I think there are two strong motivations that cause me to be a plant collector. For one thing, I love to have uncommon plants in my garden. I'm always intrigued when Carol Reese or Dale Skaggs gives a plant talk and mentions hard-to-find plants. I start thinking, "I must have one of those." Here is one such plant that I bought two years ago at the Dixon spring plant sale, Edgeworthia chrysantha, commonly called "paper bush." Although it is a deciduous shrub, Edgeworthia has all-season interest. Here is a picture of my Edgworthia, just leafing out this spring. When fully leafed out, it makes a dense, large-leafed shrub about 3-4 feet high and wide.
In the fall, soon after Edgeworthia drops its leaves, it assumes a completely different, but wonderful, look. First, its interesting branching structure and attractive bark take center stage. Then white bell-like buds appear in November and persist throughout the winter. A December visitor to our house told me that she had walked over to get a closer look, thinking I had decorated it for Christmas.
These buds remain throughout the winter. In late winter, usually February, small yellow, fragrant flowers appear beneath the white bells. This photo (not from my plant) shows the yellow flower that barely protrudes from the white bell.
Edgeworthia has been fairly carefree for me. Although the nursery tag says full sun or part shade, it definitely appreciates some shade during the hot part of the day in this part of the country, as well as a little extra water. Like the mophead hydrangeas, it will let you know when it needs water by its droopy leaves.
I also love plants in my garden that have a story: plants from a friend's or relative's garden or plants with connections to special places. Here is Iris cristata collected from an old roadbed in my husband Jack's long-ago vacated family farm in West Virginia.
We collected several small clumps two years ago and they have multiplied nicely into a sweet little woodland groundcover.
Below is an iris from my mother's garden. I don't know what kind it is and it's not the prettiest iris in my garden, but it is special because of its origin.
And an offspring of a peony from Jack's grandmother's garden.
And so it goes: that rose cutting you got from a favorite aunt and that hellebore seedling you got from your friend and so on and so on. All those newcomers must have a place in a plant collector's garden. So do we totally give up on our gardens having any elements of good design in favor of having all the plants we treasure? This article suggests that with knowledge of good design principles, we may be able to have both--or at least minimize the chaos. Happy collecting!