Confessions of a Serial Killer


I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself.

  • J.C. Raulston, paraphrasing Sir Peter Smithers –

We all have our fantasy gardens, fragrant and lush.  We are sometimes so overcome with plant lust that otherwise prudent and wise gardeners temporarily lose their minds. Impulse purchases of completely unsuitable plants happen to all of us, even when we know better.  There are errors in judgment like putting a delicate plant on the south side of the the house when it prefers partial shade or just straight up not watering the poor thing. And then there are the utter horticultural mysteries.  Things that should be perfect for our soil, our climate, and our watering schedule but shrivel up and die anyway, the greatest botanical betrayal of all.

I’ve killed dozens of plants this year alone and it’s only July.  I fully expect to kill again.  Here is the body count so far.

Lavender:  I love lavender.  I love the clean, resinous fragrance and the airy mound of pale purple blossoms buzzing with bees.  So far this year, I’ve killed 6.  They were in full sun, partial shade, fairly dry, slightly moist, luscious black garden soil and sandier soil.  In other words, they have had every possible combination of conditions that I could offer and they still died.  My heart breaks but I go on.

Peppermint:  WTF?   Who kills peppermint?  It’s the tribble of the plant world!

Western Sand Cherry (x4):  Supposedly good for arid environments. I tried it in 4 inch containers and I tried a bigger, 1 gallon size.  I tried full sun and partial shade in order to give it some protection.  Nope.

American Wild Plum:  It was planted 3 days before the hellish heat wave we had at the beginning of July and didn’t survive the week.

Showy Milkweed:  Totally in the wrong location.  It needs better soil and more moisture.

Wisteria:  more weeping.  Fortunately, it was a bareroot plant that I picked up for $5, so I didn’t lose much.

Clematis, both clematis jackmanii (which grows extravagantly in my brother’s garden, utterly neglected) and a native clematis, which hung on for a few weeks before dropping all of it’s leaves and giving up the ghost.

Peonies:  What was I thinking.

Red Sorrel:  It just couldn’t stand up to the heat, no matter how much I watered.

Missouri Evening Primrose: The right soil, the right light, the right water.  Died anyway.

Canna lilies: never even came up.

This isn’t a complete list of everything that has died under my care this year but it’s all I can bear to talk about without a stiff drink.  There’s a great episode of Let’s Argue About Plants by the editors of Fine Gardening magazine in which they discuss their many plant murders.  Even the experts fail sometimes.  The trick is not to quit but to learn your lessons, do your research and try again.  Persistence is always rewarded… eventually.

What have you killed in your garden this year?

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