Something I Learned while Driving….

As I drive around the area, I always have my eyes open to the various plants that people have in their yards. I often get ideas of plants to grow and ways to grow them from my PA neighbors.

For the past months I’ve been driving by one house and noticing these green plants growing in their front yard and by the mailbox. I wasn’t sure what they were since I was driving by each time I saw them. The plants were about 2-3′ tall and had no flowers.


That is until now. In late September those nice, manageable green plants started to grow. And grow. And grow. I then had an idea of what they were but now that they’ve topped out at 7′ and are covered with yellow flowers, I can finally identify these plants – they’re perennial sunflowers (Helianthus), probably maximilianii. This plant is sometimes called a prairie sunflower. They’re beautiful plants and you can’t help but notice them. The only problem is that their enormous height looks strange in the front yard and growing by the mailbox. And I don’t want to even think about what will happen to these plants if we have a wind storm!

I’m not writing this to mock the people who planted them – every gardener has planted a great plant in the wrong location. I put cottage marigolds along the walkway one year and the bushy plants took over and make it difficult to walk to the front door. I planted a euonymus (Euonymus japonicus)  in a shady corner of the house and it went wild. I had to cut it down and am still, years later, spraying small shoots of new growth with Round Up. I have another euonymus that has to go, Euonymus alatus, a winged burning bush. I planted it by the front door and between growing too large and always being covered with aphids, it’s just not worth the effort. (Maybe I need to stop trying to grow euonymus!)

Helianthus Flowers

In the right location, all of these plants would be fine but where I planted them, they just didn’t work. The same is true for the people with the helianthus. This behemoth is great in the back of a border or in a clump at the corner of a house. But by the mailbox , it’s just too big.

I’ve often thought of growing some Helianthus maximilianii but after seeing them in a neighbor’s yard, I know there isn’t a good spot for them in my garden. So I’ll cross that plant off of my “to grow” list.

Who knew you could learn so much about gardening just by keeping your eyes open while you’re driving?


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