About catalog copy

The catalogs keep arriving in your mailbox, and with the improvements in color printing (not to mention that great glossy paper the photos are printed on) each page becomes a literal floral feast for the eye. But if the photos are grand, the copy that accompanies them seems to grow ever more deceptive. So to help you find your way through these verbal thickets, here’s a guide to common catalog remarks and the reality behind them:

The Poetry The Reality
Foliage takes autumnal tints The leaves fall off.
Unique We don’t know what it is.
Rare Did you bring your checkbook?
Very rare Did you bring the bank manager?
Mature plants We’ve had them around for years!
Anyone can grow them Nobody wants to!
One of our favorites We’ve grown too many this year.
Nice foliage plant We can’t get it to flower.
Spectacular flowers Barely visible with glasses.
Never invasive … until planted!
Popular at the nursery We like it.
Always admired We like it a lot!

When playing the catalog-copy game, I’m always reminded of the ground cover known in England as ground elder (and to English gardeners as “Simply the Most Invasive Plant in the Kingdom”). Most catalogs call it “carefree and vigorous.”

The scientific name is Aegopodium podagraria; other common names are bishop’s weed and goutweed. The genus name comes from “aix” (meaning “goat”) and “podion” (“little foot,” because the leaflets are said to resemble a goat’s hoof). The species name derives from the Latin “podagric,” meaning “afflicted with gout” (referring to the plant’s use as a treatment for gout and sciatica). Folklore maintains that merely carrying cuttings in your pocket will stave off an attack.

When our first country garden was being planned, we innocently included this plant in the scheme of things. But what was once a bank featuring a number of wildflowers was soon overrun by these insidious plants. And the only way we could keep them in check was by never letting the bishop’s weed go to flower or to seed (and taking an ax to any seedlings that appeared).

Never, never plant this species — once installed, it simply cannot be removed! But if you absolutely must have a fast-growing ground cover in the garden, at least be sure to use the variegated form (known as ‘Variegatum’), because the white areas in the leaves lack chlorophyll, which weakens these bullies just a bit.

[Peter Loewer, aka The Wild Gardener, is a regular contributor to Xpress.]

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