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Report From An Opinionated Gardener – October 19

Because I run a consultation service for a local garden center, I’m frequently on a client’s property, giving feedback about the landscaping. Sometimes they’ve hired me because they’re unhappy with how things are and they’re ready to make a change. In other instances the client says, “Just comment on anything you see,” and I do just that.

Often these customers have plants that are, to be truthful, extremely ugly. They might be half-dead or mal-pruned to the point of being butchered. But those same clients that are standing next to me might have been the ones who have created these landscaping terrors (horror-aculture) so it behooves me to be tactful.

I usually say something like this: “OK, let’s think about this shrub. Frankly, it’s not bringing much to the party.” Given this phrasing, my clients usually don’t become defensive, but nod and agree with my assessment.

Even if we don’t have ugly specimens in our landscapes, it can be helpful to view our gardens as a party and all of our plants as the guests. In evaluating our landscapes we can ask, “Why did I invite this plant? What does it add to this occasion?”

Does that particular perennial or shrub possess a charm that other plants don’t have? Is this tree well dressed with flowers, handsome foliage, or a great shape? Is this annual whimsical or funny? Do these plants mix well and create something that’s more than the sum of their parts?

Perhaps it would be useful to view other aspects of life with a party in mind. What does this job, habit or routine bring to the celebration? If I viewed this particular aspect of life as an event, would I invite everything I see to attend?

If it’s not bringing much to the party, toss it out.

OK, I know what the owner of this landscape was thinking: tall grasses will screen the meters. Unfortunately these grasses aren't tall enough, and are only able to screen for three of the twelve months per year. They aren't bringing much to this party. Time to find a different plant, or better yet some lattice work screening with plants around it.

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