Down with gardening snobbery

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September 25, 2013
By: Meleah Maynard
Meleah Maynard

As a garden writer, I read a lot of gardening blogs and articles by other writers and landscape designers and I have to say, I’m finding them increasingly annoying and depressing. So much judgment and negativity — who died and made us the arbiters of all things right and tasteful?

Without naming the writer and being a jerk when I’m trying to write about why it’s important to not be a jerk, let me just say that recently I read a blog post that pushed me over the edge. It was a short piece, posted by a writer who had a day off so she rented a bike in a nearby town and peddled around looking at gardens.

It was a beautiful blue-sky day, but she really couldn’t enjoy it because most of the homes she biked past were landscaped with predictable perennials, particularly KnockOut roses and catmint (Nepeta). The fact that most of the roses were RED only accentuated the humdrum nature of the plants in her mind, and she posted a few pictures to bolster her point with “sophisticated” readers like us. Ugh. How can this sort of thing be helpful to anyone?

Sure, experienced gardeners or those with the good fortune to have an impermeable force field of self-esteem might read snobby comments like that and think: “To hell with her, I love my KnockOut roses.” But for many mortals trying to garden, it’s no fun to read something written by someone who is supposedly in the know that basically says you have bad taste if you plant certain things (or allow them to be planted by a landscaper) and you ought to know better. This kind of senseless garden bullying isn’t helpful or inspiring and needs to stop.

A Matter of Taste 

I will confess right now that I am guilty of garden snobbery. I have written disparaging things about annual geraniums, dusty miller and other plants I don’t like. Thinking about it now, I can’t imagine how I ever thought that might be useful to anyone. Please accept my sincere apology for behaving like such a self-important turd. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that garden writers should only write nice things about plants or anything else.

On the contrary, plenty of topics are absolutely fair game. It’s our job to spill the beans on crappy plants that don’t bloom well, fail to be as hardy as advertised, are invasive or riddled with diseases they’re supposed to be able to resist. And there’s nothing wrong with pointing out that certain plants are being used an awful lot and suggesting alternatives. That’s information that people can use. But slamming plants based on personal preference, or nattering on about how sophisticated gardeners would never have this or that “over-planted” plant in their gardens, is on par with shaming high school classmates over their choice of jeans.

In all honesty, don’t you think that plant preferences are largely a matter of personal taste whether you’re a novice or a professional? I mean, take a look at a handful of landscapes designed by a pro and you’re likely to find a similar plant palette used again and again — the one they prefer. What if you don’t like those plants or can’t afford them?

Like a lot of gardeners I know, I plant what I like, and what is given to me and what I find by the side of the road with a “Free” sign on it. There are definitely some interesting native and non-native plants in my gardens. But you’ll also find all sorts of “boring” and “overused” plants, including hostas that I can’t name, daylilies, catmint, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum and the much maligned yellow coreopsis. I’m happy to have all of those plants, and I don’t care what the finger waggers say. Neither should you.

A slightly different version of this column can be found on Meleah’s blog: everydaygardener.com