Unsolicited Advice, pt IIb: Your garden should be working for you

morninggloryI think we’ve probably all been guilty of buying an enticing-looking plant at a garden centre because it was in bloom and giving us a come-hither look.

< I bought these morning glories because of the way they were looking at me across the bar.

But, I firmly believe that garden plants should be working hard for me in addition to looking pretty, especially if they’re taking up a coveted full-sun position in my yard. The main way plants work for me is by letting me eat them, but there are other ways plants can be advantageous: they can fix nitrogen from the air and put it in the ground where other plants can use it (some perennials do this, as do peas and beans); they can attract pollinators like bees and butterflies; they can have a nice smell that you catch a whiff of every time you walk by, or that helps keep cats and other pests out of your garden, or that repels mosquitoes*; or they can be good companions to other plants (by confusing bugs that might otherwise eat their companions, for example). Plants that are only doing one thing are lazy, and by encouraging them and babying them, we’re just going to make them live in our garden-basements forever.

*Is there such thing as a plant that repels mosquitoes? I kind of don’t believe it, but if we all believe it, maybe the placebo effect will keep the mosquitoes away.