5 Ways To Know If You’re A Spontaneous, Uncontrollable Plantaholic

– Posted in: Garden Design, Perennials

After 2 years of experimenting, researching, and trying to find someone who could help implement my ideas, i FINALLY finished and planted the first phase of my front garden.

Any of you who have been following my garden making in Israel know that I am someone who can live with ambivalence. Not rushing to decision allows me to meander and play with new ideas.

April 17, 2011-front rooftop 001

I tried a container garden (and hand watering) last summer. I knew it had to go. I desperately wanted to have a garden where I could sink my hands into the dirt, push the soil around, and have dirty fingernails.

After more frustration than I’ve experienced in a long time, I was introduced to a  designer who understood what I wanted and worked with me to create it.

It’s a simple design….4 beautifully crafted raised beds side by side next to the front balustrade….a good length  (132”) but with a narrow width, a measly 22”.

I’m used to designing gardens that are minimally 4’ deep. My style is one of several of one perennial in large numbers sweeping throughout the bed. This was going to be a challenge.

Why I assumed that I would be able to use at least 3 of one perennial in a grouping is beyond any logic. Once the wooden structures were brought up and positioned on the rooftop, it finally hit me that the width of my planting space could be problematic.

Rooftop---newly Planted-May 2012----rudbeckia, pelargonium, grasses, canna

After a moment of a ‘OMG, what did I do?’, I realized that  designing an ornamental grass garden was solution. I was going to take a disciplined approach…something that wasn’t going to be easy for me.

It was no problem finding 3 ornamental grasses that would work perfectly. The first one, Panicum ‘Northwind’ is a Roy Diblik introduction straight from his nursery, Northwind Perennial Farm in Wisconsin. It looks like it’s going to be a winner. The native Muhlenbergia capilaris,  with its fluffy pink seed heads was perfect as a mid-border grass. As much as I wanted to go native, I couldn’t resist Carex ‘Prairie Fire’ from New Zealand. Its bronzed tinge leaves that turn burnt orange in the fall are breathtaking.The native Carex pennsylvanica wasn’t going to cut it.

I should have stopped there. But I couldn’t resist. I wanted to try Rudbeckia deemii, a native rudbeckia that with which I wasn’t familiar. My eyes landed on dozens of orange kniphofias. Couple that with the Canna tropicana from last year and I’ve got a winner.

‘OK….enough’ I told myself.’ But then I was drawn to a sweet, deep purple silver leaved plant that reminded me of Geranium ‘phaeum’ which I love. It was Pelargonium ‘sidoides’. It would look magnificent sidled up against the carex. I quickly packed 9 of them in a box before I could change my mind.

P1050751..pelargonium on rooftop-may 2012

I’m sure you’ve experienced the same ‘gotta have it/can’t resist’ impulse. And the more you garden, the more difficult it is to resist buying ‘just one more plant….or two or three.’ Before you know it, you’ve become a plantaholic.

I knew I was going to have a blast planting the garden up….and I did. When I finished, It looked sparse but I was used to that. It didn’t bother me at all. By fall, it would begin to fill out with texture, movement, color, and wildlife.


Within a few days, my pleasure turned to discomfort. The garden just didn’t feel right. Why hadn’t I followed my original plan of an ornamental grass garden? It was back to the drawing board.

Another round of Panicum, Carex, and Muhlenbergia landed on my rooftop yesterday afternoon.


I started removing perennials and planting new ones this morning. How does it look? Too soon to tell.  What am I going to do with the perennials that I pulled out? What does any keen gardener do?  Tell us what you do in this situation.



1. Your pupils dilate, you gasp for breath, and sweat profusely when you lay eyes on a plant you’ve seen for the first time.

2. You don’t flinch when the cashier tells you how much you owe….even though it’s way over your budget. ‘Eh’, you think to yourself ‘buying tons of plants is better than gambling.’

3. You transplant the majority of your ‘must have/can’t resist’ plants to a holding bed by fall. They just don’t work well in the garden. ‘No problem’, you think, ‘I’ll find another place for them’.

4. You pat yourself on the back for experimenting, learning, and taking risks. ‘Yes, it cost some extra bucks,’ you tell yourself ‘ but it’s a lot cheaper than studying horticulture at a university.  And look how much I learned.’

5. You do the exact same thing the following year….even though you promised yourself that you wouldn’t.

Do you consider yourself to be a plantaholic? If so, share your stories with us.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
19 comments… add one

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Cathy May 16, 2012, 6:26 am

I chuckled over your asking what any “keen” gardener does after pulling out perennials. I usually try to find another garden to put them in — like my neighbor’s. The fact that they didn’t have a garden was a minor inconvenience… we arranged with them to build them one.

If I don’t have some place to plant them into directly (like the neighbor’s garden across the street), I pot them up and give them away. (That way I can use up some of those pots the new plants come in as well.)

When you come to our house to visit, you go home with containers of leftovers for lunch, and a handful of plants (you can work the extra calories off in your own garden).

This year for Mother’s Day, when my husband asked what I wanted for a gift (usually I have a particular rose bush or shrub for the garden in mind), I asked for a beautiful flower cart that I saw at our local garden center – I wanted it to put all the “give aways” on!

Is there a 12 step program for gardeners , I wonder?

franniesorin May 16, 2012, 9:30 am

You’re a woman after my own heart. I think giving plants away is continuing the cycle of life. I would guess you get a tremendous amount of pleasure from it. A cart is a fantastic idea for give aways…no joke. You have a large property so it really would work. How about if you put it out near your front walkway once a month and have Kathy’s Giveaway for May (for example)…and below it written ‘given with love’..

a 12 step program could be a winner. Do you want to start one?? 🙂 Fran

Kathy Fitzgerald May 16, 2012, 9:47 am

What!? Give my darlings away?! Never!
I keep all my “mistakes,” holding on like grim death until they do, in fact, die. Even if it’s not until many years later. (You should see the collection of experimental trees-in-pots on the south side of my house.)
My theory is that lawns were invented to reserve space for the marvelous specimens I haven’t met yet.
Poor Fran, no lawn for back-up, only about 20 square feet to play in. You have my deepest sympathy.
A 12-step program wouldn’t work. Plantaholics are hard-wired backsliders.

Cathy May 16, 2012, 10:35 am

I LOVE your idea for the sign.

Actually, the whole idea of the cart was to do exactly that — we have a large circular drive and folks can drive right in and help themselves. We are planning to park it on the top of the walkway down to the back garden, which would put it right along the driveway. It’s a beautiful reproduction of a vintage cart, too big to steal as it has to come in a large truck – it didn’t fit in our van. (It’s being delivered at the end of the week with the new cedar arbors we bought.)

My husband is a physician and we get a lot of patients or their parents and even pharmaceutical reps who drop in during office hours and who love the gardens and want a small slip of this or that. I find myself running ragged when he has office hours, potting up this or that. I’m only too happy to give away the extras, but it would be so much easier to have them ready and have a set place to keep them.

We open the gardens to the public one day a year and that is another time where we give away a lot of plants. I know from experience what everyone is going to want and I told Steve last year that we should just pot the favorites up in advance to save me having to do it that day when things are already so busy. We did that and put them in one of those ugly garden utility carts – that is when I started looking in earnest for something “pretty”. It took a year but I found it!

As for the 12 step program for the garden… I’m on it. It’ll be on my blog! I’ll let you know!

liz holst May 16, 2012, 10:58 am

Fran – you have helped me come out of the closet as a plantaholic – I have 3/4 of an acre so I always feel that there is plenty of room for more – we have very little lawn left at this point just tons of plants. My biggest problem is that I live only 5 miles from Longwood Gdns in Kennett Sq Pa.!!!! & they are such enablers. Liz

Cynthia May 16, 2012, 6:04 pm

I laughed when I read your comment about gardening is better than gambling. Very true but I am not sure it is much cheaper!

I know when you are creating a garden area sometimes the plants that call to you in the store simply do not work in your new area.

I have several garden areas both sun and shade so usually if something doesn’t work in one area I can salvage the plant or shrub and move it to another garden.

I have killed a few of them though.

I am glad to see that you kept after it until it worked. Good for you! I think too many people give up too soon!

franniesorin May 17, 2012, 4:43 am

Hi Cynthia….

Lucky you that you have both sun and shade so that you can transplant easily. You know what’s interesting….In recent years, I have thought of myself as a non-impulsive buyer. Either I was in total denial or else I’ve let all self control go to the wolves these last 2 years.

As far as killing plants, if I really want a plant to grow in my garden and it just doesn’t happen, I will give it 3 tries before I give up. I’d guess that 2 out of 3 times, I hit a bulls eye if I’m persistent. Fran

franniesorin May 17, 2012, 4:49 am

Liz…Oh boy….I know Longwood quite well. I have never left after a visit without at least 4 or 5 plants that I put on my ‘check it out’ list. And I have bought more than a few in their shop. Plus, you live in true garden heaven. I used to work at Doe Run, the ex-garden of Sir John Thouron, not far from Longwood.

Am glad that you’re finally out of the closet. I’d love to see your garden. Kudos to you for having minimal grass and lots of plants. Do you have another place in the area where you purchase plants? Fran

franniesorin May 17, 2012, 4:56 am

Cathy…leave it to you to be creative. How nurturing and healing it is for your husband’s patients to be able to pick up a plant after they leave his office.

Did you ever hear of Martha Barnett? She lived in suburban Philadelphia…and had a phenomenal garden. She developed a small business of selling her extra plants. Now when I say extra, it would be columbines that were at least 2 years old. The price was anywhere from .99 to $1.98. She was one of the first garden mavens that I was introduced to.

I’d love to see photos of the cart stocked up on your ‘open garden day’. How delightful. Yes, let me know when you write that article. As always, thanks so much. Fran

franniesorin May 17, 2012, 5:02 am

I let out a big guffaw when reading your post. So you’re one of those….not letting go of your darlings until death do us part. I love it.

Fantastic that you have a collection of experimental trees-in-pots. Where do you get them? Great idea for the use of lawns.

I fear you are right about my not being able to be a die hard plantaholic in this garden. As a matter of fact, I gave several plants away to the fellow who did my garden construction the other day. It was my pleasure. But if I had large garden beds, believe me, they would have been divided and transplanted in a blink of an eye.

Interesting thought that plantaholics are hard-wired. And the truth is….do plantaholics want to be cured…or are they bubbling with pleasure just as they are? Fran

Kathy Fitzgerald May 17, 2012, 10:24 am

My tree collection is entirely the fault of Woodlanders Nursery in Aiken, SC, from back in the days when they had a hard-copy catalog. They sold (sell) whips of such exotic species for a coastal flatlander as sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum); big-leaf Japanese snowbell (Styrax obassia); seven-sons tree (Heptacodium miconoides); paperbark maple (Acer griseum); red buckeye (Aesculus pavia); sweetheart tree (Euscaphis japonica); parrot tree (Parrotia persica); ornamental apricot (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’); southern crabapple (Malus angustifolia); Carpinus carolina; and Viburnum prunifolium. These lovely trees are not readily available in the trade, so growing them on myself has become a sort of avocation. Sorry for the dissertation, but you did ask.
Speaking as president of our local chapter of Plantaholics Nonymous (sic), I feel I ain’t broke, so why fix me?

Karen Chapman May 17, 2012, 8:44 pm

Sadly so true. I justify it as a business expense – necessary research for my clients! Actually maybe my business is another proof that I am a plantaholic. Now I can buy plants for others.

PS Dark nail polish hides soil beautifully.

Lisa-St. Marys ON May 18, 2012, 9:33 am

Plantaholics have no desire to be cured. NONE!

I have a few square feet left of grass in my backyard, they will be called into service this year.

Oh, to live down the road from Longwood. And Chanticleer. Someday I may get back to see them again. I spent weeks after depressed though, because I couldn’t go back and see them and they were so inspirational.

Gardener on Sherlock Street May 20, 2012, 9:04 pm

I’m so guilty of 3 & 4.


Japanese Maple May 21, 2012, 3:04 am

This is a great post. Your idea really helpful for everyone. Photograph also very nice. Good job.

perennia May 21, 2012, 2:02 pm

I was just looking at my garden thinking I can plant way more, then there won’t be any room for weeds! ha! The previous owners planted their gardens in a very military fashion, and I have lived with it for three years, now I’m ready to make a perennial jungle. plantaholics!

franniesorin May 22, 2012, 1:22 am

Perennial Northern Michigan….a perennial jungle sounds divine. Military fashion gardens tend to be less than desirable.
You do indeed fit into our plantaholic burgeoning group. I think as the season progresses, I’ll ask all of you to show us how your garden looks. What fun!
Enjoy, enjoy! Fran

Joan Carroll, Master Gardener UC Riverside, CA June 1, 2012, 12:33 pm

No website– too busy taking care of husband, being cared for
by a ll year old Yorkie. I’m a plantaholic — raise 80′ of roses,
tropical striped cannas, a mango tree, ground cover of sweet
potatoes, nasturtiums, small potted cactus including a crown of
thorns with large peach blossoms, a small veg. garden – string
beans flourishing inspite of ll0F heat in June! Have a 800 g.
KOI and goldfish pond and a small lily pond, too. Grasses here and lantana are bird planted – and pulled out!
My give-away plants are amaryllis bulbs and ismene bulbs.
They stay green leafed all year and bloom mightily once a
year for a month.

I have a sign that says “Gone Gardening” from an English friend and a Certified Wildlife Sanctuary sign. We provide
sunflower seeds, grit, hiding places, shade and water for our
drop ins of ducks, migrating birds, home grown lizards and
whatever. Occasionally we get a down from the mountains
racoon that is frustrated with our 2 l/2 foot deep pond. The
fish are racoon savy and go to the bottom.

We live in a Sr. self-owned mobile home park.

Thanks for your pictures and story.

Fran June 2, 2012, 3:43 am


You’re a true plantaholic who has created a non-stop, glory filled, responsible and yet ‘care free’ life. The whipping on the cake is that you live in a Sr.self-owned mobile hone park.

Thanks for YOUR STORY! You are inspirational. Warmly, Fran

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