Don’t get me wrong: Writing about plants is a great way to make a living. But, as with any job, certain realities have to be faced. Long gone are the days when a writer could turn in a book manuscript and have the publisher to print the whole thing, regardless of length. After all, people expect to see pictures, you know, and those pretty images take up a lot of space, so some words must go. Then there are issues like production costs, shipping weights, and other pesky practicalities.
So, for a plant-obsessed writer, the issue isn’t how to fill a given number of pages; instead, it’s a matter of painfully pairing down lists and descriptions in an effort to cover the plants that most readers actually want to know about. Those that inevitably get cut are what I think of as “The Unpopular Plants.” They may be practically impossible to grow in most gardens, or they may grow so readily that they’re normally dismissed as weeds. They may be too odd-looking to fit in easily, or too politically incorrect, or too anti-social to hold their own against more familiar flowers. In short, they’re the geeks, nerds, and dweebs of the plant world. Now, these poor, neglected plants have a place to get their 15 minutes of fame, whether they deserve it or not. Mind you, I’m not encouraging you to give any of these oddballs room in your own garden—rather the opposite, in fact: Now that you’ve seen them here, there’s no need for you to grow them yourself. Right?
And now, please, a round of applause for the first entry in the Unpopular Plant Series: variegated kudzu! No? Anyone? Oh, come on, it’s totally not PC, but it’s still good-looking, in a scary sort of way. The form shown here is available under the botanical name Pueraria montana var. lobata ‘Variegata’, alias ‘Sherman’s Ghost’. I’ve heard and read reports of sightings of other variegated kudzus, but none appear to be named, and this seems to be the only one sold in the trade.Oh, yes, you can actually buy variegated kudzu, and oh, yes, I actually did—purely for research purposes, mind you. The first year, there were only two leaves, and I took only one decent picture—a somewhat measly return on the investment, but at least I could say that I’d grown it. Never expecting it to survive the winter, I was delighted—er…I mean appalled, of course—to see it sprout again the next spring. I kept a watchful eye on it, but again, it produced only a few leaves; then, by the following spring, it had disappeared. If it hadn’t, I had every intention of destroying it anyway—honestly.
Would I grow it again? Probably not. The idea of any kudzu, let alone a not-especially vigorous, variegated one, overwintering here is just too scary to contemplate. But if you really want to try it for yourself (and remember, I’m not saying you should), you can buy your very own from the folks at Glasshouse Works. Or not.