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My business partner Megan has said, “There is no such thing as a bad plant, just plants used badly.” I’m pretty sure she’s on to something.

Some plants get a bad rap because they’re work-horses, standards used over and over again, often in commercial settings where they’re abused – and thus not looking their best. Some plants become representatives for an entire genus, like the ubiquitous rhododendron foundation plantings seen in front of every third house in my Portland neighborhood. How many casual gardeners have the opportunity to discover unique rhododendron species, those beyond the common? And some plants are disliked simply because familiarity breeds contempt. In my case the conifer I grew up with, Pinus ponderosa – growing everywhere in my native Eastern Washington – was so ever-present and looming, they turned me against conifers in general.

Over the years I’ve said (not so) brilliant things like “I’ll never plant a conifer in my garden!” or “Begonias and geraniums are boring, old fashioned plants (aka something my grandma would like)” or “I hate rhododendrons!” Thankfully my eyes have been opened and I’ve discovered there really are no bad plants. Here are a few which have me seeing the err of my ways:

My first conifer crush was Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ aka Blue Atlas Cedar, those powdery blue needle explosions are just wonderful, and don’t get me started gushing about the cones. Next came Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific’, it’s silvery/green needles and dense creeping habit make it a perfect groundcover. My newest conifer love is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Rasen’ with its twisting needles which spirally twist around twisting branches, I could stare at it for days…

And the Rhododendrons! There is not enough room in my garden for all the species I wish I could grow. I’ve found a spot for both Rhododendron sinogrande and R. ‘Ebony Pearl’ but I’m still searching for a home for Rhododendron pachysanthum, where there is a will there is a way…

As for those old-fashioned plants, well, I’ve got a few of those too. Begonia luxurians isn’t hardy in my USDA Zone 8 garden, but it’s worth buying again and again (or finding a friend who is really good at rooting cuttings). I’m still searching for the perfect spot to grow a lush big patch of Impatiens omeiana, it hasn’t quite taken hold in my garden (maybe it’s sulking at being called boring?). Geranium maculatum ‘Elizabeth Ann’ was an impulse purchase at a spring plant sale. I expected those dark leaves to fade in the summer sun but they’re still a nice dark chocolate brown. A geranium I love, who would have thought?

I’ve learned, no more blanket statements about not liking a genus! Heck not even a specific plant, after all once I decided to plant dusty miller in my garden, well…anything is possible. Are there any plants you’re surprised to be growing in your garden?