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Test The Hardiness Zone

Once at a lecture I remember hearing the speaker say something to the effect, “I won’t consider any plant hard to grow until I have killed it at least three times.” I think about that every time I try a new plant in my garden.

Picky lavender
Lavender is a good example. It is one of the top-selling perennials at our garden store and now I know why. Kentuckians all want it, but it is very hard to find a spot where it will actually grow so we just keep trying. I have always known lavender to be somewhat picky and very difficult to grow in some areas, so I had never really given it a chance in my own garden.

Several years ago, I finally gave in and decided to give it a try. The first one died almost immediately, and of course I thought it was my fault. Perhaps I didn’t give it enough water to get it established, planted it too late in the season, or in the wrong spot. So in the fall I tried again, choosing a different part of the garden.

To my surprise, it was still alive the following spring and seemed to be growing well. So, as any gardener would do, I immediately bought another one and planted it in the same area. Success, or so I thought. Sometime around the middle of July, I noticed the more mature of the two was dying, darn it. Not to worry, I was not giving up that easy. This spring, I planted one more in my fourth attempt to establish lavender in the garden. I will let you know how it turns out.

Pineapple lily
About eight years ago, a fabulous gardener friend, who is always trying to push our hardiness window to the limit and can successfully grow things we never thought possible in Kentucky, gave me a pineapple lily, Eucomis bicolor. He said he had gotten it to over-winter in his garden and thought I should give it a try.

It was so beautiful in its pot I was reluctant to plant it in the garden and risk killing it, so I decided to grow it as a tropical plant. I did pretty well with it for more than a year in the container, then started to get a bit bored with it. Late that summer, I decided to plant it in the garden so I wouldn’t have to bring it in and over-winter it in my basement.

One good rule of thumb: when planting outside the hardiness zones, do so in the spring or early summer to give plants plenty of time to establish before winter. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I broke my own rule, planted it anyway, and thought it would be fine. It loved being in the garden and seemed to flourish for the rest of the summer and fall, but in the spring there was no sign of my pineapple lily. Not to worry, I bought another one and tried again.

This time I bought Eucomis sp. ‘Sparkling Burgundy,’ or purple pineapple lily. This pineapple lily has unusual purple to burgundy strap-like leaves that remain colorful throughout the growing season. The flower is also purple but lighter in color, and resembles a miniature purple pineapple. It emerges on a stalk from the center of the plant about mid-summer and it is beautiful. Standing about 2 feet tall in full bloom, it makes an excellent colorful statement in my sunny herb and perennial bed.

The good news is that the purple pineapple lily, a perennial bulb, is said to be hardy in zones 6-9, so we are right on the edge for most of Kentucky, although southwestern Kentucky is zone 6. I am happy to report that it has successfully over-wintered for two years in my garden, so I believe it is here to stay.

Now I am ready to try the green pineapple lily, Eucomis bicolor, again. It would look great next to my purple one. Eucomis bicolor is said to be hardy in zones 7/8-11 so it is slightly less hardy than my purple one. I figure I have two more chances to try before I consider it too hard to grow.

Most gardeners are really scientists at heart, challenging current data by growing things we have never grown. After all, how do I really know if a plant is not hardy until I have proved it myself?

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