complaint dept. is open: more ‘no-no’s’

I FEEL ROUND 3 OF GARDEN NO-NO’S coming on. When Mary Lynn asked yesterday in a comment about my point of view on using landscape fabric, the fuse was quickly lit: NO! I said. NO! I’ve rounded up some no-no’s we’ve posted collectively so far, but I bet by now there are a few more things to bitch about. Grab a lawn chair and a cold drink, and we can fester together this holiday weekend. Sure beats weeding (which ought to be a garden no-no). Is watering with a coffee pot (or gardening in your long-johns) a no-no? Not for me, apparently.

Some greatest (worst?) hits we shared from Garden No-No’s Part 1 and No-No’s Part 2:

Dyed green bamboo stakes.

Dyed rust-colored mulch (do you sense a theme here?). Any dyed mulch, in fact, is a no-no to my eye.

Volcano mulch (that is, piled up deep against trunks of trees and shrubs).

Cartoon-like or out of scale garden décor items, especially in plastic, to include gnomes (though there was some sentimental dispute about gnomes), wishing wells and lions.

White plastic anything.

Gravel or lava rock as a decorative mulch outside of dry zones or containers.

Chemicals and chemical-laden products.

Too much space between plants. Too much lawn.

Bad staking, particularly staking with other than natural bamboo and twine.

Inserting plastic nursery tags into the garden as markers.

Sprinkler systems running in the rain or when otherwise not needed.

Excess noisy power tools.

And like I said, landscape fabric. Again, dissent expressed here; some people are proponents of the stuff.

So? You?

  1. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    For KIM… I LOVE your garden LAMENTS!! I know a lady with a WHOLE pink house, and she is married with a son. As for the copy cat neighbor, YOU, to them, are the STYLE ICON (Martha) of your block. So be proud, LAUGH from within, and feel taste full. REMEMBER …Copy is the sincerest form of flattery.

  2. Olga says:

    Who’s taste reigns? A garden is an invitation to explore and create and to make a little piece of earth your very own. The value of a garden lies, not in how much others approve of it, but in the pleasure it brings the gardener. What if the tacky ornaments carry symbolic meaning? Should the gardener hide an emotionally significant memento from childhood or of a loved one simply because the neighbours don’t like it? Dare to express youselves freely and without judgement!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Olga. Let freedom ring! We hear you, and thanks for the point of view — and for saying hello. Hope to see you again soon.

  3. Danielle says:

    A big NO to judging other people’s gardens.

    Thanks, Margaret, for your post on Begonia ‘Bonfire’ and mention of ‘Bellfire’. I picked up ‘Bonfire’ this year and if I can overwinter it as successfully as you, I will be on the hunt for ‘Bellfire’ in the Spring.

    A final note to Kim, the lady that clearly hates all her neighbours…. have you considered moving?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Danielle. Each to his own in the garden, yes. My ‘Bellfire’ overwintered, too, and is up and flowering…so far so good. I still prefer ‘Bonfire,’ and my prediction is that we may see more tweaking at the breeder from these interesting begonias in seasons to come… See you soon again, I hope.

  4. Danielle says:

    Hello to Fred in Loudonville NY… I enjoyed reading your comments here. I don’t have as much gardenening experience under my belt… only about 22 years now unless you want to count houseplants and I am gardening on about as much space as you right now, although it grows slowly. I do almost all of my gardening alone and am rather rural so visitors are rare and always people I know. There are some things I do not agree with you on. For example, I like things to be mostly sugar and light, I don’t know what Preen is and don’t want to. If it comes out of a sprayer in my garden, it better be water and I don’t care how many “experts” write articles with “opinions” on that topic, my mind is made up and stubborn is a quality that runs on the paternal side of my family. I can’t imagine picking flowering plants based on the color of my brown house, I’ll use any organic material mulch that is free because the mulch is not the part I look at, it is functional in purpose, I’ll take any free plant because specimens will become masses here over time and I would never add peat moss of any kind to my clay soil in my (usually) overly dry climate. Tried that with roses on recommendation of a magazine when I first started gardening and the soil turned into concrete. Consequently, I lost the first trilogy of roses I ever planted. Only compost is used to ammend here. Live and learn is my simple approach to gardening. Try it, move it, move it again, mourn it if it won’t work after that, celebrate it if it does. Lazy I know, but enjoyable which is the point for me. I’ll try almost anything once, in any spot, with the exception of trees and shrubs which are harder to move and more emotionally draining if they die after all the effort. I have a dogwood that I didn’t plant but is too mature to think about moving and I keep it pruned to fit the space. Not the best solution, I agree, but it is possible. I also have many, many sun plants growing smaller in shade. If I didn’t, my shade garden would not have flowers as long as it does and some plants actually do OK smaller. Of course, some don’t work and get moved into sun eventually but that is all part of the experimental fun of my garden for me. I think the biggest difference in our gardening styles though is that I am definitly not creating a visual picture as you point out. I am growing plants. The visual picture created is a happenstance. The flowers and the food are the goal so what comes out of the garden is more important than where it is or what it is beside. When I am given a tomatoe from my best friends garden, it does not matter to me that her tomatoe patch is messy, which it is. What I care about is that the tomatoe tastes great, is chemical free and I know the person who grew it. My goal is always to keep the plant alive, healthy and somewhere near the size it should be. What it is beside is usually irrelevant to me but even more than that, I would not want to think of my garden as creating a visual picture. It sounds much like landscaping with plant material. Yuck ! Thanks for all your reparte though. It definitely kept me here longer than I might have stopped when looking for information on the ‘Bonfire’. I am finding Margaret’s blog to be the first I have enjoyed other than friends. It is one of the very few I have come across that every post does not sound like an advertisement. That will keep me lingering awhile I think. Especially in winter. We have long winters.

  5. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Hi Danielle,
    I am happy that you posted a comment to me. WHERE to START??? First of all I learned gardening from my Grandmother, Mother, and Aunts. They were big plant people, and my Grandmother has at least one of everything, that she got MOSTLY free from friends, AND other places. All those gardening Gals planted in a way, that I would compare to FRUIT COCKTAIL, or fruit salad. Lovely to look at, but with NO real defined taste. For years, I to planted like them. BUT then I went on the Lenox Garden Club tours, and after that the Garden Conservancy Tours, and started seeing things in a whole new light.

    I have a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, and have sold, and displayed art work in NY, Ct, Vt, Ma, as well as NYC, and Palm Beach , Fl. I have also helped people with interior decorating projects, so I analyzed the gardens, that I visited. I studied them from a color, and design perspective. Most of the garden tours were of the homes of, lets face it, RICH PEOPLE from NYC, or Boston, who had professional designers, and planters, as well as people that maintained the places. Gardening at that level is now an ART FORM. I studied how they placed plants, and saw that it was REALLY all about the foliage taperstry, with flowers as a second gift. Perennials bloom for about TWO weeks tops, and you only have the foliage, before, and after bloom time. Foliage is SCULPTURAL.

    Margaret, even though she plays the “I have a Humble ” garden card, has a PERFECTLY orchestrated foliage display that is CAMERA Ready. If you were ever at her place, she has everything perfectly sited, and coordinates her color scheme to the paint job on the house.(a lot of plants with red- orange color ways), If you read magazines like Marths Stewart Living, Fine Gardening, Horticulture, to name a few, it is ALL about the visual picture, and PERFECT lighting, and even Stylists, that make the shots inviting.

    It is nice that you LOVE plants for plants sake, but there is that NEXTt level up, that is and ART Form. Plants are like the paint that Picasso used to make a masterpiece, or the vegetables that a Great Chef uses to make a really rememberal meal.

    As for PREEN it is a granular product, that you apply to the soil to stop seeds from germinating. It is like the crab grass control, that is put on lawns. It is then watered in. When it comes to food, I am all about keeping it chemical free. Even when I apply the preen, I wear goggles, rubber gloves, and a dust mask. SAFETY FIRST!

    AS for your BROWN painted house, brown is a PERFECT neutral that all colors of flowers would look wonderful in front of. Not unlike a white house. A beige house, with yellow flowers in front of it, I might not like that visual picture??!

    I hope I covered some interesting facts about my comments for you. I welcome all comments, to me, FOR, or AGAINST my opinions. It makes the NO-NO column a FUN read.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Fred: No Preen. Dangerous stuff. You may be wearing protective devices, but the environment and soil life is not. :) Stop with the Preen!

  6. Danielle says:

    Hi Fred –

    Fruit cocktail? What a delightful and accurate description of my garden! I think I might steal that if you don’t mind, it has a slightly magical ring to it. Your grandmother/mother/aunts sound like ladies I would love to spend a day with. The Lenox garden tour people… not so much. I am not interested in talking to people who pay other people to garden for them. I would rather talk to their gardeners. I really don’t think rich has anything to do with it. Some people used to consider me rich but I still had dirt under my nails which drove those people more familiar with the boardroom than the garden crazy. I finally opted out of that life a year ago. I think you are either a gardener or you are not. If you are not, I think it’s a great idea to pay someone but don’t pretend you garden. I pay a plumber but I never pretend that I did his work or try to talk about it with any kind of knowledge. And aside from the fruit salad, I would argue that I do have a very strong defined taste in my garden. I do understand what you are talking about with the visual picture. What you do in your garden, I do with my camera and cut flowers in the Summer and my camera and art quilts in the winter. So yes, I agree, plants are like Picasso’s paint. I am using the photo frame as the canvas though, rather than the landscape as the canvas. So I am creating smaller visual pictures. I leave the big visual pictures to nature because it does a better job than me with a lot less work on my part. You might have noticed that minimal intervention is a theme in my garden. Because it is large and I am only one person, nature gets to doing a lot of the maintenance before I get there. Plus, I am gardening with 11 dogs and no fencing so we have the occasional battle for garden space, particularly in the shady spots. I usually win but sometimes give in rather immediately. Also, I am not sure how close you are to NYC but perhaps smog is affecting your perennials? Most of mine bloom much longer than two weeks. Garden Phlox, Wild Violet, all Viola, Creeping Phlox, Carnations, Pinks, Dianthus, Lupin, etc… If you add self-seeding annuals, which for all intents and purposes are the same thing to me, we can add Calendula, Poppy, and field plants like Larkspur, Hollyhock, etc… Biennials would include forget-me-not which started weeks ago and is still going on it’s first flush out there although it is almost time to trim and admittedly, my patch is huge so a smaller one might not bloom as long. Then shrubs would have to include Rose. All of those bloom all season long for me. Although tulips and lily do not last as long, with early, mid and late season bloomers, I can extend both out 6 to 8 weeks and I have a really short season here so that is a long time for us. All that doesn’t consider the things lifted in Fall for the winter which would add Begonia, Geranium and, for me, 49 varieties of Dahlia all blooming through Fall. I’m afraid when I get into town to any kind of magazine rack, which is not often, I would not pick up anything with ‘Horticulture’ or ‘Fine’ in its’ title and as much as it may be nice to be as accomplished as Martha Stewart, I don’t have the energy it takes to read her nevermind try it all. I try not to set impossible goals for myself only to let myself down and I am old enough to understand my motivation level. My reading tends to be along the more practical like Canadian Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News. As for Preen, it would take me way too much time to get gloves and masks on all the bees, ants and beetles in order to use it. I think I would spend less time pulling the crab grass but I am lucky, the lawns are not within my domain here. There is way too much lawn here but I am not the one that looks after it.

  7. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Hi Danielle,

    A Way to Garden, I think is a good place for you to have landed. You, and Margaret SEEM to have some similar life paths, where you left one world, and entered another. I would call you BOTH “Earth Mothers”.

    I found it funny when Margaret SCOLDED me for using Preen, and then added :) to the comment. My friend Kim said it is a sideways Smiley Face. It must be the Spoon full of Sugar, that helps the medicine go down “In the most delightful way”. When I was told what that was, I Laughed out loud. Hilarious! (that is a private JOKE Margaret, and I share) I would love it if Margaret would back up her dislike of Preen, with some good web sites for me, and the readership to look over, VERSUS just saying Don’t do it , Because I say So.

    But let’s face it, MY comments make for a good read, and stir readers, or you would not have bothered to comment to me. I LOVE your way of commenting, BECAUSE your comments , like mine are long and MEATY. and A Way to Garden needs MORE people like YOU, that have a strong opinion, and are not afraid to say what is on their mind, in a Nice, and FUNNY way.

    As for me, I have a way of putting Margaret’s KNICKERS in a KNOT, so for the time being, I will only observe, versus comment on the three posts per week. THOUGH, I will comment to people like you , who comment to me, about my comments on the No-No List.

    If you are interested , in other things that I have written, Google Search “Fred from Loudonville, NY”, and you will be able to see about 205 of my past posts, on A Way to Garden.

    Danielle, from your comments, I know you have a creative soul and I know your are a devoted Plants Woman. Happy Summer to you, and I hope to see your comments soon.

  8. Danielle says:

    Hi Fred –

    Well, I will close my comments on this subject too because I am off to Nova Scotia to spend 10 days in my best friends Zone 5 garden which is a real treat for me. I don’t know Margaret but I have been following a lot of her links from here lately and my feeling is that you need not worry, I think she is far, far too busy to keep her knickers knotted for long.

    I did want to say though, with regard to Preen (and others like it) that it really would make no difference if Margaret, or anyone, provided you with articles pointing out the “cons” of its’ use because someone else, perhaps yourself, could easily find as many articles that point out the “pros” of its’ use. I find on evironmental issues the variables are so vast and scientists by nature do not want to guarantee anything. They will only speculate based on what they have found but even they are aware that there is more we don’t know than we do when it comes to ecosystems so they become hard to pin down. Then there are those scientists who’s opinion with change for cash and those that will jump to the next logical conclusion but we all close our ears because who wants to focus on doomsday scenarios that are impossible to fix?

    I would suggest that my grandmother, a non-scientist, gave me the best advise in telling me that common sense will save me more often than it gets me in a jam. So, if you need to wear gloves and a mask to apply it, my common sense would say that it is likely hurting something besides the crab grass germination. To say you garden veggies chemical free but treat your lawn is kind of misleading yourself I think because chemicals move. They leach and spread and depending on how close your garden and lawn are, you likely have chemicals in the veggie soil that you intended only for the lawn. Again, although you could test your veggie patch soil, I would stick to common sense on that one too. Now, it’s fine to mislead yourself. I do that all the time with things I prefer to rationalize than face. But, you should at least be aware you are doing it. LOL !

    Have a happy Summer and see you here again soon…. or maybe Fall. Depends what is happening in my garden when I get back. The Dahlia should be thinking about opening by then and I go into full gardening swing until it is time to lift them.

  9. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:


    Have a Safe, and WONDERFUL trip! You are a Wise Woman, as I said before You are a GOOD read.


  10. MARY POTRATZ says:

    This comment is for the gardening no-no’s:
    I know it’s a personal taste, but clipping forsythia into hedges or shapes makes me cringe. The wands are so pretty left in their natural state.
    Also, check out Native American artist Brian Jengen’s take on the ubiquitous white plastic lawn chairs which he makes into giant whale or crustaceon skeletans.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thank you, Mary, and welcome! The link is great — I didn’t know! I both hate and love clipped forsythia “topiary”. Can’t decide. :) See you soon again, I hope.

  11. Martha says:

    My big teeth-grinding no-no: Mowing a lawn every day or every other day just to get rid of detritus like maple twirlers, leaves or the occasional twig.

  12. Leah Kinder says:

    Regarding forsythia……why not have both clipped and natural form? I love it both ways, myself. The natural form is really nice for cutting for flower vases, and the clipped hedge or topiary form seem to show more bloom color!

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Leah, for adding to the conversation. I grew up surrounded by the clipped ones so while I don’t grow them here, they still make me smile from the childhood memory. I like the old, overgrown ones best I think.

  13. Leah Kinder says:

    For Kim’s post from Feb. 26, 2010, regarding your laments……..seems like you should have taken the opportunity to plant some privacy screening of your own opposite where your neighbor dug up the ‘beautiful lilac shrub’……..then, perhaps they would have emulated that. Thus, you would have had double the privacy screening as before.

  14. Deb says:

    I agree with no clipping of forsythia– or really any other shrub. I recently chased after the County trimmers who thought they did me a favor by giving my native hardhack a flat top.

  15. Ann says:

    Yes, I agree with the no-no of clipping forsythia. In fact the general over pruning of shrubs in foundation plantings. I have a neighbor whose house looks like its set on a pile of meatballs. Another no-no is the meager string of annuals. One neighbor splurges every year on 2 six packs of annuals and then spaces them evenly along the front of her house. So sad. That said, I’m sure my neighbors shake their heads at my yard which starts every year with the best of intentions but by August is a jungle of flowers, weeds and veggies (about equal proportions). The tomatoes crawl over and collapse their cages. The too closely packed squash plants are inevitably hiding a monster zuke. I have learned to make arched arbors for the pole beans so I can walk under them and easily pick the bounty. Somewhere out there are a couple of trowels and a glove. The biggest no-no which earns glowering death looks is stepping into a bed. Get your big fat clodhoppers off my buttersoft, fluffed and hand dug garden soil!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Ann. I have seen the six-pack polkadots or lineups. Ugh. Am more the jungle type here, too. Hope to see you again soon!

  16. Darla S. says:

    I’ve been gardening for a while. I recently moved across the country from Wisonsin to south western Oklahoma. This will be my third garden started from scratch. I’m learning what grows in this area by talking with my neighbors and making new friends at the same time. My complaint about garden art is when it’s over done and it hides the flowers. The saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a neglected garden. I’m always tempted to stop and pull weeds to make it pretty again. My family teases me about my garden addiction but they still love me anyway.

  17. Potato Queen says:

    No no, spare the forsythia and the azaleas–they were meant to grow wild and free! I mostly hate power tools, too, although I do love our electric leaf vacuum/mulcher; helps us to get an extra step ahead with the compost pile. Hate all gas-powered tools, though: they’re noisy, smelly, and I’m afraid of them. We have a gas lawn mower, but I bought myself a reel mower (Moe) because I’m afraid of the Toro. Other no-nos not yet mentioned? Umm… ornamental cabbage. Why? Why why why?

  18. Deb says:

    Potato Queen, I also name my tools. Pauli the lawnmower, Edward (Scissorhands) the hand clippers, and his brother Edgar (battery clippers) are my current regulars.

  19. Ann says:

    Is it really possible that no one has mentioned *fake deer*? Or did I miss it? Or am I just the only one who doesn’t like them??? When we moved here to the Midwest from the Southwest I was amazed at the sheer quantity of them in yards all around our community. 14 years later I’m still not a fan. Not even a little bit. At all. :)

  20. Rawland Storm says:

    The one thing I regret the most is accidentally rototilling a comfrey plant into my garden some 15 years. Comfrey continues to come up through-out my garden every year. It is nearly impossible to pull-out, and difficult to even dig out. Bits of root always remain in the soil, and the cycle continues. I do put the leaves only into my compost pile, and even spread them between the rows, but I avoid using any part of the root or flowers. You can also make a liquid fertilizer out of the leaves soaked in water, but it is one of the worst-smelling fertilizers imaginable.

    1. margaret says:

      I hear you, Rawland. I had a comfrey plant that I cannot get rid of, no matter how many years (decades?) I dig! Sometimes it disappears for a year or two and then up it rises again. Horrible.

  21. Noor says:

    @Ann… although I believe Margaret has covered fake deer under the rubric of “Cartoon-like or out of scale garden décor items, especially in plastic”, I am with you on this one. I cannot fathom WHY someone would want such an ugly imitation of a beautiful animal especially when that animal also happens to be an obstinate pest to gardeners.

  22. Angela says:

    I wonder if Fred is Preen free this year? I do not have these types of products available to buy where I live. For my garden I steared away from chemicals years before it became the thing to do, but like Fred, used a little something for the lawn. I started a new front lawn from seed one July, it had been a particularly wet summer so it sprouted fine but not immediately thick and lush like it had been sodded. The weeds quickly came and it has been a battle ever since that I sometimes think I should give up on. My neighbours are not gardeners so they mow the weeds but only after the dandelions have gone to seed. My Holy Grail is a velvet green, weed free lawn and it haunts me :)

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