Guest Rant by Rebecca Sullivan

I was just reading Billy Goodnick’s guest post, and I have to confess that by the end of it, I found myself annoyed.

What bothered me is something that bothers me about a lot of garden writing, and that’s this element of judgment, that there are (as his post title says outright) good yards and bad yards, and a bunch of us are just plain doing it wrong.

Before the accusations come pouring in, let me say I do understand that Billy’s post was meant to be humorous as well as informative. I appreciate his sound advice, and even agree with him that a lot of us are doing it wrong.

But how exactly are we meant to know how to do it right? Go back a hundred years, and a lot more Americans had a deep connection to the earth–by necessity. Many folks depended on their gardens to put food on the table. Consequently, each succeeding generation learned the fundamentals of gardening from their elders.

Today, not so much. Most of us get our food from the supermarket, and gardening is mostly an elective pursuit. What was previously much more universal knowledge now mostly belongs to relatively few.

However, it seems that more and more folks are trying to learn. That’s why, for instance, Goodnick’s statement about the family with the fruit trees irked me: “If they had paid closer attention, they would have noticed that, a) the soil consisted of heavy clay underlaid with hardpan; b) the runoff flowed toward this low spot, exacerbating drainage, and c) if the trees survived, they would not only shade the new raised veggie beds, but also block the beautiful view of the misty mountain peaks a few miles away. Not a recipe for success.”

The problem with that statement is that it implies the owners were just too lazy to think through their plan. My guess, though, is that no matter now closely they paid attention, they simply would not have been able to suss out these problems because they just didn’t have the knowledge to recognize them and didn’t realize that putting in a few fruit trees presented so many complications. (If they were depending on their local Home Depot’s gardening section, one can easily imagine how they may have been misled.)

Apparently they did eventually realize that their expertise was lacking, though, and brought in an expert to help. That’s a good thing, right?

When it comes to professional landscapers, I’m all for mocking. After all, one assumes professionals should know and follow best practices when pruning and trimming and planting and mulching. These guys are fair game for judgment when they do a poor job: it’s their job and folks pay them for their supposed expertise.

But when writers accuse home gardeners of “crimes of horticulture,” I get up in arms. Sure, we amateurs often overplant or prune poorly or carve shrubs into questionable sculptures. Behold, a front yard  in my neighborhood.


This topiary is lovingly maintained, year in, year out.

However, what we’re talking about are mostly crimes of ignorance (such as the mulch volcano) or taste (such as the topiary above).

I’m not a landscape designer and I don’t want to be one. Yet reading a lot of the gardening literature out there, one can easily come away with the impression that we ALL should be landscape designers, that there is a right way and a wrong way to garden, and frankly if you don’t have the time or means or expertise to do it the right way, your garden will be a “source of… disappointments.” Talk about demotivating!

That feeling inspired my guest post here a couple of years ago. When I started gardening, I felt woefully inadequate when I compared my amateur efforts to the beautiful yards of experienced gardeners and professional landscapers.

With time, though, my attitude improved.  Who says my yard should be designed for four-season interest and must create a wildlife habitat composed of only native plants?  Who says anyone should be able to grow zucchini? Who says I even aspire to that? And if I don’t, then how can I be failing?

I think most of us who garden do it to please ourselves: because we enjoy it, or because we want to make our homes more attractive, or because home grown peas are, like, the best thing EVER. Maybe some of us are committing “crimes against horticulture.” But aren’t they mostly misdemeanors? I encourage the judges to let us offenders go with a slap on the wrist and some encouragement.

Meanwhile, I will follow the wise words of Rick Nelson: “You can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.”

As “Potato Queen,” Rebecca Sullivan rules the Kingdom of the Little Blue House with the help of her beloved Mulch Boy and their two hard-working garden assistants. Her Majesty blogs about the ongoing learning experience that is her yard and garden, but has been known to veer off onto tangents about cornbread, canning, and The Avengers. She welcomes visitors to  Potato Queen and Mulch Boy, and would particularly value any insight into why she seems incapable of growing zucchini or asparagus.