Absentee Gardeners

A rainbow of colorful plants ready to install.

A long time ago I mentioned to a rather snobbish gardening friend that I was thinking of planting some gladioli and was met with a withering response that, “No one plants gladioli anymore.” From this 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 or five. 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, shady areas and price. 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.

Also, please don’t misunderstand me in thinking that you can throw all gardening rules out the window. You cannot. However, you must determine your 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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