Cool Yards, Uncool Plants


Here’s another of my least favorite plants, pachysandra, used well on the walk to the right, underneath some spooky old spruces and next to one of the most atmospheric Victorian houses in town: Cool_yards_023

With those spruces echoing the porch posts in such an interesting way, you wouldn’t really want anything here except a plant that will cover the ground and disappear, i.e. pachysandra. 

I don’t love impatiens, but I love the way they’re used here in the window-boxes:Red_impatiens

That red color could not be better in front of this little green Greek Revival house.  And underneath the impatience is nothing but a sheet of ivy,another uncool plant that works.  The reddish trumpet vine, as you can imagine, is spectacular when it blooms.

Here’s another example.  I like everything about the way this house is appointed, even the neatly trimmed yew hedge behind the fence, which in theory I would consider too short to be interesting.  But I love the way it rides just a few inches above the fence here.Cool_yards_018

I also love this place…  Red_geraniums

The old-fashioned, high-contrast planting–Dutchman’s pipe, neatly trimmed yews and brilliant red geraniums–against the white house, I find oddly dream-like.  A dream of a grandmother’s house, even though the people who live here are a very interesting couple around my age.

One final example: Undermounted beneath the magnificent dogwood in the photo below is goutweed! Invasive scourge of many gardens, but originally brought here on the boat, of course, because it’s such a good ground-cover. I’m assuming the people who live here keep it check by mowing. And it looks dandy. Bishops_weed_1

In fact, these places all look great because they are not fussy and not stingy. They are all about a very few ordinary plants used in such masses that they become interesting.

Reader, give it up. Neither your yard nor mine will ever look so nice in such an uncomplicated way, I am willing to bet. If you have somehow found yourself here at Garden Rant, you are probably much too busy stuffing your little scrap of earth with unusual plants ever to achieve such simple chic.


  1. Michele, you’re right. My personal hatred for marigolds, petunias, and pansies stems from my Central Texas country upbringing. Seeing those plants reminds me of being dragged around by Mommy at the Wal-Mart Garden Center, looking at aisle after isle of six-for-a-dollar bedding annuals. I suppose it is more of a psychotherapeutic issue than “snobbery.” I actually like azaleas and rhododendrons, but that’s because I’ve never lived in an area where they’ll grow. It’s all relative. (However, I have yet to see good use of the above mentioned plants, thus confirming my belief that they totally suck.)

  2. It’s an interesting point, this question of snobbery. I think of a snob as someone who cares more about whether something is exclusive and elite than whether they actually like it or not. To me, that’s different than having an opinion–having strong likes and dislikes.

    I love a lot of very ordinary plants. In fact, my garden is filled with Shasta daisies and catmint right now. I hate plants for personal reasons: Nandina reminds me of my Texas childhood. Agapanthus are planted in dentist office courtyards and shopping mall parking lots. Pansies irritate me for their lack of potential–what you buy in those jumbo six-packs is all you’ll ever get out of them.

    If somebody else loves pansies or agapanthus, that doesn’t make them a lesser person. It just means they have a different experience with plants than I do.

    It’s silly and a bit self-centered for someone to take offense–“you hate nandinas, but I love nandinas, so you must hate me”–when really, the whole point is that we are all PASSIONATE gardeners with PARTICULAR tastes!

  3. Michele, thanks for your great post. It’s educational and fun to see examples of “great uses of ordinary plants.” But you’re right, your readers will never achieve such Zen-like simplicity because we’re all plant nuts. Limiting ourselves to just two or three well-chosen specimens would be too painful to consider!

  4. I agree, especially with the last part about “stuffing your little scrap of earth with unusual plants”. I am a self-professed plant person but trying to make every plant in the garden unique or a special focal point, or something that not many others have does not create all that restful of a garden, both in terms of the work involved, and the overall “feeling”. So, I’m still into the plants, but I am constantly re-evaluating what I have or think I need to have. I want to achieve a more unified approach to my overall garden. I think the pictures posted here are great examples of using fewer plant species to do just that. In fact, I’ve helped my neighbor simplify her gardens, and they are starting to look better than mine! Can’t have that!

  5. Great topic, so I have some thoughts. Like don’t we all love Henry Mitchell b/c he was so wonderfully opinionated? But not a snob, I don’t think. Amy got it right with snobs caring about what’s in with the rich crowd – my language.
    And the yards Michele showed us – hardly “gardens” – are what nongarders can do with a little guidance. They just need to all call their nearest Gardening Coach or any garden designer who fits their budget and style. Something simple and manageable like these examples can definitely be theirs.

  6. Susan, that’s exactly right–these are not “gardened” yards–but they are great. It seems to me that you don’t have to slave in your garden–as we do–in order to achieve a really good look in your yard.

    I’ve merely been thinking, a little perversely, I admit, that these “ungardened” yards are just as nice as mine. Maybe because I now have 15 BLUE-RED dahlias blooming in my front bed when I wanted ORANGE-RED. Maybe because my yard is too full of experiments!

    Except, as a gardener, you have to try stuff out and make mistakes. It’s not about the lacquered finished product–it’s about the process. The exercise of digging the hole, the smell of the soil, the personality of the plant when you’re really paying attention to it. Nongardeners will never experience this stuff, no matter how good-looking their yards.

  7. Nice story and I love the photos. Such wonderful old homes! Thanks.

    And this is a very interesting observation in a comment to the posting. Full of emotional words (silly, offense, hate, love). I will almost certainly roll it around in my head for a few days before I decide if I agree.

    “It’s silly and a bit self-centered for someone to take offense–“you hate nandinas, but I love nandinas, so you must hate me”–”

  8. “… even the neatly trimmed yew hedge behind the fence, which in theory I would consider too short to be interesting. But I love the way it rides just a few inches above the fence here.”

    And what’s lurking just outside that fence? It’s a bird … it’s a frog … it’s HOSTAS!


  9. You’re so right…I even call my garden(s)”The Test Garden” to myself….everyone else just probably wonders what the heck I’m doing and when will I stop (never). It’s too interesting to try new and different things. If I wanted the same old thing, I’d do like the houses above. Which, I think, and agree, aren’t really gardens…just well maintained yards…and I suspect the well maintained part is what makes them nice to look at. In the same way a nice hotel room is…nice…because you don’t have to live there forever.

    Tell the truth…it’s the simplicity that’s appealing…but, after a while, the need to tinker and add would creep out…and the yard would become a garden…and no longer simple.

    As to snobbery, oh well. Likes and dislikes make us all what we are and our gardens unique.

  10. Yes, these plant ‘loves’ and ‘hates’ are psychotherapeutic issues arising from early associations with the questionable plants. When you say you hate agapanthus because your mother had it in the yard when you were a kid, or that you hate impatiens because your dentist’s office had potfuls around the front door tells me more about your mother or your dentist than the plants. That being said, I hate marigolds. Just don’t ask me why.

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