The Most Important Aspect of Gardening: Why do You Garden?

An unruly Crinum ‘Super Ellen’. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

I’ve written about this topic before and will undoubtedly do so again because I think it’s one of the most significant facets of gardening. If you don’t know why you garden, it will lack focus – it is that simple. I would submit that a wandering, meandering garden is pointless. Figure out what drew you to gardening initially, and you’re well on your way to becoming a gardener.

I’m not opposed to professional landscapers but their use tells me a lot about the garden’s owners. An interior decorator can decorate your house, but the owner’s personality must shine through if the results are to be meaningful. The same applies to professionally designed gardens.

Never forget that the introduction to the garden serves as the foreword to your house – and the styles of each need to mesh. For example, my house is relatively cluttered. I dislike clutter, but seems to be attached to my body. I empty out spaces, such as bookshelves and closets, only to fill them up with sundry items.

Therefore, if my garden were formal, there would not be a smooth transition into my house. My house, fortunately, is clean and it’s not messy so much as it’s simply filled with things, objects that unconsciously seem to attach themselves willynilly to available spaces. My garden, one I call “Organized Chaos” is precisely that: It’s organized but filled with many different types of plants.

When I was an active Master Gardener, I had other Master Gardeners accuse me of being a “plant collector,” not a compliment in the world of gardening. In turn, I would shake my head when I saw gardens filled with sameness. All this is by way of an explanation to gardening: We cannot all fit into one mold.

As I have written before, I’m intellectually interested in different plants and throughout the years I have experimented with many different types of plants. I’ve had the requisite rose garden, pushed to one side so it could be endlessly sprayed. I have experimented with agaves, with ornamental grasses and every large leaf plant that I came across.

Gradually, within my frenzy of wallowing in different kinds of plants, I began to concentrate upon the basic structure of the garden. The basic structure is what remains after the fall leaves have drifted downward, when most of our perennials are snoozing away. This is one of the reasons I treasure the garden in winter because if you like your basic structure, your garden has a good foundation.

My basic foundation consists of camellias, both sasanquas and the japonicas, gardenias, and various palms. These are all evergreen, adding interest to the winter garden. See a Windmill Palm coated in a light covering of snow and you’ll shake your head in disbelief. See the sasanquas beginning to bloom and you’ll be comforted by the thought that cool weather is on the horizon. See the japonicas bloom and you’ll realize that the winter days are numbered.

In the North Carolina Piedmont, we are so lucky to have four seasons of the gardening year on hand. Inevitably, some of the seasons will end up being more preferable than others but just as soon as you tire of one, another season pops up. This has contributed to one of my gardening goals, that of having something in bloom around the year – although January can be a bit iffy.

What I have begun to realize is that sameness in gardening bores me. Please recognize that I’m not saying sameness is wrong; I’m merely saying it doesn’t work for me. A long line of the same plant, whether it be evergreen or azaleas or whatever, simply isn’t my style.

Here’s the thing about gardening: It’s important to garden for yourself, not for others. Some people like my garden whereas others do not – and that’s okay because I garden for my opinion, not those of others. My colors are exactly that: my colors.

Some of my plants are unruly. There is nothing trainable about crinums but I appreciate their wildness with their fronds going every which way. My roses are not pruned to an inch of their lives, and some like ‘Dark Desire’ have surprised me with their disobedient shapes. I like roses that are scattered throughout the garden instead of being in two straight lines, yet I have good friends who savor their traditional rose gardens. I’m not wrong; neither are they. We are simply gardening for ourselves and our preferences.

Rosa ‘Dark Desire’. Photo by Kit Flynn.

It’s also important to know what you don’t like in gardens. I’ve already mentioned that sameness doesn’t work for me. I fail to appreciate plants that are excessively seedy or don’t know their place. Plants that travel over other plants have no room in my garden, and I treat them as though they were rowdy children with a firm disciplinary hand.

So, at the beginning of each season, ask yourself, “Why do I garden?” The answers (hopefully, you have more than one) might surprise you – and they might send you down the path of becoming a dedicated gardener.

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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