With the Fourth of July upon us, I have been thinking about freedom in the garden. Sometimes I think we hear of so many rules of gardening that it’s amazing any of us have the courage to pick up a hoe.
Several years ago, I casually mentioned to a snobbish friend that I was thinking of planting some gladioli only to be told that, “No one plants gladioli anymore.” I suddenly realized that she and I gardened for entirely different reasons.
How many times have we heard that it’s a crime to introduce the color magenta into the garden? Or that we must plant in odd numbers? Experts assure us that odd numbers of plants look more natural but what happens if you only have room for two matching hostas and not three? And, I confess, that my less-than-discerning eye really takes little offense at a grouping of two or four plants rather than three or five.
The longer I garden, the more of an advocate I have become in believing that a good garden reflects the personality of the gardener. Now I happen to like a little bit of magenta here and there roses carry off the color beautifully. It turns out that Gertrude Jekyll disliked the color, sending it into exile in all her gardens.
Some gardeners tolerate weeds better than I do. My less-than-discerning eye suddenly becomes incredible discriminating when it comes to weeds and unknown seedlings. What others can tolerate I simply cannot. This doesn’t mean I’m right and they are wrong; rather it demonstrates what works in my garden might not work in yours.
Once I heard a landscape architect recommend that everyone should buy 25 specimens of a single plant and I gasped in horror. Not only do I not want 25 identical specimens of anything, I’m am not seeking out endless waves of color, as he obviously was.
I call my garden “Organized Chaos,” as it’s an unconventional garden, reflecting the fact that I might not be as tidy as perhaps I should be. I dislike straight lines in my garden. While I’m passionate about roses, I do not want a rose hedge. Instead I want to intermix my roses with daylilies, clematises, and whatever else that catches my fancy.
What I’m advocating is a recognized freedom in the garden. If you want straight lines rather than curvilinear ones, by all means work them in. If you agree with Miss Jekyll in her dislike of magenta, please leave it out of the garden. However, we must all work within a framework, which means that we all have to establish our own rules.
My rules are as follows:
- Feed the soil with compost, going easy on the fertilizer
- Weed, weed, weed
- Research the plants in an effort to avoid the heavy seeders and invasive plants
- Only plant own-root roses
- Avoid orange
I dislike the color orange and shun it in the garden. I have dear friends who search out the orange plants I avoid. I’m not telling you to shun orange: I’m simply saying it doesn’t work for me.
My rules aren’t meant to be universal ones. I’m just advocating that, in my effort to tame “Organized Chaos,” they work for me. What I’m promoting is that we gardeners should celebrate the Fourth of July by establishing our independence, working within our own individual frameworks.
And, yes, I did plant the gladioli that happily greet me in the early summer every year.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.