Down To Earth

Freedom of expression is still welcome in the garden

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Opinions are interesting creatures. So powerful when expressed. Anyone who talks politics or hangs out on social media lately has to be uncomfortably aware of how divisive they can be. But they can also help things grow. We gardeners, an opinionated bunch, get good practice at disagreeing without being disagreeable, maybe because we’re fickle as a rule and open to trying new things. Our opinions, even sometimes strongly-felt negative ones, are more likely to spark a friendly debate than a heated one, result in non-holiday related gift giving, and bring us closer.

I try to stay positive — I don’t want to alienate anyone or cause offense — but can’t help going on a tear whenever facts back me up. My fist-shaking hatred of Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is ecologically correct for this time and place; its destructiveness is indisputable. It kills trees outright with its smothering vines, outcompetes native plants for sunlight and water, and is nearly impossible to evict. Pretty as the berries are, I get shrill when I see them used for decoration around the holidays. Plant some nice native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) around your front door instead. The cultivars ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Afterglow’, and ‘Aurantiaca’ have orange berries.

It gets a little dicier when we share personal preferences. I bristled when I heard about a gardener I admire who doesn’t like roses. What’s not to love?! How sad. And yet, I get it. As a group, roses are fussy, high maintenance, disease- and pest-ridden water hogs. And thorny to boot. But I would enjoy the opportunity to rise to the challenge of recommending a few gems for his consideration. What about the thornless climber ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’? The peach perfection of Easy Does It? Maybe I could persuade him to try beach rose (Rosa rugosa), one of the most drought tolerant, disease-resistant, and unfussy roses ever and a personal favorite despite the damage it has caused to shoreline ecosystems. Then again maybe not.

Too often I put my foot in it with friends. I learned the hard way that one of them is a daylily enthusiast. (Otherwise we have a lot in common.) She took my inadvertent insult with a laugh and has made a point of introducing me to her favorites. Which is working to dismantle a prejudice against Hemerocallis based on some cultivars’ slimy day-old flowers and skrunky mid-season foliage, and makes me go, “Oo! Okay. That one IS nice...”

Just don’t get me started on impatiens. Its very popularity shaped my opinion and ever since it lost its reputation for reliability to a fungal disease I have been very glad to see some alternatives planted in corporate landscapes. That’s all I’ll say. My daylily-loving friend and one or two of you might agree.

I used to debate the merits of ornamental vegetables with a former co-worker. I’d suggest that certain vegetables could be grown for their beauty alone and she, rising to my bait every time, argued that vegetables are for eating. Beauty is all well and good, she would say, but when it comes to Swiss chard, entirely irrelevant. Her vegetable garden, by the way, was stunning. She though would point to its productiveness and nutritional benefit. Fair point. My own borders at the time were, I thought, extra beautiful for the inclusion of a few cabbage, beets, curly kale, and basil. To each her own edible landscape.

The other day one of my friends posted a message on Facebook about sharing her political opinions and beliefs, not to try to change minds, but to let like-minded friends know they aren’t alone. I appreciate that. The internet doesn’t always feel like the safest place to linger and exchange opinions. Our gardens are though. There we can express ourselves freely, practice our powers of persuasion, sharpen our listening skills, and keep our minds and gates open to great ideas and plants. Rise up! And garden on.

Kristin Green is the horticulturist at Mount Hope Farm and author of 'Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-Sow, and Overwinter'. Follow her blog at trenchmanicure.com.

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