Garden for yourself

Hemerocallis ‘Megatron’. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

The longer I spend time in my garden, the more I realize I garden to please myself – not gratify others. Yes, in this case, it’s all about me. Just as others might not appreciate how you dress or decorate your accommodations, they might also feel free to criticize your garden. I advise you to ignore them and continue with what you are doing. The sad (but freeing) truth is that you will never please everyone.

Our sense of color is very individual. I had a mother-in-law who disliked the color of blue whereas I love blue. I’m not fond of the color of orange while others enjoy it in the garden. Lauri Lawson, a fabulous gardener who worked at Niche Gardens, once commented to me that she wasn’t fond of pink, a color that highlights my garden. Now these are personal preferences – no one is right, no one is wrong here.

Here in Chapel Hill, you will run into people who espouse the total use of native plants in a garden and then you find plant authorities, such as Tony Avent, who advocate for plant diversity. I choose to garden with a wide variety of plants for several reasons: (1) gardens are unnatural creations as what Nature wants for my garden and what I want are often diametrically opposed to one another; (2) I happen to love gardenias, camellias, roses, crinums and crapemyrtles – none of which are native – and am not about to give them up; and (3) there are several native plants that I happen to think should be avoided (poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and Campsis radicans, aka trumpet vine) because they verge on being invasive. I’m also not fond of our tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) because they are very seedy, taking root everywhere.

If you want to use native plants, feel free to do so. If you decide not to limit yourself to native plants, that is also acceptable. The main thing is to avoid becoming a crusader, as there really are two sides to this story.

It is, however, important to educate yourself on invasive plants – and some of our invasive species are indeed exotic, i.e. nonnative, ones. Rosa multiflora, a horrible rose imported on purpose to help to contain cattle, has little to recommend it as it’s terribly thorny and horribly seedy with nondescript flowers. No one would now plant R. multiflora or kudzu on purpose but it’s important to remember that most exotic plants are noninvasive.

There are lots of garden styles to choose from. My garden resembles an English cottage garden more than it does a formal garden; consequently, it probably looks a bit untidy to those who like more structure. I also am not a believer in heavily pruned roses, I avoid those rounded mounds Tony Avent refers to as “meatballs” and it is worth noting that I have made many mistakes in my garden. Own your mistakes proudly as that is how we all learn.

I have a dear friend who has a very perceptive eye, one that is far more discerning than mine. Her daylilies achieve huge growth, a lot wider than mine do (to my chagrin), and she divides them far sooner than I would because I love the showy statement her huge clumps make. Is anyone wrong here? Absolutely not! Her eye is disturbed by this massive growth whereas my eye delights in it. Simply put, this is her statement in her garden, not mine – and I say, “Brava!”

It takes time to realize that there are some plants you love, some you like, and some you barely tolerate. I was enamored at one time early in my gardening life with Kniphofia – at that time there was a particularly large one in vogue, and I thought it was a super plant. This variety now appears to have disappeared in favor of newer ones. Alas, in my garden, it stuck out like a sore thumb, its orangeness grated on my eyes, and I couldn’t find any plant that went well with it. This was the equivalent of buying a super brown skirt when all your accessories are navy blue. Eventually, the Kniphofia had to leave.

I didn’t fall in love with roses until I joined the sustainable rose bandwagon. I’ve always loved daylilies, but I appreciate them a lot more now that the fence protects them. Because hostas are the ultimate deer food, it’s hard to love them without a barrier. Simply put, the fence has allowed me to expand my gardening horizons, but I realize that this is not a possible option for many gardeners.

Just as we carry with us our own ideas of style and color, we also have to garden being aware of our limitations. Deer, the amount of sun, and the type of soil we must work with are all limiting factors. So, keeping this in mind, make decisions bearing these restrictions in mind – and remember, if someone doesn’t like your garden, that’s their problem, not yours.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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