clematis terniflora (sometimes listed as C. paniculata) also made the list. I once lusted after Sweet Autumn Clematis, a particularly dangerous plant because it is so lovely. It is also an invasive seeder that has escaped into the wild in the Midwest, the East, and the Appalachians. Once you have it, you will never be able to get rid of it.

Fortunately, I did my homework before purchasing it, saving me from a lot of aggravation. There are so many wonderful clematises out there so why select one that should have no place in our gardens? Try our native C. virginiana if you’re dying to have a clematis that grows 25 feet in length and puts out small white flowers.

Oriental lilies also made the list. Now I love lilies and would love to grow the gorgeous—and fragrant—oriental lilies in my garden, but they want a cooler summer than we can supply them here in the Piedmont. The Asiatic and orienpet lilies do well here and many of the orienpets perfume the air. Anyone who tries to grow the oriental lilies here is doomed to failure after a couple of years.

The last item on the list was Elaeagnus pungens, a plant that is on the Federal Noxious Weed List. Need I say anything more?

Another list I came across was one recording plants that showed well at night because they were white. Listed was the previously discussed Clematis terniflora and garlic chives. Now garlic chives are a great herb to grow—if you are diligent about cutting off the flowers. Allium tuberosum will seed all over your garden, producing young garlic chives that are so firmly rooted in that they are impossible to pull out. Instead, try planting regular chives, A. schoenoprasum, whose purple flowers are not excessively seedy.

Anyone can make up a list of plants that has a shared characteristic, such as fragrance or color. While I admit to reading these lists at times, I expect the writer to do a minimum of research before putting pen to paper. All too often the lister has given little thought to the accuracy of the information.

These articles—and they are by no means the only ones—simply encourage us to plant unsuitable plants that will either overtake the garden or are guaranteed to disappoint. A simple search on the Internet would have rectified many of these problems.

The best thing to do, I think, is to read these articles as though they were editorials. Otherwise, you might find yourself the proud owner of a scentless climbing rose or a wisteria that has buried your house.

After joining the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners in 2003, Kit Flynn now has emeritus status. She writes gardening articles for the Durham County Extension Master Gardener newsletter, an online magazine “Senior Correspondent,” and “The Absentee Gardeners” column for “The Blowing Rocket” with Lise Jenkins.

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