It’s getting closer to the time we can buy lovely annual flowers to decorate attractive pots and garden beds. Buying at the right time is so important: too early and a gardener risks housing them in the garage for a long time, until the weather is consistently decent (usually a week into June in northern Michigan). Too late and they become sickly and root bound.
And there is a third danger...
I remember one year in Mid-May when I entered a big local building store to buy some supplies, and couldn’t resist trotting through their garden section. Trucks were outside, and workers were unloading flat after flat of colorful annuals, some already growing out of their containers. They sat there, in full bloom, but it was too early to plant them safely. Lovely spring weather in Michigan can turn miserable in hours. Thousands of annuals die from cold, especially those who are outside the store when it freezes.
Failing to ignore their allure I wandered over to examine the Impatiens (busy Lizzies). I love their bright and varied colors, as well as their ease of culture. Then I noticed what their bright yellow plastic labels said: FULL SUN! Obligingly, a beaming, smiling yellow sun was pictured. These plants, which bloom practically forever in part-shade, could never cope. Also, no name, common or otherwise, was to be found anywhere on that label. They were simply listed as ‘Annuals.’
That they’d been summarily dismissed as too unimportant for a name was bad enough, but that declaration about full sun was 100% wrong. Those poor ‘busy lizzies’ would cook to black in an afternoon; the owners would be hot with anger too, at the realization that money had been wasted, not to mention the hours it had taken to plant them.
Someone would believe the labels, I mused. (If it’s written down, it must be true.) Exactly then, a woman and her husband came in, exclaimed over the impatiens’ lovely colors and popped 6 lush flats onto a big trolley. “These…er, whatevers- are just right for the entire front driveway island. See? Full sun!” She waved one extracted label at him and they began to push their full trolley toward the checkout area.
I couldn’t help it; I had to say something. Almost $100.00 worth of plants was at stake.
They were shocked, then angry, then angry with me (“you dumb clerk!”), then dubious, and finally, apologetic and meekly unsure. “Well, darn! It SAYS…”
I’ve learned, over the quarter century I’ve spent in my own garden, that labels aren’t always accurate. Be especially suspicious if no common or proper name is offered for a plant you don’t recognize, or haven’t grown. Ask a knowledgeable nursery person about its particular requirements. (Sometimes there is a big reference book at the store that specifies more exactly what flower it is, and what it likes.)
I decided to alert the clerk, who was gratifyingly horrified. She loved flowers, and knew the needless death that would have awaited those wonderful garden workhorses. She began removing the multitude of yellow plastic labels, muttering, “There have to be proper labels around here. If not, I’ll make a big sign.”
I left her to it, and went home, relieved.
Some good has come from my own sad experiences.