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Killing Plants Redux Rant

There’s a reason why this isn’t a picture of a gardenia. My gardenia is still in the same limbo it was in the last time I posted on it. Except it lost the single dead leaf.


This photograph of ‘Schwartzkop’ aeonium is the only peaceful thing on this page. Enjoy it.

OK, so I’m reading Robert Smaus’s 52 Weeks in a California Garden. (I picked it up at the thrift store. I tried to keep away from the book department. I knew I didn’t need any more books. But a powerful magnetic force grabbed me by my chest, and there I was, haplessly taking books down from the shelf.)

And do you know what he says about gardenias? He says that they should be grown in the sun. Even though he lives in Southern California, which is a heck of a lot hotter and sunnier than where I am. He says even in interior valleys where it’s blazing hot, gardenias like sun. He says he doesn’t know where all this nonsense about gardenias needing shade comes from.

From the Sunset Western Garden Book, that’s where. “Filtered shade in inland valleys,” it says. “North and east exposure in the desert.”

And that’s just the beginning. Logee’s catalogue shows the sun/part shade icons for their gardenias. And I trusted them. But they’re in Connecticut growing in greenhouses. I suppose they can be excused.

Hot Plants for Cool Climates says that gardenias grow best in light or part shade, but do OK in full sun–only if it’s not too hot.

I’m sure I remember the little name markers in gardenia pots having that same semi-shade icon. It’s unlikely I would have bought them otherwise, since I knew I didn’t have any space in the sun for them.

Smaus said that gardenias-in-part-shade was a widespread belief in nursery and horticultural circles. He wasn’t kidding.

Do you know how irritating this is? It’s not my fault, I had bad information. Do you know how irritating it is that I paid attention to that bad information, and not to the evidence of my eyes and hands, while all those gardenias were dying? (Yes, the full truth can be regretfully revealed. That gardenia I talked about almost killing before–it wasn’t my first gardenia. I’ve had many gardenias. And I’ve killed them all.)

To top it off, as I prowled my library looking for writeups on gardenias, I came across a final puzzler: Ruth Stout’s famous gardenia (one that she grew huge and gave away many starts from) was, by her account, “carefully kept out of the sun.” And it thrived.


But that was in Connecticut.


Robert Smaus, 52 Weeks in the California Garden, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, 1996

Logee’s catalogue, Late Spring 2008 (and by the way, Logee’s is usually very reliable, and specific, cultural information. And they grow a great selection of plants (they are the source of many of my late lamenteds), and ship them in beautiful shape. And no, I didn’t get paid to write this.)

Susan A. Roth and Dennis Schrader, Hot Plants for Cool Climates, Timber Press, 2000

Ruth Stout, How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, Cornerstone Library, 1976 (reprint of 1968 and 1955 editions)

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • plantgurus July 3, 2008, 8:53 am

    Hi! Fellow blotanical member, here…how funny, I just posted a little something about the grafted gardenias we grow. Feel free to take a look at our site. It is interesting to hear different stories and struggles that people have with gardenia plants. They really are a beautiful plant if you can get them to cooperate, huh? Feel free to contact us with any questions, and if we can guide you in the right direction!

    Great post, by the way…sometimes completely depending on books and other’s advice can be frustrating, especially since everyone can even have a totally different ‘microclimate’ within the climate they live…even just in little zones in our backyards! But that’s the fun of it…combining science & intuituion!

  • Pomona Belvedere July 4, 2008, 8:46 am

    A combination of science and intuition is a great way to describe gardening–it’s so true. There are so many variables that you’d be experimenting forever to figure them all out–yet there’s no doubt that some science is really helpful.

    And just to prove that I haven’t really given up on garden advice–I’m coming over to your site to see your article on gardenias.

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