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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it...

Does anyone else find it impossible to pass the ‘Rescue Table’ without at least taking a look? It’s that section of a nursery where the dried–up, the bloomed-out and the too-late-for-this-season sit abashed in their liners, hanging their heads in dishonor under the sign of ‘clearance’. The price might be a couple of dollars, or maybe a quarter. Annie/Diva claims to have found a few of her exotic treasures for a dime, but she’s got bargain radar extraordinaire. A lot of these bargains turn up at the big box stores, so we always use the garden entrance, even when buying filters for the air conditioner or light bulbs.

It's not just the price – there’s something appealing about being the plant’s last hope, about taking something one step away from the trash and making it live. If the mission fails, there’s no disgrace when even the vendor had given up on the plant.

I don't look for shrubs or trees. Early maltreatment or root damage can show up years after you plant it, and I want the best possible permanent residents. I stick to ‘just for fun’ plants, those annuals and perennials that are interesting but not essential elements in the design.
One of the bargains that revived to bloom again were seen here on June 29th, the ‘Crème Brulee’ coreopsis. That was 3 months ago, and they’re still opening new flowers. Making it through winter without rotting won’t be easy for them in my clay ground, but I hope they’ll live to bloom again next summer.

An end-of-season bag containing 3 oriental lily bulbs was less than $2 a few years back. It was past mid-summer when I planted them in a good-sized container. They sat in semi-shade and were watered regularly. The soil was light with lots of humus, and there was a layer of wood chips on the bottom of the pot. Nothing happened that fall, but some stalks emerged the following spring – all leaves, no flowers. Another year, some time and care and the pot overflowed with fragrant lilies, in bloom when our house was up for sale. I brought the pot along when we moved here and planted them in the ground the next year. They didn’t do much last summer, but this July they bloomed again.

Sometimes you see cardboard cartons of clematis roots, with the roots enclosed in a plastic bag of peat moss. This is not the kind of clematis to buy if you’re putting together a garden – get one in a decent container from a good nursery. But I was just fooling around, trying to see what could grow in a container on a deck in Austin, Texas. One section of that deck was more test plot than garden. I noticed that one of the clematis in a carton on the clearance table seemed to have viable leaf buds, so I brought it home and potted it. It grew in that pot for a couple of years, making a substantial root system.
When it eventually bloomed, the Clematis was not the variety pictured on the cardboard, but I liked the color. I planted it near the back door when we moved here, with blue plumbago to shade the base. This August the clematis looked like heck, with most of the leaves turned crispy brown. But the stems retained a hint of green, and several weeks ago new leaves appeared, followed by buds, then once again, the purple flowers.

A decorative container with 9 dying lantana plants stuffed into it was $2, but lantana is basically a weed - all I had to do was get them out of the pot and into the ground.

I have to post this photo, too, and admit that I haven't won the plant rescue game every time.

I had such high hopes for this pitiful Alocasia ‘Hilo Beauty’, a deal at $2 instead of the original twenty. Bought last fall and looking ratty back then, too, this plant lived through our winter in a dormant state, and awoke in spring.

Will it ever forgive me for making it live in Austin this summer? My mission could still succeed if I'm patient and lucky.


  1. ‘Rescue Table’

    I am such a sucker for these. Sigh.
    I really need to walk away from the table.

    But every now and then I get great goodies - this year's was a pair of foxgloves for a dollar each.

  2. I almost never pick up sale plants in need of rescue. I go to the nursery with a particular plant or plants in mind, and usually I stick to the plan, which is a good thing for my very small, very full garden.

    However, garden decor on sale (a birdhouse, a lovely pot, whimsical art) . . . now that I can't resist. Wait a minute, didn't I just say my garden is small? Well, there's always room for something else, isn't there? :-)

  3. I rescue plants all of the time...but most of them are my friend's herb farm, where they often discard plants that aren't perfect. I hate to see them all in a pile, turning into compost (which isn't such a bad thing, I know) - but it still breaks my heart. Last fall a person that worked for them was asked to discard about 30 perennial fall-blooming salvias (they were really leggy in their pots) - and so she asked if she could just give them to me (my friend Pete, of Petes Herbs, just laughed and said sure) - and now I have them all along my outside fence and they are simply beautiful. (I've also bought a few 'rescue' trees - some have done pretty well, others not so well).

  4. Annie, you have quite a few success stories from your rescue missions. I haven't bought too many plants like that, but do on occasion. Maybe I should pay more attention when I am shopping.

    I do worry about what the stores do with bulbs that don't sell. Do they send them back or throw them in a dumpster? When I think about it, I end up buying more bulbs!

  5. Annie, what beautiful success stories you have! I particularly like the purple clematis with the light blue plumbago flowers--nice combination there. :)

    Maybe I should go back to the garden center and pick up those half-dead pots of hakonechloa...

  6. It would be very easy to say I do not pick up plants at the bargain table because I don't. If I go into a nursery I have specific plants to buy. If something unusual catches my eye then I look for the biggest and healthiest with the most parts for chopping into little pieces to propagate.

    Now this is not to say that the beaten, thrashed and half dead don't find their way to my home because they do. I just find them as cast off in other gardens or along the side of the road. I am also not opposed to removing things from garbage cans.

    I am just opposed to paying for something that I know I can get for free some where else.

  7. Oh, I'm a sucker for those castoffs, too. I can't bear to see a plant thrown away. And look how they've rewarded you. Beautiful.

  8. Jenn, sounds like a good deal to me. BTW, the plants called Foxgloves down here frequently turn out to be Penstemon rather than digitalis.

    Pam/Digging, my garden has some whimsical touches, but almost all were gifts, so they tell something about my family & friends, but little about me.

    Pam/SC - nice rescue on the salvias, as long as you had a good place to plant them. Mine get so enormous.

    Carol, I bought pink-cup daffodils 4/$1 at big lots; not sure if that was a rescue or just nuts on my part.

    Kim, I've never tried to rescue a grass, but exactly how much were the hakonechloa? Maybe with enough mulch over the winter....

    Christopher - you found stuff on the side of the road?? I've never had that happen! Although my daughter adopted houseplants tossed by the dumpster at semester's end in college.

    LaGringa, just remember I'm not showing you the deceased experiments - they left in a paper yard bag!

  9. Oh, yes, getting by the 'Rescue Table' is not easy. You have a true Green Thumb, I see, and I imagine the plants sitting on the 'Rescue Table' see that thumb of yours a mile away. I marvel at the life you have given these plants. It's wonderful!

  10. Hey, i can buy wholesale, and I still check those "tables" Local Lowes was selling all grasses yesterday for .50 cents!!!

  11. This seems as humane as going to an animal shelter and coming home with a new pet. You are a very caring gardener - after my own heart. ML of full fath.

  12. You've done well with those 'survivors' Annie. You have a kind heart :)
    Years ago when we still had an Agway store close by, the guy would give me several things at the the end of the season for free...because he knew they'd at least have a shot at growing. I had some successes...especially with Astilbe.
    Is your purple clematis a Jackmanii? It looks like mine.


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