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Garden Etiquette: How to Behave in Someone Else's Garden.

Two blogs that I follow are very different in content and style from each other, yet each has recently dealt with the identical topic. By coincidence, both postings popped up on my Google reader within minutes of each other. The topic is garden etiquette, a subject worthy of some elaboration.

Barry of Teza’s Garden is reluctant for others to visit his garden for fear that someone might criticize his work. Anyone who recognizes and appreciates his passion for gardening understands why such comments are intrusive and undeserving. The message in his blog is a reminder to readers to restrict their opinions to polite comments when visiting someone else's garden.

Wayne of WynEden:a Gardener's Diary dealt with the same topic but from a different perspective. Because he gardens on 10 acres of land, he can allow his trees and plants to grow into their natural shape and height with minimal trim. His neighbor, by comparison, chooses to keep her garden disciplined. A common friend politely reminded Wayne that the neighbor’s garden was neater. What an affront! That is unacceptable behavior.

I do not know where I read it, and I cannot remember who wrote it, but a respected published gardener once advised readers that it is not polite, and it is downright inconsiderate, for a visitor to offer unsolicited criticism or judgment about an owner’s garden or plants. Some garden mavens, who are too free with their advice, forget a fundamental fact about gardening: nature gave us plants long before humans chose to tame them. When harnessing nature for personal pleasure, there can be no hard rules. Therefore, no one has a monopoly on what is correct. One ought to appreciate all gardens for the effort invested in them. Yes, there are some rules, based on scientific observation, on what is pleasing to the eye. These are guidelines about aesthetics. The gardener has the freedom to consider or ignore them. Creativity, in any art form, has never been about strictly following rules.

There is another reason why it is wrong to comment cavalierly about someone else’s garden habits. A lot of information that circulates among gardeners might be myth masquerading as fact. It only takes one person to repeat a fact that is incorrect for that statement to grow wings. Once upon a time, I heard a wise aphorism that compared the words we speak to down feathers escaping from a pillow. Once they are out, it is impossible to take them back. Some information that we exchange with others might be rooted in folklore but not corroborated by science. Some information we believe to be truth might be a fabrication, or a distortion of truth, disseminated by garden product suppliers, but not supported by research.

In an earlier blog, I repeated advice I had seen on a PBS home renovation program. The commentator was using Epsom salts as nutrition for roses. I followed that advice for several years and shared that knowledge with my readers. Now I discover that University researchers in horticulture, claim that applying Epsom salts is only helpful for rose growth where very specific soil conditions demand amendment. Using this nutrient, without determining if it is required, might have adverse effects on the nutritional health of the garden.

Another topic I wrote about was the need of some of my clients to have at least one of each of their favorite plants and colors growing in their small urban gardens, regardless of the visual outcome. The resulting flowerbeds looked like kaleidoscopes. That made the clients very happy, but not some of my readers. One wrote to ask if I had forgotten the rule about using Form and Repetition in garden design. I hoped that my reply was sufficiently polite. I reminded the reader that, for some homeowners, a garden is not about rules. A garden is about whatever makes them happy.

We have an obligation to encourage others to respect garden etiquette. In between investing neophyte gardeners with our passion about gardening and sharing with them some of our favorite plants, we need to instruct them on how to politely conduct themselves when visiting other gardeners. It is ironic that we should need rules about gardening etiquette when rules about gardening itself are unwelcome.

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Reader Comments (3)

We had a native/indigenous garden on the slopes of Table Mountain. Huge chunks of sandstone moulded by the weather, protea bushes, lots of birds. One visitor glanced out, and said - so when are you going to start a garden and put in the lawn. That is not offensive criticism, that is just pig ignorance. Same with, your neighbour's garden is tidier. Yes, and? Even if offence was meant, stand by your garden choices and style. I still laugh at that 'opinion'

January 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterelephant's eye


The link to and reference to my recent post is much appreciated. Its a tangled nettle to embark upon for sure but most important in an age when local garden tour numbers are suffering due to just this very reason. It was my Gran's adage of 'If you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing at all. Silence is golden after all!' that seemed most fitting. Perhaps it does derive from a sense of passion. A garden visit for me is near to an intimate glimpse into the soul of its creator! Rarely are total strangers given such a rare gift.

This is a wonderful post on so many levels...... I love the papagraph regarding the presence of one of every favourite plant being included in the garden repertoire, regardless of the visual outcome! Heaven only knows some 300 specimens later, mine would also equate to a kaleidoscope effect. The rules of my meagre effort are dictated by the plants themselves, not a list of golden gardening do's and dont's....

A wonderful throught provoking post as always!

January 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeza

I enjoyed your thoughtful post and found it very timely as garden tour season will return soon with spring. Thanks for spelling out the garden-visiting rules. It can be easy to forget that a passing comment can stick with someone and needle at them, even if meant uncritically.

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPam/Digging

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