Reviewing a year of more success than failure

Duane Campbell
Duane Campbell

Itís time for the annual hits and misses, winners and losers, and whatever other cliches come to mind. And unlike many years, I am eager to get to it. For once there have been more successes than failures. I attribute this to my growing skill, not to the unusually good weather which may have played a small part.

First, one that surprised me. I donít get very excited about hydrangeas, but they must be popular elsewhere because companies keep sending me new ones. Last year I got one,a dwarf called Bobo, from Proven Winners. I potted it up in a 14-inch container, and that first year it was just what I expected, which is pretty much ho-hum. But this year, after it got comfortable Ö Wow! It was literally hidden under blossoms that lasted for weeks and weeks and weeks. This is not a large shrub for the middle of the yard of a 19th century farmhouse. It is perfect, though, for a largish patio container.

Let me tell you how impressive it was. My wife said it looked nice. My wife doesnít notice dozens of eight foot dahlias with huge blooms in rainbow colors visible from a block away. But she likes Bobo. When growers send out trial plants, they are commonly in six inch pots. If you find this hydrangea in a nursery next spring, it will probably be larger and you wonít need to wait a season to be stunned.

Underground stuff did exceptionally well this year. Potatoes were big and abundant, possibly because of the weather, possibly because I finally learned that they really, really like fertilizer. And digging dahlias I am horsing out twenty pound clumps. Next spring friends will lock their doors when they see me coming up the walk with a cardboard box.


A mild winter meant my butterfly bushes didnít die to the ground as they usually do, and instead of manageable four or five foot perennials springing new from the ground, they are ten foot shrubs and covered with blossoms. They have assaulted nearby plants. If they survive another winter, I think Iíll cut them back to the ground next spring, for the safety of nearby plants, but if I had the space Iíd let them have their way.

One failure led to a success, or so I like to think. I have always loved the look of calibrachoa, commonly called million bells, in moss baskets. They are described as easy and drought tolerant. I have seen them overflowing and covered with bright blooms on the porches of more attentive gardeners. Most of mine are dead by mid-July. They may be drought tolerant, but they are not Campbell tolerant.

I have a series of moss baskets lining a walkway, and moss baskets dry out if you just put the hose down and go in for lunch. The solution I found was sedums, which donít mind drying out. Really, not just nursery hype. The strong colors of Voodoo, Blue Spruce, Sea Urchin, Angelina may not look as dramatic as calibrachoa, but they look better than dead calibrachoa.

My variegated lemon tree is a clear success. It has been a success for twenty five years, providing me with large lemons much better than those in the grocery store, but it has always had one irritating habit. It throws numerous branches that have no leaves except at the end. These are horozontal branches that bloom and bear fruit, so they arenít water sprouts. Iíve tried everything Ė pruning, fiddling with fertilizer Ė with no results. This year it stopped. Ample leaves along all branches. I have no idea why.

Even the bad news is good in its way. Decades ago I planted one Palace Purple heuchera, fresh and exciting at the time, tedious and old now, superseded by many better varieties. Palace Purple reseeds, not aggressively, but over the years I have dug up enough volunteers to plant along an out of the way part of the foundation. They were elderly and weak, and this summer they finally gave up. I wonít miss them.

Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at 12 Burgess Drive, Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail at