Garden Opinions
May 30, 2010
Allan in Garden Design, Perennial Plants, baptisia australis, garden design, perennials

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.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (
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