Plants as Gifts

by Mark Cullen

There is an abundance of early autumn birthdays in our family, mostly on my wife’s side. We like to joke that her parents avoided New Year’s Eve parties and celebrated on their own. Ha!

Celebration ‘season’ seems to be with us year-round. As a close friend of mine likes to remind me, the older we get the more we should celebrate. In our latter years, we attend enough ‘celebrations of life’ to be reminded that he is right.

Whether you are celebrating an anniversary, the birth of a new child or the 150 birthday of a country, I have some ideas for you. Give plants that make a statement about the occasion or the person you are celebrating. Here is my list of top 6:

  1.  “Happy Returns” a daylily that is so vigorous and long lived that it might outlast us. It blooms its head off most of the summer too. Right now, you might find one at a garden retailer that has some colour on it. Winter hardy to zone 2, it loves the sun and is almost completely insect and disease free, in my experience. Each year the clump of roots gets a bit bigger and more colourful. This is the perfect gift for the gardener and non-gardener alike.

I planted several ‘Happy Returns’ in my garden 12 years ago and I have had many happy returns since.

  • Forget-me-Not. This plant is so easy to grow we often overlook it. But the name provides a hint to its gift-worthiness. Early last spring, I photographed our first born grand child, then a mere 4 months old, kicking it up in a bed of Forget-me-nots. She has since learned to walk and wreaks havoc most everywhere she goes now, pulling things off shelves and shoving everything in her mouth as youngsters tend to do. Indeed, each visit she makes to our place is hard to forget.

Sow the seeds now for April blossoms. Pinch the seeds off the end of new growth in early May and spread them throughout the garden where you want them to grow.

And keep in mind that a packet of Forget Me Not seeds will set you back about $2, so you can afford to be generous and place these in the envelope of a non-electronic card. An old-fashioned plant in an ‘old fashioned’ greeting card.

  •  Fall blooms. How about a plant that flowers reliably on the occasion that you are celebrating? Right now, Butterfly Bush (buddleia) is an excellent choice for a garden up to zone 5, as it is in bloom, will be for another month or two. It is fragrant and is my #1 butterfly plant. There are many other plants that bloom in late August, including Sedum Spectabile (“you are fabulous Spectabile Darling!”).
  • Incrediball’ Hydrangea. Remember the old fashioned ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea that every Victorian style home had growing in the front yard? Well, forget it. This new introduction of hydrangea is an exciting addition that will knock your gardening socks off (or the noise-maker from between your teeth). It grows in sun or partial shade up to about a meter and a half and features late season creamy white flowers about the size of your head. Really? Compare and see. Hardy to zone 4.
  • Rose of Sharon. While it would help if the recipients name is Sharon, this hardy (zone 4) flowering shrub is a winner. You see them in bloom all over established neighbourhoods right now. They look remarkably like hibiscus, the tropical plant that we see everywhere. That’s because they are hibiscus, just a winter hardy version of it. They seem to bloom forever (August through early October) and hummingbirds love them. But look for the single flowering varieties if you want hummers as the doubles are hard for them to access.
  • Sugar or Rubrum Maple. There had to be a couple of trees on my list. And they must be native, reliable (insect and disease resistant) and useful in most urban landscapes. Enter the Sugar maple (made famous by its sweet sap and the image of its leaf on our national flag) and the Rubrum Maple, which is the true ‘red’ maple, unlike the Crimson King/Norway maple imposter.  Rubrum turns brilliant red in the fall. For a REAL show look for the cultivar ‘Autumn Blaze’. Outstanding! Happy Birthday Canada.

With National Tree Day about a month away (Wednesday, September 27th) I thought I would ‘plant this seed’ with you today.

Still looking for something to celebrate? Say Happy Birthday to Canada: plant a native tree.

Finally, if you are looking for a plant that has the name of someone you love, here are some suggestions: Rozanne (hardy geranium), Sonia, Rebekah, Honor and Mr. Lincoln (well, you never know…) (roses), Miss Kim (lilac), Ricki, Randy and Susan (magnolias. Hmm, interesting planted together), Elizabeth (Japanese maple) to name a few.

Mark Cullen is lawn & garden expert for Home Hardware, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Canadian Garden’ published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.