Have the Courage of Your Gardening Convictions

A rainbow of colorful plants ready to install. Photo by Lise Jenkins.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

A long time ago I mentioned to a rather snobbish gardening friend that I was thinking of planting some gladioli — and met with a withering response that, “No one plants gladioli anymore.” From this bit of confrontation, I learned a valuable lesson about why I garden: I garden to please myself. While I would like others to like my garden, I’m really working to satisfy the senses of one person: me.

Gardening “rules” should act as guidelines, guidelines you may decide to follow or to break. Common gardening wisdom recommends planting in odd groups of one, three, five, etc. However, in every gardener’s life there comes a time when you might want two or four of a particular plant. We’re all confined by room, sun or shady areas, and price. And, I have found that properly planted, two specimens may please me as much as three would.

I’m personally a plant nut. I’m curious how a particular plant will look. Consequently, some consider my garden a hodgepodge, while I refer to it as “Organized Chaos.” Some have accused me of being a “plant collector”— not necessarily a compliment.

I manage to shrug off these comments because I don’t garden for other people: I garden for myself. When I met Mark Weathington, the current director of the JC Raulston Arboretum, at a symposium, he announced that he was more of a “plant person” than a gardener in that he was intellectually fascinated with plants. Clearly, he was a man after my own heart.

A landscape designer once advised me to buy 25 specimens of a single plant — and I gasped. Clearly, he was after waves of color, something I am not. Which one of us is wrong? The answer is neither one of us: we are just after different gardening results.

I am passionate about my sustainable roses but I don’t want a hedge of roses, especially all of one variety. There is nothing wrong with it; it simply isn’t the end product I want. I personally like plants all mixed together so that a crinum might land up near a shrub rose that is surrounded by daylilies. This might be jarring to your eye but to my eye it’s quite pleasing.

The point I am making is that gardens should reflect our personalities. My “Organized Chaos” reflects the fact that I’m not as tidy as perhaps I should be, but at my age I doubt if I will change.

And please don’t misunderstand me in thinking that you can throw all gardening rules out the window. You cannot. However, you must determine you own gardening rules. Here are a couple of my guidelines:

  • Feed the soil, not with tons of fertilizer but with compost;
  • Weed, weed, weed;
  • Research the plants to avoid overly enthusiastic ones. It goes without saying that I won’t plant invasive plants;
  • Only plant own-root roses;
  • Avoid orange.

If you are shaking your head at the last two, let me explain. I dislike the color orange. I really dislike the color orange, and I have dear friends who search out the orange flowers I avoid. Orange works for them and it doesn’t for me; it’s that simple.

As for own-root roses, I believe there are good reasons to insist on them. Consequently, I will not compromise on this gardening rule of mine.

I can afford to follow these rules because they work for me in “Organized Chaos.” They might not work for you and that’s okay because hopefully you are gardening to please yourself, following your own rules.

And yes, I did plant the gladioli that happily reappear every spring.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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2 Comments on "Have the Courage of Your Gardening Convictions"

  1. I definitely agree! Garden for yourself. And never ask for too many opinions because you’ll lock yourself in your garden shed until fall, your mind overflowing with well-intentioned advice! And while I do like orange….day lilies, echinacea, etc. I have my dislikes too. But if I mention them, I’m afraid I’ll someone will come take away my shovel. And I”m into organized chaos myself when gardening. It’s not always intentional, but there it is. And I love it. Thanks for your article!

  2. I admire your courage ! As a self-taught artist and garden designer I encourage my clients to follow their dreams. The most famous garden in the world -Giverny, was created by an amateur, Claude Monet.

    ” In his garden every man may be his own artist
    without apology or explanation.
    Each within his green enclosure is a creator
    and no two shall reach the same conclusion ;
    nor shall we, any more than other creative workers
    be ever wholly satisfied with our accomplishment.
    Ever a season ahead of us floats the vision
    of perfection and herein lies its perennial charm. ”

    -Louise Bebe Wilder
    I am enjoying your columns. Keep up the good work !

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