Stars and Stripes Run Amok


By Guest Blogger Elizabeth at Gardening While Intoxicated
So what’s with all the flags?

This is something I’ve been wanting to vent about for a while, and the nice people at Garden Rant have given me the opportunity. Thanks!

For the past five years, the display of flags at all times—not just the normal patriotic holidays—has become a common sight up and down front yards throughout Buffalo, and I’m sure throughout your cities, towns, and villages as well. This is a personal choice. I sincerely hope it never becomes a governmentally-enforced imperative. (I mention this because last month I received several emails urging—nay, demanding—that I display a flag.)

Its symbolism aside, I do have to remark that the United States flag is a questionable garden ornament at best, as apt to be overused as any other artificial element in the garden. The image above is a pretty good example of the stars and stripes run amok in the domestic landscape. What are we proving here? Why bother planting a garden at all if you intend to undermine its aesthetics to this extent? Again, there is no question that anything can be overdone. It seems, though, that flags are being used in an unusually aggressive manner these days.

For that matter, I’m not too crazy about campaign signs—and now is the season for that—or any other random proselytizing in the garden. That’s not why I became a gardener. How about you?

Ok, rant out.


  1. Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s sending you emails demanding you display a flag, what arguments are they using, and have you sent them in response the Wikipedia entry on, say, the Bill of Rights?

  2. I would rather see a bunch of flags in a yard than gnomes anyday! The American flag is obviously a symbol of pride to this homeowner, and rightly so.

    Many of us don’t take time to appreciate the wonderful opportunities we have in this country, not to mention our freedom of expression.

  3. While I would enjoy not seeing all sorts of stuff in the garden I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. I just read that according to The National Retail Federation “Americans are expected to spend $4.96 billion this Halloween, up significantly from just $3.29 billion last year. The increase is largely due to a surge in celebrating. According to the survey, nearly two-thirds (63.8%) of consumers will celebrate it this year, up from 52.5% last year. Halloween maintains its spot as the biggest decorating holiday of the year after Christmas. Two-thirds of consumers plan to purchase Halloween decor and 48.6% plan to decorate their home or yard.”

    Then you have the story we covered about the giant inflatable yard ornaments that have started showing up for just about every event, or the lady in New York who decorates her yard with plastic flowers and Christmas Trees.

    As far as the flag goes I do think it is used a bit much in residential areas these days. I do remember when you put it up during holidays, then took it down after. But times have changed and being upset about this will drive you nuts.

    Being upset about any of these self-expression trends will drive you nuts. People want everyone to know what they are thinking, but no one talks to their neighbors anymore so putting up large political signs, giant inflatable pumpkins and Santas, or flying the flag all the time lets your neighbors know in no uncertain terms what they are thinking.

    It’s interesting,, but as we encourage more people to step out of the sameness we see in the subdivisions you will see more of this. The last post here at Garden Rant was about the couple who planted a native landscape in a subdivision in Texas. Beautiful, but it does not fit in with the rest of the neighborhood that is planted in lawns and meatball shrubs. Don’t get me wrong. I love what the couple did, but the neighbors don’t. So as we encourage people to be more expressive in their gardens will it be the kind of self-expression we agree with?

  4. I think an appropriately sized flag for the scale of the house can add a nice, classic touch to the front yard presentation. It works especially well on houses with (post-)/colonial or (post-)/Victorian design elements. Modern-style houses perhaps not so much.

    The one in your picture is too big for what I’m talking about, and all those little ones in the planting bed (term used loosely) make me think of veterans cemeteries.

    We don’t fly a lot of flags in our neighborhood, but one of the pictures I took yesterday has a flag in it:
    I think it works (even if red, white, and blue is a challenge for pale green).

    Compulsory, all-year, residential flag display is hideous and anti-American, and I’m not wild about bigger-is-better either. We have a flag but we haven’t put it up because I never get around to screwing in the bracket thingee that holds the flagpole.

  5. Trey – you are spot on. Is being different only okay if it is as certain defined kind of expression. Reminds me of the “alternative music” crowd and certain circles in the art world, they are just as rigorous and exclusionary as the ‘main-stream’ they proclaim to abhor.
    I have mini-flags I put out in my front planters from May through end of September – generally covers all the summer occasions (Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, etc.) Discreet, but there if you care to look. Personally I consider it more holiday decor than any kind of political message.
    However, the US flag seems to be a touchy subject for many – not quite up there with the Confederate flag – but getting there.

  6. And I don’t want to sound like some priss who only likes the flag when it matches the color and style of a house. I love the flag and what it stands for. That said, flying it on the patriotic holidays is sufficient in my mind.

  7. The flag thing doesn’t really apply here in Scotland – maybe for sporting events, but then usually hanging out of student or car windows.
    What are the flags to signify?
    Here this year there was media hooha about flags – the St George’s Flag, England’s national flag and the Union Jack have both been hijacked to some extent by far right group neo-fascist groups and there was an attempt during the Football World Cup to reclaim the flags as a general symbol of the nation with people flying them from their cars. I can’t imagine them being used in front gardens though. Does this have a long tradition?
    This doesn’t apply to Scotland as we didn’t qualify for the world cup so couldn’t flag wave anyway.

  8. It was a chain email that was being forwarded on to a lot of people. Here’s one line from it: “Every individual should make it their duty to display an American flag…”

    Obviously, it was 9-11 related, but it was still kind of offensive. I was told that I SHOULD be flying the flag all year around, but if not, should at least make it a priority on this day.

    Then I was admonished not to break the chain and send the email on to at least 11 other people. We all get this stuff all the time, I know, but this time, it bothered me for whatever reason.

  9. As garden art the flag is iffy but I have seen worse.
    As a political stance it seems an unclear statement, neutral enough not to offend,but showing some awareness.
    Your opinion is interesting and bound to start a debate as our (U.S.)flag has become the center of left/right controversy (again!)but are you not glad there is truely nothing you can do about it…at least for now.

  10. Ever since 9/11 I have passionately loved our flag and am displaying it in my garden. Mind you, I came of age during the Vietnam War when a flag pin in your lapel was a sign that you were a right wing hawk, as the terminology then went, and I am a yellow dog Democrat. I am so glad that the flag is ours (all Americans) not theirs (Republicans) now!

    Patriotism aside, our flag is pretty and colorful and I think the several flags in this garden add “punch” to a basically all-green garden. Garden art!


  11. You know, it’s funny. On one hand, I’m all in favor of people doing whatever the hell they want in their own yard. On the other hand, I do think the flag thing is a bit overdone, especially at a time when we seem to be willingly handing over so many of the rights the flag is supposed to symbolize.

    But here’s my main thing about flying the flag in the garden, and I know it’s weird that I have such an issue with this. There are laws and customs governing the display of the flag, and one that I remember from childhood (Girl Scout days, maybe?) is that a flag should never be flown at night unless it is properly illuminated. So it really bugs me when people just stick that flag out there and leave it up all year long, never thinking to take it down at sunset or put a light on it.

    I know, I know. Why should I care?

    Anyway, the US Flag Code is here if you’re curious.

  12. The Hawaii State flag is a borrowed version of the British Union Jack in a field of red, white and blue stripes adopted by the Hawaiian Monorchy before it was overthrown with the help of the US government by the rich plantation owning and merchant children of the missionaries. Many native Hawaiians fly this flag upside down as a sign of distress.

    That could be one optional statement for folks not wanting to be left out in the flag waving facades. If it caught on I imagine Congress would propose an anti upside down flag positioning ammendment to the Constitution.

  13. I’m just a longtime gardener, a person with a small space on this earth. Wherever we’ve lived, I’ve tried to make that space celebrate the natural world, while also acting a refuge for our family and as my horticultural playground.

    For years and years, I’ve had a large hand-painted red-and-white striped planter, blue-rimmed, and spangled with white stars. Since the early nineties it’s been filled with a succession of R/W/B flowers and a pair of small flags. At three different houses I’ve hauled it up near the front steps for Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans’ Day, etc.

    But even before the flag had been appropriated by the current administration, the flag pot didn’t stay up front. My only use of red & blue is in flowers for hummingbirds, set against a plain fence in the back yard. R/W/B has always clashed amazingly with the brick exteriors of every house we’ve lived in since 1977.

    I like pale yellow salvias and apricot roses, light blue and cream-white balloon flowers and purple clematis; I love deep green foliage and pale green foliage, and green and white foliage and silver foliage and purple foliage. It’s hard enough having to try to blend my favorites into a place full of stupid redtip photinias, and damn dark pink crepe myrtles and orangey brown brick without adding flags, whether US, UT, or Aggie, into the mix.

    You can call me shallow, [or maybe chuck b would prefer “some priss”] but it’s my garden.


  14. I generally agree with Amy’s take on this. The display (or over-display) of the flag doesn’t bother me–it’s their garden and they can do with it what they will. But the latent Girl Scout in me also balks at those who don’t follow the rules about proper display of the flag. I suppose it bothers me because the flag is used by some as a kind of in-your-face, more-patriotic-than-thou statement and when that particular statement is made by people who don’t seem to care enough to follow the protocol for flag display, it does sort of get under my skin.

    That said, if this post were made two months later and you substituted the words “Christmas lights” for “flag”, I’d be nodding fiercely in agreement. The absolutely over-the-top use of Christmas lights drives me up the wall–not because I’m anti-Christmas (not at all, actually), but honestly, don’t these people have a clue about the overuse of energy resources in this country? To me, that’s not a matter of self-expression, it’s a matter of wastefulness.

  15. Wow!!! Serious thoughts on the flag! Fly it or don’t fly it but don’t call me unpatriotic if I don’t have one. The ones on the cars really bugged me the most because I personally don’t like to wear my patriotism like an exclusive badge of honor. I live in America, I was born in America, I pay taxes in America and I love the diversity of America and the right to express an opinion in America! Good job on the rant Elizabeth! I think you will have a record number of posts!

  16. I’d much rather see our country’s flag than one of those cutesy “garden flags” (which is what I thought your post was about from the title). If I see one more flag with bunnies or birds or flowers on it, I may just go rip it down.
    I was searching ebay for “garden” and all I got were those damn garden flags. They are on par with pink flamingos and obnoxious gnomes for me.

  17. Wow, this has to be the most number and lengthiest number of comments I have ever seen since Gardenrant’s 1st post – excellent dialogue!
    When we bought our house 9 years ago we did put a flagpole and install it on the front wall of the living room. Our intent at the time was to proudly fly the Rainbow Flag – you know the gay one – so that if others who lived in the neighborhood walked by would know we’re here, we’re queer and we are going to raise your property values dramatically!

    That led to me (Robert) buying on ebay and displaying the Slovak Flag – because I am proud of my unique heritage and it is colorful, Michael displaying the German flag – his heritage – especially during the World Cup matches – and yes even the US flag…but only when it matched our color schemes 😉

    What is appalling, and I just witnessed this weekend still – is the big honkin’ ass Lincoln flying down the street with 2 big American flags on each side of the car – ripped to shreds flappin’ in the wind – I’m no uber patriotic Republican Boy Scout – but that to me is the most inappropriate display whatsoever.

  18. Robert and Michael: Still chuckling over that rant! I am going to go look up the Slovak flag to see if it matches anything in my garden!

  19. Seems to me that there are RULES about displaying the American flag and it seems to me that the rules are being ignored. I thought the flag was to be displayed from morning to evening, and then brought down, properly folded and put away. Also not sure what the RULES are as to wearing the flag, plastering it on everything, letting it go to total tatters by flying it from a vehicle, etc, etc. I am truely delighted that I was raised in America but I am not “proud”. For one thing, I had nothing to do with choosing my place of birth. For another, I think that we, as a nation, are terribly spoiled, greedy and pompus lot and not behaving very well at all.

  20. Eh, I actually don’t mind the big flag so much (though my rule-centric personality does balk at the notion of not following the “rules” around flag display) but the little ones are ridiculous overkill. I’m with Kasmira that I greatly prefer a tasteful American flag display to those terrible cliched “garden flags”… *wretch*

    And I’m actually more inclined towards a Texas flag as Misti suggested, because honestly, when I travel abroad, I tell people I’m from Texas rather than America. (And then I apologize for starting this whole mess by letting Jethro be governer… though ironically, he was quite a good governor because TX governers just don’t have much power). Can’t get behind the Aggie flag idea though. Hook ’em Horns! 🙂

  21. Hailing from South Carolina, I’d just be relieved that it wasn’t a Confederate Flag…and those have been hanging from porches in my neighborhood in the recent past. Ugh. Now, for those, I’ve always been tempted to sneak over in the middle of the night and tear them down…but my friends stop me because they remind me that this same neighbors might own shotguns, and know how to use them…

    Otherwise, and perhaps because I’m jaded by the whole Confederate Flag issue, I don’t really enjoy flags in/on yards/gardens/cars/windows…etc. And I suppose I can’t wait until the ’08 election either!

  22. Boy, Girl Scouts must have stuck with a lot of us, whether we know it or not! (Include me in that bunch.) The other thing that I hate, other than it not being taken down at night, is it not being properly retired when the wind and sun has taken its toll. I HATE seeing ratty flags–there’s one on I-71 near Cleveland that someone posted up on a light pole between the northbound and southbound lanes. It is particularly heinous because it shrinks more and more (horizontally) every year from wind breakage. I’m just waiting until there are no more stripes left except those directly under the blue color field… ugh.

    I think that’s why having the flag up year-round or all summer long bothers me so much. It seems more like a piece of decor than a deliberate demonstration of civic pride. If you want to fly it on the Fourth of July to celebrate freedom, or around Memorial Day to commemorate war veterans, that’s great. But having it outside your house doesn’t make you a good American… any more than spending an hour in church every week makes you a good person. The other 99% of your week counts, too!

  23. Please excuse the grammatical errors above… I must have really been ranting, as I didn’t catch them before I clicked post.

  24. “I suppose it bothers me because the flag is used by some as a kind of in-your-face, more-patriotic-than-thou statement and when that particular statement is made by people who don’t seem to care enough to follow the protocol for flag display, it does sort of get under my skin.”

    You can add me to this list too (former Girl Scout as well). I was also under the impression that the flag is supposed to come indoors when the weather is bad.

    Maybe it’s because I grew up around Philadelphia and school field trips were big on Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ house, and the Delaware Gap, but I think it’s symbolic in another way: people who fly the flag (not small flags, but a standard US flag) all the time without regard to its condition like to have the government call the shots and want to feel like the flag is out there “protecting” them, whereas observing the rules for appropriate display kind of means that you understand that your participation and care (and critical thinking) is necessary to uphold what the flag stands for.

  25. I garden for personal enjoyment. MY personal enjoyment. And I expect others to so as well. I dont care if the neighbors have knee high muhly grass for a front yard. No one should care If I have 50 flags or an unprofessionally planned front bed. Not planned at all is more like it, but the point is, I like it. And to suggest Flags or muhly grass or annuals in someone elses yard are overdone doesnt just border on snobbery, it is snobbery. If its not to your well defined and ultra-cultured taste, just leave it be and let the owner enjoy it without feeling like a heel. That is, after all, what its for.

  26. Sure, anyone can garden however they like. And anyone else is free to express their opinion of it. As I’ve also commented, this post was not prompted by observation only. I’ve actually been pressured my neighbors to fly the flag.

    And that goes beyond tolerating or not tolerating other people’s garden decisions.

  27. I grew up in a neighborhood where flags went up for the major patriotic holidays and came down by evening. All the rules of flag display seemed to be followed. We would cringe if we saw a neighbor’s flag that might have fallen down onto the ground.

    The one neighbor who chose to display his flag all the time, with night lighting by the way, was an immigrant, who chose to become an American citizen. The rest of us probably take too much for granted, including the right to fly a flag in our garden without fear.

  28. I think the American flag is pretty good-looking, especially in front of a white house. I’d fly it just on aesthetic grounds if I had one of those nice, big, white Greek Revival houses that I crave.

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