I went on a mini tirade on Twitter earlier today. A popular blog posted about horticultural “crimes” — photos of shrubs trimmed in ways the blogger saw fit to make fun of. Posts like this bother me quite a bit. Giving the blogger the benefit of the doubt, I suppose they’re supposed to help gardeners avoid making these “mistakes” in their garden by showing them the wrong way to do it.
And maybe it’s just me, but these posts (and there’s a Facebook group, too) often just come off like a bunch of middle school jerks pointing and laughing at the kid who doesn’t conform to their idea of “acceptable.” That kid wearing the hand-me-down pants? What a dork. The girl wearing cheap sneakers? Puh-lease. That goth chick? The skinny boy? The fat girl? Losers.
The guy with the cube-shaped shrubs? Let’s point and laugh some more.
“Can you believe she planted orange daylilies? Ick.”
“Yellow marigolds? Those are so UGLY!”
I don’t know. It all sounds the same to me.
Any snotty middleschooler, when confronted and asked why they were being jerks to someone, will utter some version of “I didn’t mean anything.” Those being a bit more disingenuous will maybe say “I thought I was helping — she doesn’t know how bad she looks!” (And I’ve worked in middle schools — trust me. They come up with this and more.)
The landscape designer posting a photo of an unsuspecting homeowner’s landscape on Facebook and calling it a crime against horticulture will likely say the same things.
Here’s what I think:
The only crime against horticulture is the one committed by scaring people away from gardening before they even start.
We humans are fragile creatures. Our egos are easily bruised. Not everyone is as well-adjusted as I am, after all. (Haha!) I can just picture someone who bought their first house, or is considering doing away with the lawn and putting in a little foundation planting coming across a post like this, or that “well-meaning” Facebook group.
If that’s what they have in store for them should they make a “mistake” with their shrubs or plant choices, what’s the point? They have not been infected by the gardening bug yet. They are considering gardening to make their yard pretty. Is this what they need to see, when they’re considering taking that first step toward getting their hands dirty?
Who does this help?
Well, landscape designers, obviously. And publishers of certain gardening magazines. Because the unspoken message here is “you will screw it up, and we will laugh at you. Just let those of us who know what we’re doing handle this.”
That’s not what gardening is about. If you want a perfect landscape, and you have no desire to create it yourself, then fine. Hire a designer and a crew and go for it. If that makes you happy, then I am happy for you.
But if you want to garden…if you want that visceral, exhilarating and addictive experience that only comes from nurturing a garden from the soil up, from making mistakes and killing things regularly, from learning as you go… then perfection has no place in your future.
Gardening is not perfect. We are not perfect. No one is.
Gardening is personal. If you want spherical or cube-shaped shrubs, then go ahead and prune them that way. It’s not everyone’s taste. So what? If it makes you happy, go for it. If you want to plant something that some designer has deemed “too common” or “garish” or whatever…do it. Who cares? That person is not the one looking at your garden every day. They’re not the one whose heart is invested so deeply in watching it grow. Forget them.
I almost used another “f” word there…you get my drift.
Life is too short to worry about the garden police. Plant what you want. Prune how you want. Combine any colors you want. Gardening is not a clique. Anyone can do it. Don’t be scared off by the know-it-alls.
Get your hands dirty. Garden your ass off. Be amazed by the magic that happens in your garden every single day. Even (and maybe especially) when you’re doing it wrong.