After just about any disaster - earthquake, tornado, hurricane, volcanic eruption, flood, explosion and on and on - there are survivors.
And what creates a survivor? It seems to be a combination of being in just the right place at the right time, and personal determination and toughness. A survivor-type cast into the sea from a shipwreck will search for a piece of wreckage and then hang on for dear life no matter how dreadful the conditions. A victim will shudder, remember he cannot swim, and will drown within a few minutes.
It is the same in the garden.
Survivor plants will withstand disastrous conditions, lack of sun, water or nutrients, poor soil, neglect and being planted in the wrong zone. They flourish in sun or shade, bogs, deserts, beaches and sand dunes, in spite of the dire warnings on seed packets.
Once planted in an area, the Green Hulks of the garden will grow, flower, make seed, multiply and spread. They probably neglect to read the gardening manuals which spell out their necessary conditions.
Every gardener has a few of these champions as the backbones of their flower beds and vegetable garden. They may not be the most beautiful plants, probably have a tendency to grow too big or too small, creep into undesirable places, scatter seed and produce descendants all over the place, but they are sure to survive.
If you have peonies, you certainly know they can live well over 100 years, their little red leaf spikes growing through cold ground early in the spring and lasting until the snow falls.
The flowers always seem to appear a few days before the strongest storm of the season, at which time, their wind-whipped petals will cover the ground. But after a trim, the foliage is a nice dark green for the rest of the summer and makes a good background for other flowers. Mine have been in place for the 54 years I have lived here, and were mature when I first cared for them.
Hostas are survivors, too.
They are regularly subjected to division and relocation around here but keep flourishing in spite of these indignities. They are shade plants that shrug off a few hours of sun without complaint. They weather plagues of hail and slugs with fortitude - and cheerfully grow new leaves when some have to be removed, full of holes.
And then there are daylilies.
Once available only in their native orange, or a tepid yellow, they now can be found in all shades of pink, red, lavender and purples, and in many forms - single, double, twisted, ruffled - and in all sizes.
The attractive green arching foliage is reliable from spring to late fall. Daylilies prefer sun, but will grow in semi-shade. Although each blossom lives only for a day, flower production may continue for weeks. A judicious mix of early and late re-blooming varieties will grace the flower bed all summer long.
Several silvery foliage plants are referred to as Dusty Miller, with senecio cineraria one of the most common in this area. We are on the border of its hardiness area, and the plants may be sold as perennials or annuals, depending on the optimism level of the seller.
I find they almost always survive even very severe winters, keeping most of their foliage through the cold season, and then producing new growth from the old stem at ground level in the spring. The small yellow flowers that appear in summer can be pinched off to encourage bushier foliage.
There are reliable plants in the vegetable garden as well.
I find Swiss chard hard to beat in this regard. Sown from seed directly into the garden, it is ready for use by the beginning of July, and is a true cut-and-come-again vegetable. Bright Lights is my favorite variety.
Lettuce also is a safe bet, and as often as you cut a salad bowl full, it seems to be replenished in a couple of days.
All these garden survivors, and many more, make up for the temperamental plants that take so much attention and are so expensive.
When I have spent time lamenting the mandevilla won't bloom and the meconopsis won't germinate, I go outside and take in the beauty of the daylilies and hosta for a few minutes.