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Posted by Faye Green

We’ll Meet Again: Coming Back Around to Appreciating the Old Standbys

Several years ago, my daughter Kim and I took the Tennessee Master Gardener course and donned a cloak ofgarden snootiness  that was as unwise as it was unattractive. Thankfully, it was a temporary brain malfunction. But for a season, we turned up our noses at the most overused, beloved annuals in favor of the rarer breeds, those deserving of our newfound knowledge and raised consciousness. That lasted all the way to the garden center the following spring.

There we rediscovered the charm of impatiens, periwinkles, and marigolds, et al. We realized again that the “tired old standbys” are really workhorses, sometimes under-appreciated simply because they are so universally adored.

We recommissioned “the old standbys” and give them pride of place in our garden every year:



Also called “periwinkle,” vinca is both heat and drought tolerant and can take sun as well as shade. They are also accepting of average soil. Whereas I once considered them boring, the newer colors are anything but boring, and their reliability is downright endearing. When other plants wither and wilt with the heat of summer, vincas keep delivering.

Give them the occasional fertilizer (a couple of times a month) and water, and remember that some sun will enourage more blooms. I’ve noticed that too much water may cause a bit of wilt, and they definitely don’t like the damp chill of early spring. In addition, they are relatively free of insects and diseases.

Boston Ferns

Boston ferns’ gracefully arching fronds on the front porch are a Southern tradition. Give them bright indirect light and a steady supply of food and water, more in exposed locations. They’ll be good to go for the entire season, with only the occasional removal of dead, yellowing, or damaged fronds. What other staple of the garden demands so little?


Butterflies love them, and so do I. And why not? They’re the garden version of the Energizer Bunny. They glow in the sun, in a dizzying array of white, yellows, golds, oranges, reds, and variegations thereof—tall, short, or somewhere in between. I like to nip off the spent seedheads because I consider them unsightly. They’ll tolerate dry soil but demand a goodly amount of sunshine to thrive.



Petunias display the quality of Shakespeare’s woman—infinite variety. They need about six hours of sun each day, preferably in the morning. Fertilize every two weeks or so, and water daily in the intense heat of summer.

Deadhead them religiously, although the newer varieties supposedly don’t require it. I do it anyway. It’s also a good idea to pinch back stems if you want to keep the basket compact and bushy. New colors and cultivars appear every season, each introduction more magnificent than the last. Waves, supertunias, tidal waves … I want them all.


Few sights are more charming than a pot of geraniums on the front porch. As with other plants, they need food and water, but their leaves and blooms don’t like to be wet, so it’s best to water early in the day to allow them to dry.

A spot beneath an overhang, is, therefore, an ideal location, but they need 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. I never met a geranium I didn’t like. But with so many colors to choose from, I like to vary my geranium pots. Newer ones even have interesting variegation in the leaves. Blooms last a long time but need to be snipped out at the base when spent.