What's a Japonica? Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner

Do You Sell Japonica?

How many times in one day can you answer the same question? As many times as you’re asked it.

I work in a garden retail store, and tis the season to buy plants (hallelujah). There’s a sudden panic that hits when warm weather comes. Customers know that stores get in fresh material weekly, and if they want the best, and not the picked-over stuff, they better get in there and start buying. Fair enough, although, we keep fresh material coming all year–just FYI.

With this sudden panic comes loads of questions. Here are a few of the staff’s favorites.

1. Do you carry Japonica?

Yes, we do! Lots of them. Katsura japonica is my favorite tree. There’s Kerria japonica and it’s great because it blooms nicely in shade. Chaenomeles japonica is blooming now. The red blooms of the ‘Texas Scarlett’ are stunning.  Oh? You want an evergreen? Cryptomeria japonica is great. There’s ‘Black Dragon,’ ‘Yoshino,’ and ‘Elegans Nana’ is cute, and about a billion more in the cryptos. Are any of these the Japonica you’re looking for?

Of course the list goes on because how many botanical names have Japonica in them? Almost every plant that has its origins in Japan.

My boss and Kenny, my co-worker (both of whom have worked there forever), translated this question: Do you sell Pieris japonica? Ah, yes we do. A broad leaf evergreen of the Ericaceae family. You know, like rhododendrons, and azaleas. Pretty panicles of bloom and more upright than wide. Moving on.

2. When are your roses coming in?

Mid-April. (This is actually the top question, but it wasn’t my favorite so it gets second billing.)

3. What can I plant on my bank?

Okay, so, I hate this question. People flock to Western North Carolina because they envision themselves living on a mountaintop with a view. Ever tried to build a house on a mountaintop? Not many flat places up there. But builders will be builders, and they’re going to make their money, so they slice hillsides (in some cases literal mountains) in 1/2 and then use that dirt to form a flat place. It’s called cut and fill, or changing the topography, something that in my book you should not do on that level. Then the builders leave, and guess what the homeowners have besides a view? Erosion. Thus, banks of ivy (invasive), or cotoneaster (looks hideous), or a small forest of juniper. Or my favorite, if it’s so steep you can’t walk up it, African Love Grass. These poor homeowners come in daily asking what can I do?

A few more favorites from staff:

  • Why won’t my (fill in the blank) bloom? (Top two: hydrangeas and crape myrtles)
  • What should I spray on this? (Holding in their palm a black, shriveled up leaf that resembles nothing green and growing.)
  • When are your tomatoes coming in? (Again, tomatoes won’t grow if its 50° or below.)
  • Can I plant (fill in the blank) this now? (Ten day forecast is 26° low at nights.)
  • What was that pretty plant I got from you last year? (So tempted to answer that is was an 800 dollar Japanese maple, and would they like another one?)
  • Why are your plants so expensive? (Ever heard the phrase you get what you pay for?)
  • Do you have that plant that is green, and has flowers that are (name the color) on it? (We can answer this one. It’s whatever is blooming at the time.)
  • Do you have anything evergreen that blooms all summer? (I am in the process of discussing this one with God. I will get back to you on it.)

Hey, keep those questions coming. It feeds our egos, and makes us feel smart for a day because we can answer them. And, none of us fall into the super-smart category. Well, Kenny does. And my boss was almost a Morehead scholar, so I guess he does. Ellen knows more about plants than I’ll ever know, so yeah, she’s got the smarts. Sarah came out of the womb smart. Alex inherited his smarts. Chris is street smart, common sense smart, and amazingly plant smart. So, that leaves me. The ditsy blonde with the blank look. Okay, so ask me. I need to feel smart sometimes, too.

Do You Sell Japonica? Transplanted and Still Blooming, Cinthia Milner, quince blooms

Chaenomeles japonica or Flowering Quince




Yes, I Do Judge Your Yard

Okay, so yes, I do walk the neighborhood, judging the yards. It appears that I’m walking the dog, and truly, Aggie does like her walks, but really? I’m looking for the gardening news.



Aggie’s immediate reaction to the word “walk.”

In today’s gardening news, which included the daily deluge, the couple (two elderly women who have the most adorable house) that I have hereto-fro given the best neighborhood yard award too, blew it. I am so upset. They planted portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora) in the urns that adorn either side of their sidewalk leading up to their perfectly trimmed English style cottage. I was stunned, needless to say. I had just mentioned them to the local architect, whose opinion I sometimes solicit in my inspection of the neighborhood. (We walk at the same time every morning and evening. I’ve corrupted him with my assessments.)

How could they? Portulaca is all, well, plain Jane in the gardening world. Succulent, yes, and they’re trendy, but portulaca is like yesterday’s news, not to mention it rarely blooms nicely–well, maybe in Brazil. It does not belong in this yard, which is clipped boxwoods (so dang cute), hydrangeas, blue mopheads (goes perfect with the white house and black shutters), a small fig tree, guessing Chicago Hardy (very nice touch), Rozanne geranium (a little sick of her but the color is good with the house and it is all season bloom), a small, but extremely tasteful perennial bed (restraining itself from the bloom, bloom, bloom mentality)  near the very healthy hemlock hedge (assuming they treat it systemically and annually) one slightly misplaced Japanese Cedar, which had me worried about the whole place, but in a last second transplant, they moved it to a corner of the yard where it now resides perfectly, and won my heart–until today.

I blame their next door neighbors who have so many children I have simply stopped counting. Those countless children and screaming perennials that fill every corner of the yard, I fear, have influenced them in the worst way. If I didn’t feel sorry for the poor mother of all those redheaded demons, I’d consider making a few suggestions, but she has her hands full. All boys, all out of control. When her husband brought home a puppy, I took her up the street for coffee. She just sobbed and sobbed. I patted her hand and mentioned that I hadn’t married well either. I understood.

At any rate, their yard is overrun with all manner of perennials, and all of it blooming at once–as in now. There is no design, no thought for the garden, just plants everywhere and color screaming from every corner. I literally have to restrain myself when I walk by. I want to start rearranging the garden, imposing some sort of order, or at least weed between the gladiolas and bee balm. The word is haphazard. The very opposite of what a garden should be. I imagine the mother just throwing flower seeds out the window when she has a free second because what else is she going to do?

Another neighbor did the whole “big rock, terraced” landscape thing which is so popular these days. I think they’ll regret it sooner than later. After all, who wants a rock quarry in their front yard?

A brand new house, built Southern Plantation style between a brick rancher and something akin to a double-wide, put down sod, and of course, that’s always where Aggie decides to poop. Because, everyone knows, you can’t hide poop in sod.

One more house, with a Cape Cod style, finally put down mulch recently, to my great relief. Though, I have not made up my mind about an enormous silver maple in their front yard. My thinking is, it needs to go. My understanding is, everyone will have a hissy fit. One does not cut down trees, anymore, even if they are something as worthless as a silver maple. Tree-huggers galore. I lack sentiment in the garden. I’m reasoning that the dang thing has been here over 100 years. Isn’t that long enough? It is ruining the overall garden design, and trust me, I’ve planted more plants than most people have ever seen. That should count for something when it comes to chopping down trees. True?

So, yes, I’ll admit to what people always wonder if I do–judge other people’s yards. Well, obviously, I’m noticing. A polite way, perhaps, of saying judging. But–and here’s the take-away, and why I don’t consider it judging, which has a such negative overtones–I am enamored by it all. I find every begonia or bee balm, every coleus or caladium, every hosta or hydrangea, charming. Observing what is planted in the yard gives a glimpse of the folks’ inside, a small peek into their hearts. And, aside from a poorly placed portulaca, how do you not love that?  .