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This is the time of the year when professional sports teams make changes to improve their lineups. (Sorry for the sports analogy but I’m a guy, I can’t help it!) Recently, Cleveland sports teams have been the benefactors of some very clever transactions making our clubs more capable of succeeding. Trades, free agency and drafts are methods used by sport franchises to improve a team’s performance. The changes made by the Browns and Cavaliers were intended to make our teams look a lot better, and I have to say I believe they have succeeded.
This is also the time of year when we can critique our landscaping and gardens asking the same question that our sports clubs ask themselves… are we as good as we can be? Certainly, it’s quite a stretch for us to compare the performance of a nose tackle to that of a Crabapple but there are some similarities. After all, how much more valuable is a flower that won’t flower than a thrower who can’t throw? What’s the worth of a shrub that blocks your walk compared to a blocker that can’t block a walk? I know my garden is only as strong as its weakest link so I will be using everything at my disposal to improve… trades, free agency and the draft.
Trades are the most difficult type of transition for me to make. After all, I’ve grown to know and love these individuals and have tremendous respect for all they have contributed to my gardening efforts over the years. Thing is, there comes the time when a change just needs to be made. Many factors may play into a plant’s poor performance. Sometimes plants decline with age (the term “diminishing skills” comes to mind). Perhaps sunlight or water conditions have changed negatively affecting plant health. Many times the plant in question was never a good fit to begin with and new prospects have more to offer. One plant I am considering trading is my pink coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). While this plant has worked hard and performed to its potential, the new coneflowers are far superior. Echinacea p. “Twilight” is a much better coneflower with longer lasting, larger flowers in a more vibrant color that really “pops” in the middle of the summer.
Free agency is used to obtain an existing player who has established a track record of performance. Free agents are always available and you can plug them in when they fit a piece of the puzzle you are missing. Free agents are hard to resist when you know how much fun it would be to watch them play on your team. I always have a good number of free agents on my radar but I’ve focused in on a couple I really want to get into camp this season. Betula ‘Summer Cascade’ is a dwarf form of river birch with a graceful, weeping form. We know we can count on the hardiness and adaptability of the river birch… it will grow nearly anywhere. ‘Summer Cascade’ only grows 10’ tall so it is the perfect small specimen tree to go where that Dogwood died at the edge of the woods. Picea pungens ‘Bizon Blue’ is the brightest blue spruce I have ever seen. The steely blue needles offer year round interest and will be a tremendous addition to the planting on the border of my yard. Slower growing than typical spruces, ‘Bizon Blue’ will be signed for a long term contract performing long after others have moved on.
Drafting new players can be somewhat risky. Without the years of experience, draft picks sometimes light the world on fire but sometimes lay an egg. The draft can be valuable and exciting when new players are mixed in with an existing system but you wouldn’t want to build your entire team from the draft board. This year’s draft of new plants offers so many options it becomes difficult to focus on any single plant. Acer ‘Shirazz” is a brand new Japanese Maple from New Zealand that slowly grows to 15’ tall. Leaves are finely dissected, plant habit is weeping but what makes ‘Shirazz’ unique is the striking variegation of the foliage. Hues of pink, white, cream and crimson make this new pick something to get excited about. Azalea viscosum ‘Weston’s Pennsylvania’ joins other Weston azaleas hybridized from native species. Fragrant yellow/orange flowers appear late in summer on this hardy, 6’ shrub. Baptisia ‘Twilight Prairie Blues’ is a new False Indigo brought to us by the Chicago Botanic Garden. This native hybrid grows 3’ tall with 24” flower spikes of periwinkle blue and butter yellow. Heat and drought tolerance will have this draft pick easily fitting into your game plan. Banana trees (in pots or planted in the ground) can easily transform your back patio to a tropical oasis. Musa ‘Red Obsidian’ has dazzled us over the past few years with huge, mahogany foliage growing over 10’ tall in one summer. The newest banana available, Musa ‘Siam Ruby’, will “kick it up a notch” with a brighter orange-red leaves and the same dramatic stature we have grown to love. I don’t think you will be disappointed with this pick in the draft.
So there you have it… a glimpse of just a few of my favorite picks that will help make any garden a winner this year. The time is now to lay out a plan, review your options, and set a course of action. I know there are some real super-stars available to you this year and I hope you will get all you want and still stay under the salary cap.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!