A Schizophragma integrifolium in Every Garden, and Two Cars in Every Garage

The latest issue of Gardens Illustrated (a magazine I love), has a cover story entitled “Tom Stuart-Smith’s 100 Plants Every Gardener Should Grow”, by the English landscape designer Tom Stuart-Smith.

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Oh, no! I still need 95 more kinds of plants! The front garden, last August.

I immediately took  that title as a challenge, and looked through the article to see the number of plants, of the 100 I SHOULD grow, that I’m actually growing.

And here’s the answer: of the 100 plants I should be growing, I am actually growing only five. Obviously I need a much bigger garden! Of course, the list put together by Stuart-Smith is extremely precise, down to the cultivated variety. So let’s include plants where I am growing a cultivar of the same species very similar to the one listed.

That brings me up to around twelve out of 100, which pretty clearly represents a failing grade for me as a gardener.


One reason I really can’t grow all of Stuart-Smith’s 100 is that at least 1/4 are not hardy in my zone. Others require growing conditions I cannot provide. And a whole bunch of them I don’t particularly like. Others I might like but don’t have room for.

To come up with a list that “every gardener should grow” is an exercise in silliness. The title is probably not meant to be taken literally, but still… Imagine some poor inexperienced gardener, frantically attempting to cram his little plot full of the prescribed plants, most of which will die within the year.

However, my understanding is that authors rarely get to come up with the titles for their own articles, so I’m going to give Tom Stuart-Smith the benefit of the doubt here.

There are, of course, no plants that EVERY gardener should grow. The plants that gardeners should grow are the ones that suit the garden’s growing conditions, as well as the preferred style and individual taste of the gardener.

67 Comments on “A Schizophragma integrifolium in Every Garden, and Two Cars in Every Garage”

  1. I agree with you; I am often annoyed by these lists that don’t take any account of garden conditions. The problem is that most English gardens can manage to grow a vast array of plants even those not strictly ideal, it makes for interesting gardens but doesn’t increase individuals knowledge about plant preferences.

  2. I usually like these lists. It is fun to see what other people think are the most treasured plants. You have listed the reasons why these lists can rarely be applicable to ones own garden. Even so, I enjoy reading those lists. Sometimes I find a plant or two I might give a grow. Your photo of the front garden is gorgeous. I can hardly wait for that time of year. My poor garden looks so barren right now.

  3. I knew when I saw the title, 100 Plants Every Gardener Should Grow, that it was just a title meant to jump off the shelf at a book store or be click bait on a blog. It is a problem I have with blogs profiling plants “to everyone” and mentioned to you in a comment reply on one of my posts recently. I almost said the exact same things you noted and humorously pictured in this post. It is no different when even professionals or authors do the same thing in their recommendations, it is irresponsible, especially to new gardeners. The Perennial Plant Association at least selects plants being suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions and planting zones when they select Perennial Plant of the Year. But not even those plants are perfect for every garden.

  4. It’s a silly title and one that was probably dreamed up by a features editor. Of course there are no plants that ‘should’ be in every garden. What a daft idea. But it’s interesting to see the plants he rates as he does know his stuff.

  5. “The plants that gardeners should grow are the ones that suit the garden’s growing conditions, as well as the preferred style and individual taste of the gardener.” This says it all 😉 While it’s nice to get tips, there can be no definitive guides.

  6. All of the above…..it may be time for magazine editors /publishers & garden writers to again consider the viability of the ‘regional ‘ publication. Pretty pictures seem to be the #1 selling point now, followed by catch-all titles such as 100 Plants for Every Garden. Especially with the push to sustainable,xeroscape and water conscious garden, it gives writers two focus areas per region 1) Natives ( Species & Nativars) 2) Ornamental Perennials & their cultivars, plus all the planting design variations!

  7. Garden magazines love this sort of thing, but then these sort of lists are popular, people like guidance and to be fair it is quite useful being pointed in the direction of good cultivars. Tom Stuart Smith knows his stuff, I went to a Garden Literary Festival in his garden a couple of years ago and it was beautiful.
    I didn’ t realise that you get Gardens Illustrated in the US. I suppose inevitably it is orientated towards plants that grow in the UK. I checked the list and find I have 57 of the plants. Does that make me a plant geek? Not having enough room and not being able to afford it are rarely considerations that I take any account of.

  8. Amen. Best read for pure entertainment purposes. Of course, in some climates (London, San Diego, Portland, to name just a few), one can successfully grow just about any plant. But that doesn’t mean one should do so. I would be that if you came across an article titled, “100 Native Plants and Cultivars to Grow in a Midwestern Garden,” you would do quite well. 😉 Cheers!

  9. Loved your blog title and was moved to discover the plant mentioned is some sort of hydrangea. I plead to being a “best list” reader, but as mentioned earlier, so many of these plants are suitable only for the UK climate, but fun to read, nonetheless.

  10. Of course you are right and the growing conditions each garden offers are different. You just need to move to an other garden, even in the same area, to realize that what does well in one place can be quite different in an other.

  11. Now I’m intrigued to see this list–I wonder if I even have five that are on the list! I agree with other comments that some editor came up with this title, or else the article is intended for a very narrow audience. I have a friend in the UK who always admired my purple coneflowers and has tried and tried to grow them with no luck, while in my garden they self-seed with wild abandon. There is no formula for a perfect garden for everyone. I’m with Marian–I’m curious which five you have? Love your title:)

  12. I agree with Chloris, although I haven’t seen the list and my top 100 is almost certainly going to differ wildly to Tom Stuart-Smith, but he does know his stuff and is hugely respected over here. But I guess the title of the article sold a lot of magazines. Christina nails it in the head too, right plant right place.

  13. I have neither a Schizophragma integrifolium nor two cars in my garage!

    I can’t think of a single plant that *every* gardener should grow. Surely, a must-have plant for a Los Angeles gardener would be different than a London or Sydney gardener?

    I can think of plenty of plants that I consider invaluable for gardeners in my zone/climate/region. That sort of list is much more valuable IMHO.

  14. Just loved this post, it gets me angry that the media manipulate inexpert gardeners for commercial gain. Unfortunately there is so much misinformation out there that when the unwary follow it failure is very often the result. Gardening comes good with experience, the problem is how do you educate potential gardeners to understand what it is all about and stop them from making basic mistakes, at one time this would have been knowledge that was passed down through the family which, despite a minority, particularly in rural areas, appears to be no longer an option. How many up and coming gardeners have been discouraged completely due to repeated failures particularly after following advice which is often extremely costly to implement?

  15. Well said! I gave up on gardening magazines until I recently discovered a specialist journal only available by subscription with really great articles written by the gardeners and botanists themselves. When I cancelled my subscription a few years back for the leading magazine in Germany the lady on the phone asked why – I told her it had got a bit repetitive over the years, and she agreed with me!!!

  16. I aggree with you, but I also really like Tom’s design sense so I bought that issue. I always find it instructive to see what the pros have to say about specific plants. End result is that now I want the white version of Echinecea pallida.

  17. As a veteran list maker, lists like those irritate me. They’re so specific to one region and one gardening style. Plus, you’re 100% right that all they accomplish is to make new gardeners feel inferior and neurotic. There is no list of plants that every gardeners should grow. What an absurd notion.

  18. Hello Jason, another piece of garden design advice states that you should aim for seven or fewer plant varieties in the garden. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work with the larger list. I wonder how many of the 100 I am growing and how many, such as the Schizophragma, are on my shopping list (yes it really is!).

  19. I am not going to subscribe just to see the list, though I am curious as to just how many can take the heat and humidity of the South. It reminds me of a recent talk I gave to a group of Master Gardeners. They wanted me to speak about “bullet-proof perennials”, and I said there was no such thing. Instead I spoke about some of the best perennials for our climate. It’s all relative, and we both know that what grows in a bucolic English garden will not necessarily do well for you, or me.

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