When the Garden Bloggers' Book Club picked "My Favorite Plant" by Jamaica Kincaid as the December selection, Carol announced that if we didn't have time to read it we could instead post about our favorite plant. Knowing that the seasonal business in which I work would keep me too busy to read at this time of the year, I was happy to have an alternative... but the thought of picking out a "favorite" anything filled me with dread.
Ask me what my favorite color is and I'll say something like, "Blue. But the right shade of blue, just before it gets so dark at night that the sky might be considered black instead. Or maybe an electric cobalt. You know, a rich cinnamon brown is good, too, now that I think about it..." Ask me for a Top 5 albums of all time list, a la High Fidelity, and I'll cheat and throw in some boxed sets. It's not really indecisiveness, because I have a good idea of what I like and don't like. It's just that I like a lot of things.
True to form, I have found that I cannot pick just one plant as a favorite. Instead, I'm taking 2: Sage and Bergenia.
Just saying "sage" is cheating in and of itself, because the genus salvia has so many species contained within in that entire books have been written on salvias. So let me clarify that my favorite sage is salvia officinalis. I like its soft, felty leaves, even when those on the underside of the plant start to yellow and die, and I appreciate its irregularly mounding habit. The only cultivar I really don't care for is 'Tricolor,' for some reason.
I also appreciate it steeped in a mug of hot clear water with a little bit of local honey... and I like it burning and crackling in the firepit... and I like brushing up against it "accidentally" for a good whiff of clean, bracing sage-scent as I wander around the yard. You get the idea.
Bergenia just makes me smile whenever I see it. When I found out that its common name, "Pigsqueak," came from the sound you get when you rub its thick, glossy green leaves between your thumb and forefinger, I was hooked. I regularly stoop down and make my bergenia squeak when I walk past it. And yes, I then grin like a 4-year-old who just discovered that he can make embarrassing noises by squishing his hand in his armpit and pumping his arm up and down. There, I admitted it!
In terms of garden design, you can't ask for much more than its handsome foliage that tinges red in the fall and turns dark purple in the winter. The dark leaves set off early spring flowers like crocus amazingly well, and add wide, chunky texture to summer and fall vignettes. Unlike some evergreens that ask nothing of you at all, you get to pull off dead leaves from the bottoms of the clumps every now and again. That sounds like a silly thing to include in a list of assets, but I firmly believe that there's nothing like taking a bit of care of a plant to help you form an attachment.
So there you have it. After 20-some days of careful consideration, I managed to narrow my favorite plant down to two. That is, the two that are my favorites this month. Well, for this winter at least--I forgot how nice the blueberry leaves looked in November, now that I think about it. And how could I have chosen between all of the grasses I like, really? Hmm...