Welcome guest Ranter Loree Bohl. 

Do you know what I hate? Being told how I’m supposed to do something. Phrases like “that’s just how it’s done…” or “everybody does it that way” always  get my hackles up. Usually, the person giving the advice has nothing but the best intentions, but I still end up questioning why I should listen. Just because that’s how everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s how I want to do it.  I’m not “everyone” and neither are you.

When perusing gardening books, magazines, or blogs, at some point, you’re going to encounter directives of some sort. Sometimes they’re a list of chores, like “ten things to do now to winterize your garden!” Other times, they’re not-so-subtle suggestions on how, or what, to plant. Every part of gardening seems to come with rules, or as I think of them, the Gardening Commandments. These entrenched garden traditions often don’t take into account that we’re all working with  unique sets of circumstances, and that no two gardens—or gardeners—are the same.

When I was a beginning gardener, I thought I had to follow the Gardening Commandments. If this is what the experts believed, who was I to question? Now I know it doesn’t work that way. Gardens are individual creations, what works in one may not work in another. In my book, I aim to give gardeners permission to read these rules, consider the ideas they’re based on, but then go ahead and break them or toss them on the compost pile—if you have one; if not, that’s okay!  Here are a few Commandments I’ve bent and broken.

The fine, dark-foliage of Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ helped this impulsively purchased tree earn a spot in the author’s garden.

Commandment: Thou shalt not purchase plants on impulse. Make a list, shop with a plan, that’s what the professionals say. I understand the idea behind this Commandment; research and list-making help you to dodge costly mistakes. You have a framework to work within and you’ll avoid purchasing a plant that will outgrow your garden, or that needs more sun than you’ve got, for example. These are important factors to consider when shopping for a plant you want to become a cornerstone of the garden—a shade tree, perhaps. However, not every plant needs to be a lifetime commitment. It is okay to buy a plant just because you love it, even if it’s not a long-term match for your garden. Enjoy it, and let it go when it doesn’t make you happy any longer. Some of my most treasured garden features were impulse buys.

The author’s front garden is a cramscaped riot of drought-tolerant plantings—and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Commandment: Thou shalt keep thy front yard for lawn and thy backyard for thy garden. The subject of what is appropriate for front yard gardening has been debated many times here on Garden Rant. Some unfortunate gardeners have been fined by their city, or homeowner’s association for daring to cultivate anything but lawn in front of their homes. But many gardeners have successfully planted and harvested front yard fruit and vegetables, sometimes in a quantity fit to feed the entire neighborhood. Our front yards are often the sunniest location we’ve got, why should we waste that space on a lawn? This is a Commandment that’s outdated and needs to go.

Even the lovely, year-round blooms of Grevillea miqueliana, an Australian shrub, weren’t enough to keep it from being shovel-pruned from the author’s garden last spring.

Commandment: Thou shalt not kill a healthy plant. We’re gardeners, nurturers, why would we want to purposely kill a plant? Well, because sometimes there is no other way. Picture this: you inherit a new-to-you garden and survey your empire: all you see is pink. The previous gardener loved pink flowers but you most definitely do not. What to do? Here’s something I’ve discovered: it’s okay to get rid of a perfectly healthy plant when it doesn’t match your vision If the plant isn’t making you happy, get rid of it! While re-homing a plant is ideal, it isn’t always possible, especially if you cramscape. Plants grown on top of each other, with roots comingling, don’t typically allow for digging a root ball large enough to ensure successful transplanting. Even worse, you could damage the roots of a plant you wish to keep. Sometimes you just have to chop out the plant you don’t want—and that’s okay. Really!

What Gardening Commandments get your blood boiling? Are there any that you regularly break?

This post is adapted from a chapter in Bohl’s new book, Fearless Gardening (Timber, 2021). Bohl blogs at Danger Garden.