Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Grow That When You Can Grow Fothergilla?

A Charlotte Garden is happy to be part of Timber Press's "Belle of the Garden Ball" blog tour this month. A warm welcome to new visitors...and to all of you regular visitors, too!

UPDATE: Contest is now closed.  Thank you to all who participated!  Scroll down to see who won!


Green-centered flowers of dwarf witch alder, fothertilla (Fothergilla gardenii).

If you've been gardening for a while, even just a little while, you've tried to grow something that just didn't work for you. What was so pretty and lush at the nursery wound up looking bedraggled and miserable.   Some of us are committed enough to try the same plant over and over before we really accept our climate, soil type, gardening style and the pests and maladies common in our areas.  But at some point we do, and then we...give up gardening.  Well, no, no, no!  We begin to look for something more suited.

Why Grow That 
When You Can Grow This?
255 Extraordinary Alternatives
 to Everyday Problem Plants
by Andrew Keys
Timber Press, 2012
Paperback, 336 pages
This is where Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? comes in.  Author Andrew Keys struggled first hand when he moved from the deep south to Boston and tried to grow some of his favorites from home. The differences in temperature, humidity and growing season forced him to lengths he wasn't willing to go to sustain these plants that grew with little effort at home.  The need for suitable alternatives and the desire for plants with a similar look or feel provided the motivation for writing this book.

Maybe you know Andrew from his blog, Garden Smackdown, or his monthly column and podcast for Fine Gardening, Garden Confidential. If so, it doesn't surprise you that his "255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Plants" are creative, exciting and maybe a tad irreverent.  He presents a "problem plant" and then gives you three alternatives to that problem.

To use an example from the book, Keys suggests fothergilla as a perky alternative to pussywillow, the problem.  In this case, fothergilla (also known as dwarf witch alder), is far less exotic to me than pussywillow, which I have never grown.  I might try the problem plant as an alternative sometime.  Fortunately, the book works fine even if you use it upside down like that.

Petalless flowers of fothergilla in April.

But as it happens, fothergilla is one of my favorite plants, a perfect "Belle of the Garden Ball" and, because I especially love native plants, it's one that I hope you will consider for your garden, too. 

Fothergilla is understated, undemanding, but beautiful all the same.   It may be most lovely in its fluffy white April dress, but it's a three season beauty, and a native one, too.  Attractive blue-green leaves follow the green and white, honey-scented flowers, then turn intense shades of orange and red once the days shorten and the temperatures cool in the fall.  As a native plant, fothergilla provides food for native insects and other animals, but at the same time is relatively pest and disease free.
Fothergilla foliage in the fall.

Fothergilla makes a great woodland plant, but does fine in full sun.  It prefers moist acidic soil, but will tolerate dry conditions, too.  More sun and more water will likely give you more flowers and better fall color, but having said that, mine are beautiful with fairly dry soil and very little direct sun.  
Commonly available cultivars of Fothergilla are 'Mount Airy', 'Blue Mist', and 'Blue Shadow'.  Fothergilla major is another (native) species which is very similar, except for its larger size.

You could certainly substitute fothergilla for pussywillow as Keys suggests, but why not also consider it instead of spiraea or butterfly bush?  Or, if an evergreen isn't required, even azaleas, Asian hollies or nandina?  Fothergilla will grow in the same conditions as these plants, yet give you more benefits. 

Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? is a nice jolt of creativity and thinking outside the box that any plant lover will have fun with.  At times the alternative plant choices seemed nearly random to me, but there is a method to his madness, and I can promise you won't be bored.  I was surprised by how many of the plants were completely new to me.

Of course not all problem plants will be problems for you, and not all alternatives feasible for your garden and gardening style.  But, you will come away with lots of new ideas and a fresh perpective on making your garden more diverse, enjoyable, and easier to care for.


...and now, just for you!...
Fothergilla is but one of the 255 alternative plants for you to consider in Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?  You know you'd like to read it, so I have a treat for you:  Timber Press has offered to send one lucky reader his or her own free copy!

For a chance to win, leave a comment about a plant you love and would like to see planted more often.  If you share this post on one of the social networks, I'll put you in the drawing twice!  Let me know you did that in your comment.

Entries will be numbered in the order received and the winner will be chosen by random number generator on Friday, December 14th.  If winner does not claim prize by December 21st, a new winner will be chosen.

Thank you for participating, and good luck!


UPDATE:  14 December 2012 6:43 pm ET

And the winner is.....
Congratulations, Jen! I know you will enjoy the book. Happy Holidays to you!


  1. I would consider the flowers a bonus when looking at the fall foliage.

  2. Great post Daricia. I love Fothergilla!! Have three in my wooded area of the garden...think I might add a few more. Their scent is wonderful. In addition to the Fothergilla I like having Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet', great red fall color. Thanks for the link for his podcast... needed some more garden shows to add to my Mp3 player.

  3. oh my gosh, I hope I win, I love the idea of that book and Christmas is killing my gardening budget ;) I would like to see people plant more old garden roses! I like my roses to have a nice strong scent. I shared this on google plus!

  4. I love Fothergilla...and think that folks should plant more native Hamamelis/ witch hazels. They're rleatives of Fothergilla and have a similar leaf shape with the marvelous fall color.

  5. I'm with Jen on the OGRs, they have a grace most moderns lack (dislike the bare knees of most hybrid teas). I've also been very pleased with the David Austins and some other new 'old' types with their diverse forms and heady fragrance… I'll be sharing on Facebook!

  6. I'm with Les, love the fall foliage. First met this wonderful plant when living in the UK.

  7. Oooooo...I love fothergilla, too. My choice for a plant which should be used more is another native, American Fringetree, aka, Grancy Graybeard, Chionanthus virginicus. It's a great small tree with delicate, white flowers in spring. Despite its delicate flowers and small stature, American Fringetree is a tough little tree which tolerates a variety of conditions. Kind of like Fothergilla! I'll be posting on FB.

  8. I thought Fothergilla was probably a relative of Witch Hazel. Will definitely try to acquire one. I think that people should plant more native ferns. I am trying to build up the population of ferns in my Woodland Garden. They are so hardy and beautiful!

  9. I can see where this book could be a very useful resource! I shared your post on Google+.

    Fothergilla is a great plant!

  10. So excited to get this in the mail. thank you Timber Press!