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Choosing Plants: Is Cute Enough?

I chose my first car because it was cute. Honestly--it was a lemon-yellow 1972 VW Beetle. Even the salesman tried to talk me out of it. "It's a repo," he told me, as if a 19 year-old would understand what that meant.

I learned the significance after I got home with my new car. There was a hole in the gas tank, which was located at the front of the car so that gasoline dripped on the floor beneath the dashboard. The horn didn't work and the blinkers were reversed.

There were other issues. The defroster didn't work, both headlights flickered, and the wires to the turn signals were crossed, confusing both me and anyone on the road who tried to guess which way I was going.

I learned the hard way the importance of full disclosure.

Less expensive perhaps, but just as frustrating, is learning the limitations of anything else purchased solely for its cuteness quotient. I buy a lot of plants, many of which catch my eye with their unique beauty, and in some cases, their cuteness.

I make it a point to support independent garden centers, and have been buying quite a bit from family-owned mega-garden-centers within a two hour drive from my house. So far, these businesses have had a nice variety, carry plants you don't often see either at the big box stores or smaller garden centers, and (usually) have good prices. One of my favorites has been Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL.

One of the many garden centers I visit in April and May to buy the majority of my plants for the season.

Three more of my favorites reside in southwest Michigan and include Vite Greenhouse in Niles, MI, River Street Flowerland in Kalamazoo and, for unusual trees and shrubs, Blue Horizon Nursery in Grand Junction. 

One place had a sale on nearly all of their annuals, and I had a few dollars worth of coupons from my previous visit. Although I hadn't planned to, I quickly filled half a cartful. But then, I picked up this little clay pot with no label.

The unknown plant is accompanied here by a variegated ficus.

It was the only one left, and its price was steep, especially for an unidentified plant. I took it to the young lady at the register, who I knew was about to tell me it was a houseplant, which never goes over well with me.

I'm extremely anal and organized when it comes to my plants. I keep a Word document on my computer with the names of all of the plants I buy, dating back to 1996. Sometimes, with just one name to go by, I find the exact plant either in a book or online in order to learn how to care for it and what to expect.

Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' is a plant whose leaves take on a purple tone when grown in sun, but are green in shade.

My husband still laughs about an incident at a garden center when the cashier had the nerve to identify a potted mystery I wanted to purchase as a "houseplant." He said I gave her a look that could have curdled milk, before I told her I needed to know genus and species or I wouldn't buy it.

No one argues that we should get what we pay for, but is it really too much to ask that we know what we pay for? In a world where it's vital to know the serial number of each tiny part of a phone or computer accessory, I wonder why we don't demand the name of the plant growing inside a pot at a garden center.

I keep hearing that Millenials don't care what a plant is called. They just buy it, take it home and incorporate it into their decor. But what if they want to buy another one? Or it dies and they want to replace it?

Finding unlabeled or mis-labeled plants is nothing new. It's not that big a deal if it's obviously a petunia or a pansy, but with the more unusual plants, there is more at stake--they're usually more pricey and harder to find.

This is one of the best labels I've seen in a plant. The plant didn't make it past late summer, but at least I knew why.

So, is the cute factor enough? Whether you take a plant up front to the register because it's cool, cute, weird, or otherwise alien to you, I'd have to say that, yes. It's enough. But always look for the label. 

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