Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mishy Mashy and Wishy Washy

Before you read this impossibly long post (I'm giving fair warning, it's time to click out of here before it's too late) I have to preface this semi-rant with a statement:

I love having garden visitors!  They make all the work we do so much fun.  I love to share the garden with other people who love gardens.  The friendships we have made have been incredible and wonderful and we owe so many of them to the garden that brought these wonderful people into our lives.  So, don't get me wrong; I'll say it again, I love our visitors.

But there's always a few.......... 

When I have a visitors to the garden (and also when I tour other people's gardens)  many times I am taken aback by some of the comments I overhear.  Things I never noticed at all; things that need tweaking or changing or things they notice that they think I did on purpose but were just happy accidents from Mother Nature come up in conversation.  Ok, I'll admit it, I can be oversensitive, especially about the garden (and my weight.  And my hair.  And my.....ok, never mind...... I'm getting better now.   I guess I could start a 12 Step Group for Oversensitive Gardeners since I have a lot of experience after years of people coming through here.   I'm getting better....One Garden Walk at a Time, that's my motto.

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote a post about this same topic.....it's here if you want to read it.  Beware the Gardener......no Critics Allowed   I think back to the First Official Garden Walk we were ever on and laugh........now.  I didn't laugh then, though!  We had been up all night (literally until 2AM weeding with lights hooked up to stepladders) and the walk started at 8AM.  An early bird visitor was here by 7:00AM, strolling around the garden and then sought me out in the front yard to chat.  What ensued was the most brutal commentary I have ever heard from anyone to this day;  she made absolutely hateful remarks about everything from the fact I hadn't deadheaded a long row of daylilies out by the road to the colors and plants I chose for my planters (and she hated my light shades and the Pan Fountain---how tacky everything was in her eyes!)

"They must be too cheap to buy the real thing. You'd think they would have spent more money on the house, too--maybe if they bought a few less annuals they could afford a nicer one; look at how small it is.  Why would anyone garden with annuals?  I just don't get some people.  The color combinations are just awful.  What was she thinking?  I don't see anything around here worth looking at, so I'm off to the next garden.  Are you going too?  Can I follow you so I don't get lost?" 

Apparently she did not know who I was though how she could have been so dense is beyond me...who did she think I was besides the garden owner when I was tidying up and watering and running around like a chicken with my head cut off?  When I said I wasn't leaving yet, she was curious......oh, why not?  When I told her I lived here, her face turned beet red and she just stammered and backed into a group of people who had just arrived to tour (at the appointed time, not an hour early) and sort of disappeared.  She wouldn't make eye contact with me when the group asked me to say a few words about the garden and I've never seen her since.  So, yeah, that was my Maiden Voyage into the waters of Trying to Please All the People All the Time.  Guess what?  It doesn't work!

And it's not just my garden I'm oversensitive about, either.  I'll be happily strolling along as a visitor on an official Garden Walk in a perfect stranger's garden and hear other perfect strangers make remarks that make me angry.......and it's not MY garden!   Whoa there, Mr./Ms. Garden Critic.....please follow the time-tested adage:  'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.'

Most of the commentary on our garden that we receive to our faces is very positive and congratulatory, but then there are the not so nice comments that aren't so positive, too, especially when there's a large group and a few of the people don't realize who Carl and I are. It's always a good reminder to me when I am visiting someone else's garden to keep my opinions to myself.  I would hate to hurt the feelings of the garden's owner--after all if a garden isn't in the style I happen to adore, too bad--- it's their garden, their piece of paradise, their personal expression of what they love.  Who am I to say I don't like it? 
One of my all-time favorite gardener-extraordinaires is Adrian Bloom of the Blooms of Bressingham fame.  I am a  Mr. Adrian Bloom groupie.   I have all of his books and though I'm not fond of traveling, if there was one place I could go if I had to travel abroad, it would be to his Foggy Bottom garden in England.  In his excellent book, Year Round Garden, Mr. Bloom wrote:

'Foggy Bottom is much larger than the average-sized garden, of course, yet there are a great many wonderful gardens that make our six acres look relatively small in comparison.  However large a garden is, it has its own individual style which results from a unique combination of ideas and designs.  Naturally, the larger the garden is, the more opportunity there is to experiment. And large gardens that are open to the public can be used by ordinary gardeners as sources of inspiration, full of ideas to be taken away, adapted and tried out in smaller situations. 

Being a keen gardener and plantsman as well as nurseryman, I have been only too well aware of the comments that many gardeners might make as they walk around my own 'large' garden, the most obvious perhaps being: "Well, of course, anyone can create a good garden in six acres."  So I have tried to show in practical terms how to create interest and colour the year round in more modestly sized gardens."  

I remember talking to a fellow gardener who mentioned that once he had overheard some visitors tearing his garden apart like a duck on a June bug.  The 'garden critics' were just on the other side of a large shrub the owner was standing by during an official garden walk.  The owner never came out from behind the shrub to confront the visitors, but he said it was a humbling experience.   He said he took some of the criticism with a grain of salt and realized they maybe did have a point.  As he said, "I guess there is always room for improvement.  Sometimes we don't see what's wrong until it's brutally pointed out."   I told him that 'humbling' wasn't the word I was going for, 'Hurtful' would be up there on my list, though. 

I even feel badly for the stars whose lives are splashed across the headlines of those raunchy magazines in the grocery store....they catch some aging woman in a swimsuit and throw her picture up on the tabloid's cover with all sorts of disparaging remarks....how sad that we have to tear down others to make ourselves feel better.  At least gardening magazines don't jump on the band wagon.....you never see headlines on the front cover of Better Homes and Gardens proclaiming, "This once beautiful garden has now gone to pot---turn to page 33 for the Shocking Story!" 

There are some gardeners who won't tolerate trash talk......years ago a friend of mine told about the time she visited a rather reclusive man who was hybridizing hostas (this was just at the start of when hosta gardens became so popular) and people were stopping in to see and possibly purchase his new plants.  He must have heard some hurtful comments from people who had come to his garden before her because as she stepped out of her car he greeted her with, "If you don't like the way my garden looks, you can just turn around and get back in your car right now!"  She said was taken aback by his gruff demeanor, but she did stay and purchased several of his amazing plants. 

We've toured LOTS and LOTS of gardens over the years...I love garden walks.  Where would we be without garden walks for inspiration? 

Years ago we were inspired by a little lady who lived in Door County and had the most fantastic garden I have ever seen.  Sadly, she no longer tends her garden, as her property was sold and turned into a bed and breakfast establishment, but the memory of her magnificent landscape still lives on in my mind.  Emily had a property boundary consisting of an exposed limestone bluff and scattered with huge (and I mean HUGE) rocks that had fallen over the centuries in her back yard.  She gardened in and among these gorgeous pieces of fallen cliffs, creating a masterpiece of color and form.

We visited her garden only twice, and each time was a wonderland for us....it was what inspired us to begin gardening with stone.  I do not have stone anywhere near the size of what she gardened with though, and always fondly remember Emily's impeccable garden.  She and her husband had a cute sign perched on a rock the size of a small house that read:  'Our Piece of the Rock'.

Emily was a meticulous gardener,  picking up every petal that fell off her peony bushes when the flowers were spent.   I was so sorry to hear the garden was no longer; what a public garden it would have made though Emily had no desire for the city to acquire her property.  Once just before she sold her home, Carl and I stopped in on a whim to visit her.  She came to the door and we talked about her gardens for a few minutes.  She was caring for her husband who was in failing health and didn't have the time she needed to devote to the gardens any longer. She felt that some of the plants in the garden were, in her words, 'getting away from her.'  "Plants in my garden are not allowed to do just as they please," she said.  I have pictures of her garden around here somewhere, but I have to find them....they aren't the greatest pictures and how I wish we had thought to take better ones since there will never be another opportunity again.

Before you think I'm in a black mood and will leap upon any visitor who doesn't immediately and continually overflow with syrupy gushiness about how wonderful our garden is, I'd better clear this up.  I'm not that pathetic!  I'm just saying it's a shame not everyone can be kind and just say nothing when they see something they don't like.  There's plenty around here not to like.  We have issues GALORE.  There's things I want to finish and change completely.   I am probably my own worst critic.  But sometimes I get caught off-guard.  My friend Ann has always told me to take a  negative comment and analyze it....."Is what this person saying really true?  Does their comment have any merit?  What can I learn from it?"

Well, I guess just like my first nasty garden walk visitor pointed out, I don't have any color sense.  And after 20+ years of gardening, ya know what?  I still don't have any color sense.

One of the right to my face comments I had from a garden visitor this week was, "You plant such a mish-mash of colors, but somehow the garden seems to work."

Another lady solemnly and sternly commented on the fact I let my rudbeckias self-seed where they wanted, she said that wouldn't be for her....first off, she dislikes yellow in the garden (?) and secondly they aren't 'being orderly'---I believe 'wishy-washy' was her official term for my plantings. (Hmmmm, this is the second time someone has referred to us as wishy- washy----well, it's true, I do wish things were washed.)

I laughed.  She was startled.  I laughed again, "Orderly?  In this garden?  You must be kidding!  I'd NEED an orderly to take me to my rubber room if I decided I'd rip out those flowers just because they self-seeded.  I look at it as a bonus!"

Well, I chose to take the mish-mash comment as a back-handed compliment (even if it wasn't meant to be one).  The lady was right.  I do plant stuff mishily-mashily and worry about the end result later.  Especially my annuals.  I love me my annuals.......I'll never stop planting them.  When you're in love with something, you just don't care what other people think.  And I've evolved.  I really don't care.

Ah, but you say, "Karen, don't you know you should follow a color scheme?" and to that I reply, "No, life is short.  Eat dessert first and all that."

White Wave petunias and Denver Daisy rudbeckias along with a sweet potato vine.  Oh, and a rock or three.
When it comes to containers, I'm just as guilty as mish mashing as in the flowerbeds.
Yeah, there's a few different colors and plants in there.  Merlin Blue Morn petunias, a leftover hot pink geranium from two years ago, an orange nasturtium, another pink petunia and Jester millet all in one container with a Denver Daisy in front.  I'm not in denial, I'm not sorry, I'm incurable and guilty as charged.

I grow what I like.

I do what I want.

I'm all that.

Oh, yeah, you heard it here:

I'm ALL THAT and a bag of Peat Moss.

Fear the Gardener.

She's Color Blind.


Rosemary said...

Karen as usual you have hit the nail on the head. People can be so thoughtless with their comments.... In nature I have never seen colours that don't work together that is what green is for makes all work in harmony. Besides that I have come to love your garden and have yet to find a darn thing to complain about. I too adore Adrian Bloom and know that book quite well, now know why I love what you do reminds me of Foggy Bottom....... don't you love the mix of colours of his evergreens , working so well together?
I think I relate to your blog so much cause like you I fret about hair, weight and comments. Trying to get better and say like it or lump it!

Missy said...

I think there are people who are just very narrow-minded and opinionated so think they have the right to criticise and knock down whatever they see. (armchair experts) They would do it with gardens or celebrities' clothes & hairdos or house decor or anything to do with anyone else's achievements. Maybe it helps them feel better about their own failings. Who knows.
You could always ask to visit their garden. I bet they don't have one anywhere near as wonderful as yours, if they even have one at all.

Tufa Girl said...

Where are those women? I will smack them! Mother Nature does not plant in color themes nor is she ever orderly. I would shudder to think what their gardens look like - if they even have one. How rude can people be? You are a saint for putting up with them.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

This should go directly to the Garden Rant Guest Writer Website!

Usually people who make these comments are not "Gardeners." I had a garden walk this year and one of the guests said, looks great now but I will bet by August it is a Jungle!

This person is a friend, so I said it is not a jungle if you take care of it.

Karen, your garden is lovely and I plant just about every color there is, real gardeners do this! I try sometimes to do a color scheme but it soon falls by the wayside when I see a new plant that I have to have.

Keep showing your garden for all of those who will love it!


Sall's Country Life said...

You go girl! Do what you want, grow what you like and be mishy mashy and bossy mossy! Judgmental tourists should be wary and mind there p's and Q's, for she may be color blind but, she owns this quarry and critics can be strung up, run out or buried in it - it's up to you!
And now I'm amusing myself imagining you chasing some old biddy off your property on your tractor!!
I feel your pain Karen, those comments would go right to my heart also. I agree with the others, that these rude,selfish,armchair gardeners haven't got a clue! Criticizing is all the talent they have!
So take a glass of wine out to your amazing quarry garden and basque in all it's beauty. You and your family has so much to be proud of!
Toast to all the beauty that surrounds you and the loving family that made it what it is!

Anonymous said...

I attend a lot of garden walks and help organize a few. I have heard it all. You really wonder what prompts people to be so mean sometimes, jealousy and envy maybe? I feel so bad for the owners when I hear these crass remarks because the garden owners put so much time, love, money, and a part of themselves in their gardens. Your garden is stunning and I am betting the nitpicking is all jealousy.

Zoey said...

I really think the mish-mash comment was a compliment. She was probably thinking that when she planted assorted colors in her own garden, they never looked good, but in yours they are beautiful. I mean, really, Karen, who would not find your entire yard gorgeous?

Geez, I thought the black-eyed Susans were quite nice and the prettiest spot for your group picture.

There always seems to be one person in a crowd to ruin your day!

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Shyrlene said...

Karen - it is an insecure, narrow-minded elitist that feels compelled to make nasty, condemning criticisms (can you tell you struck a nerve?). It's mind-boggling to me that anyone would have any negative comment about your gardens? I about fell off my chair when I recently found your blog - it made me think of our Morton Arboretum (in Lisle, IL), but with more panache.

Anyone who doesn't appreciate the creative diversity of gardening is a sad 'little' person, indeed. (I'll step off my soap box now...) ;D