No-Bull Garden Writing


This week the Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins did something we gardeners are always asking garden writers to do – tell us the frigging truth.  Stop the BS and get real, we plead.  In his story “Baskets Can Leave You High and Dry” he shows us the lush, overflowing hanging baskets we see all over London or Victoria, B.C. and warns us against trying them at home because they’re the “hardest garden element to sustain in hot climates.”  Right-o, Adrian.  And the Smithsonian’s Janet Draper, (one of her gardens is pictured here) is a no-BS person, too.  She tells visitors to enjoy the ones on the Mall but to “forget about doing it themselves.” 

Now who’s going to be honest and admit that those lush, 12-species potted arrangements that are all the rage in the garden media need constant fiddling to keep looking great all season?

[Sorry the link won’t take you to the article directly; you’ll need to  put “hanging basket high and dry” in the search engine.  What’s up with your article archives, WaPo?]


  1. Gawd, THANK YOU! Pots and baskets are killing me. I thought there was something wrong with *me* that I couldn’t keep them alive (and I almost never think there’s something wrong with me). But no, it’s like how the “women’s” media thinks I should look like Barbie or die trying, the garden media thinks I should have wonderful pots and hanging baskets spilling over with robust flora and it should be effortless. And I was buying it! I’m thumping myself in the head and then I’m tossing my stupid hanging baskets. It’s HOUSTON for chrisakes!

  2. Susan, thank you for breaking the awful silence surrounding hanging baskets!

    Even in upstate, New York, not Houston, hanging baskets are generally a dire failure. On one porch at one house, once, the light conditions were somehow perfect for hanging begonias. And I loved them. But hell if I’ve been able to get a hanging begonia to do anything worth doing anywhere else since.

    Plus, who is AROUND enough in the summer to keep the baskets watered every single day? I mean, if you can’t take a little trip to the mountains or the beach, what is the point of summer?

  3. Right on! I just tossed the remnants of my last hanging baskets in the compost pile and decided I was done with them once and for all. And I even had the fancy ones with the water resevoirs in the bottom. Didn’t help.

  4. “Now who’s going to be honest and admit that those lush, 12-species potted arrangements that are all the rage in the garden media need constant fiddling to keep looking great all season?”

    I like to call this “floritorture.” Every year as an “appreciation” gift we get an indoor potted-plant arrangement from a client. It invariably has four or five immature plants that should be in large pots when mature (dracaena, palms, etc.) all stuffed into a shallow pot with no drainage and dirt packed so hard that water runs right off the surface unless you water at drip rate or aerate with a plastic fork.

    It’s insane. I can see why people just give up and throw these things out. They’re designed to fail.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that florists might actually hate things with roots.

  5. A 5 year study of garden labor was done at the Allen Centennial Gardens at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. It measured the plant related garden efforts in each of the 20+ gardens (ranging from water, English, & Renaissance to Victorian, alpine, & woodland), averaged by year. Measured as time per square foot of effort, guess which kind of garden came out on top? by more than double the next garden? Container gardens, those value-added centers of profits brought to you by Martha et al, blew away the competition.

    Hey but if you only have porch or a balcony, what else will float your gardening boat?

    Guess what was second. The daylily garden. Go figure. The results will be published mostly likely through AABGA, American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.

    -V. Heart


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