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Musings » The American Gardener: Magazine of the American Horticultural Society
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Alexandria, Virginia
Hydrangea ‘Amethyst’
May / June 2014

As promised I am now giving you some idea of the contents of an issue of ”The American Gardener” in comparison with the Royal Horticultural Society’s “The Garden”. The same seriousness is there in both of them, that indefinable balance between lavish illustration for its own sake and a sensible text. My esteemed readers may not be aware of a genre called ”horticultural porn”. It is on a par with “food porn” seen in the glossier food magazines, bearing no resemblance to any dish one might actually eat.

So it is with horticultural porn. The roses are pinker and more saccharine or redder and more velvety than on any chocolate box. Irises fairly jump off the page and their beards rear up alarmingly. While such images can be very attractive and enticing they take up valuable page space and reduce the amount left for text. That is quite probably the reason for their presence.

“The American Gardener” speaks for the American Horticultural Society based in Alexandria, Virginia. It is a well established national organization devoted to horticultural education both for adults and children. In June the lead article described unusual and lesser-known varieties of hydrangea, not just the big pink and blue mopheads so commonly seen all over the country. They are all very well in their way but can be dull if overdone.

How many of us know the oakleaf hydrangea? The dwarf form can be a splendid hedge or border planting. Panicle forms come in unusual, even exotic colors, such as lime green. Consider the cherry red flowers on an oak leaf variety, gracefully scattered over the truss with enough space between each blossom to admire it separately. The only odd thing about this otherwise entrancing shrub is its name, ‘Amethyst’. The flowers are red. Why is it called ’Amethyst’? Another article talks about the charming old fashioned nicotianas. Who does not delight in these night scented flowers? In addition to their beauty nicotianas offer other stalwart benefits. They all contain some concentration of nicotine and this is toxic to many animals, causing deer to shy away from them. In contrast swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds as well as the hawkmoth are drawn to them as pollinators. Supporting a population of pollinators is a real boon to everyone who gardens. Another boon is that the author supplies a list of place to find the plants.

The magazine offers some very sage advice. Gardeners often have no idea of the ultimate size of the plants they grow. That five gallon magnolia looks so innocent in its container but nothing grows faster to an overwhelming size than a healthy magnolia tree. Palm trees have similar proclivities. The article is headed ”Think twice, plant once” rather like the old carpenter’s adage, “measure twice, cut once”. The errors above are just of two the most obvious but the author’s illustrations illuminate other equally distressing missteps.

The articles are accompanied by excellent photographs. It is just that they do not dominate or overwhelm the text. This magazine is one that has it priorities clear.