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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Garden Opinions

Passionate gardeners often develop strong opinions related to their favorite pastime and there is no consensus as to the appropriateness of voicing those points of view in public. Some vociferous garden bloggers freely transmit controversial thoughts through cyberspace, to the consternation of other bloggers who remain polite and circumspect. I am one of those vociferous bloggers and there are others even more outspoken than I am.

Fifty years of gardening has given me the opportunity to develop an endless litany of opinions. Some are strong while others are simple preferences. This is not an area where I had felt the need to be diplomatic or to speak in measured phrases. To this scenario, I must add a cultural value:  My mother’s family spoke in hyperbole and used intense metaphors when expressing their thoughts. They also inflected their voices when it became necessary to convey dramatic intent, which was almost every day.

When I began blogging, I perpetuated this family tradition by speaking out colorfully when I felt it was appropriate. That tendency did not sit well with the people whom I admire, namely some of my fellow garden bloggers. One of the interesting phenomena of cyberspace has been the development of cyber-norms that encourage bloggers to be polite and somewhat self-effacing. Not only was I oblivious to the rules, but also, given my background, I found cyber-norms to be challenging.

In one area, my strong opinions have become public. It is about likes and dislikes of certain plants. These opinions are rooted in my own experiences and they are influenced both by plant behavior in the flowerbed and the contribution or distraction that a plant brings to the gardener’s master plan. This past year, I wrote disparagingly about Baptisia australis because it has been such a disappointment for me. Several fellow blogger wrote to voice their disagreement. They knew that Baptisia had been used successfully in flowerbeds and that it would make a remarkable aesthetic contribution to almost any garden.

I was surprised by the information and began to wonder why that experience had eluded me. Baptisia had been growing in a flowerbed, in the same spot for 15 years, where it remained unimpressive. The only explanation was the fact that it grew as an orphan with no relation to other plants. Recently, I moved it around until I felt that it was in a better place. That is when the garden magic kicked in. [Yes, there is such a thing! Oops, another strong opinion.] This morning, I discovered my blue Baptisia in bloom, flanked by yellow Trollius on one side together with a fading white Rose Blanc de Coubert, and with Weigela Red Prince in the background. This is a composition that speaks to me and a planting that definitely enhances Baptisia. Is this the same disappointing perennial? Clearly, I had been doing something wrong and oblivious to the error. [Yes, there can be errors in gardening. Another strong opinion!]

As it turned out, I had been growing Baptisia as a specimen, in a garden where specimen plants do not show well. Moving it was a good idea. To those readers who admonished me, ever so politely, for bad-mouthing this almost-beautiful plant, I just want to let you know that I get it, now.

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Reader Comments (8)

I don't see anything wrong in being passionate about gardening ... and 50 years gardening experience certainly gives you enough of a background for your opinions. We also have the right to change our opinions ... and you've obviously taken notice of others and found success with this plant. I'm not familiar with it at all ... but I have to say it does look fabulous in that garden bed!!!

May 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Allan, I love this combination. I've been wanting to add trollius to my garden; I wonder if it would be possible to squeeze it into the Blue and Yellow border next to the Baptisia australis! -Jean

May 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

I believe that passion in life provides a feeling of fullfillment and satiety. I feel fortunate that I have found my passion and I believe you too are fortunate to have found that which you are passionate about and love. Thanks for sharing!

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia McIntyre

Thanks for visiting my blog. There is no harm in having an opinion about a plant and then changing your mind. I often find that I have my eyes opened to the charms of perennials I have overlooked after visits to other gardens where the plant is perfectly situated.
I am such a huge fan of Baptisia that I have added a new purplish variety this year. I even love the dark seed pods.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I enjoyed this post, Allan. Very thoughtful.

For me, gardens are not controversial enough. There was a time in late eighteenth century England when gardens--along with poetry and painting--were the height of intellectual debate. Even a century later, Victorians knew more about plants and gardening than we do now. Today, there's hardly any debate to be found.

Of course, there's enough incivility in the world already. The garden is a place of retreat, and fellow garden bloggers are some of the more pleasant people I know. By all means, let civility guide our discourse.

But these are times of great tension between man and then natural world. The garden is the perfect place to express this relationship. I hope to find other bloggers with strong, rambunctious opinions about gardens and plants. Especially from experienced gardeners. The internet abounds with blogs from newbie gardeners delighted with every bloom or tomato in their garden (which is lovely). However, there's nothing like the wisdom and point of view of a long-time gardener. Their opinions--cranky, sweet, or deferential--are the ones I'd most like to hear.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

When I read your post thought I was going to hear obscene viciferations that abound on so many blogs - instead I find a passionate gardener with something worth saying. Keep up your strong opinions! I know what you mean though - I am passionate too but try saying you dislike the Chelsea Flower show and it does not take much to be shot down in flames

June 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatioPatch

Geeze, I hope you--or any other blogger--never hold back. I find far too much homogeneous writing out there, let's call it cookie-cutter bland. My family also uses metaphor and very dry sarcasm, taking chip shot after chip shot. It's invigorating and lively. My baptisia have really taken off this year, my oldes by a year is 4 feet tall and wide! Too big for where it is, but I won't move its deep taproot. Please--don't be reserved and careful, start something, please! (I'm a writing teacher, and those students who start stuff--and do so openly and smartly, write far better as a result because they aren't holding back... it's a big difference).

June 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

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