The Renegade Gardener Strikes Again



Do NOT imagine that you've seen enough end-of-year wrap-ups – til you've read the Renegade Gardener's High Spots and Black Spots of 2009!  They're online and stirring the pot, Don Engebretson being THE original pot-stirrer of the gardening world.  Here's just a quick summary:

Don's High Spot Awards of '09:

  • Greatest Pleasure Secret Women Hide from Men: Pedicures.  "So I headed out with the girls for my first pedicure, not knowing what
    to expect. Well, if a glass of cold water after a dish of chocolate ice
    cream is a one, and an orgasm is a ten, I’ll give a pedicure an eight.

  • Best Sign Gardening Isn’t Dead: Plant Catalogues Score a Storyline in Doonesbury
  • Shrub of the Year: Northern Accents® shrub rose series Sven, Ole and Lena. 
  • Gardener of the Century: Norman Borlaug
  • Most Hilarious New Garden Product: Dirty Little Cover-Up™ (Yes, he calls this a High Spot).

  • Perennial of the Year: Lysimchia congestiflora ‘Walkabout Sunset’.

Don's Black Spot Awards of '09:

  • Worst New Gardening Product:  Plastic Trees and Shrubs for Landscaping

  • Strangest Makeover: Horticulture magazine:  "What they need to do at Horticulture,
    of course, is change the name of the magazine."
  • Deceit in Advertising: Home Garden Seed Association

Now two more we might discuss among ourselves, shall we?

Most Ridiculous Fad: Raising Urban Chickens!  (I know, he said that!)  And this:

I understand perfectly well that it’s the groovy new hip thing to do,
and mail-order sales of baby chicks (let’s not talk about where they
come from) prove that plenty of people are taking a stab at it.
Luckily, it appears to be an ephemeral fad, similar to the fondue
parties my parents threw in the ‘60s.

Many urban chicken farmers are discovering early on that raising
chickens is work, there’s more cost than meets the eye, and that the
novelty wears thin pretty quick. Not to mention the fact that if you
want to pop out to the mountains for a ski vacation, coercing someone
into taking care of your chickens is a bit more involved than asking
someone to swing by to feed the cat.

Don, my gut's been busy telling me the exact same thing, so thanks for that breath of fresh air.


Most Ludicrous Editorial Lead: Garden Design for this editorial in the 9-10/09 issue: "EVERY
ROSE HAS ITS THORN. The most gorgeous garden, just by its very
existence, is a drain on resources and sometimes harms the very ground
it grows from."  Here's Don's reaction to that:

My, my, we’ve certainly come a long way, haven’t we? Why, I remember back to olden days, when gardening was a good
thing. The editorial goes on to tout the magazine’s first annual Green
Awards, “developed to celebrate the designers who have devised the most
creative and effective ways of mitigating a landscape’s impact on the
environment, while still upholding the quest for beauty that is
inherent in the garden design process.”

a landscape’s impact on the environment?” Once again, I’m confused. And
here I thought all these years that building ponds and planting trees
and shrubs was me being nice to Mother Earth. …

While the copy oohs and ahs about the multiple nifty decks, pools,
patios, fireplaces, fire pits, hot tubs and other features crafted from
stone, glass, wood, metal, acrylics and lord knows what other
materials, nary a mention is made of the home’s square footage, which I
conservatively put at around 30,000 square feet.

To throw my 2 cents into the fray, right on, Don!  Green consumerism is still consumerism.  And these new cries of gardener guilt are part of an anti-gardening trend we're seeing frequently in pronouncements from wildlife groups and even in comments here on the Rant.  Real gardeners know better, of course, but beginners will be misguided, and discouraged.  They'll probably just stick with turfgrass.

Don's photo caption: "As always with this site, more than you need to know: A picture of the Renegade Gardener’s feet."  Lower photo taken of Garden Design's inner pages.


  1. LOVE IT! One of my FAVORITE clients is a spa, because I work for 2/3 cash and 1/3 trade. And what do I get with the trade, frequently? PEDICURES!

  2. Amen to pedicures! A good pedi can get you through the worst of times.

    As for the notion that gardening is a bad thing…I don’t even know where to start.

    All that earth covered by resource-sucking construction is more “green” than the living, breathing, carbon dioxide-absorbing, oxygen-producing plants it replaced? Really?

    It’s beyond ludicrous.

  3. This Don guys sounds like a blogger I could really get into. Thanks for highlighting him. Sounds like he calls a spade a spade and a hypocrite a hypocrite.

    I’m waiting for the next big trend, when ultra-orthodox vegan environmentalists pronounce eating veggies is cruel to the vegetables, because they are “living.”

  4. Elizabeth, here’s your Simpsons quote of the day, from environmental activist Jesse Grass: “I’m a level five vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow”

  5. Hands off the chickens! Sure they take a bit of work but they’re way cheaper to purchase than a designer mutt (even from a reputable breeder), produce the best breakfast ingredient imaginable and are an unbeatable source of manure in a smallish space. I wouldn’t be without my flock of Silver Grey Dorkings, and highly recommend chook keeping to all but the most tepid of garden makers.

  6. You don’t mention that one of his sponsors is Roundup and that the story on seeds “rants” that organically grown veg is not healthier or more nutricious “because it’s not”.He’s a landscaper who puts the same few plants in -just not the ones he hates like Stella d Oro-but he is entertaining.

  7. Just a few comments to the comments above…

    Roundup is in no way a “sponsor” of my website. I do not accept advertising on my site—in fact, I’ve turned down dozens of inquiries over the years. I also do not link to any commercial/for-profit sites.

    Linda, you may be confused because if you click on the “Myth” button, a picture of a bottle of Roundup appears. I’m going to change that, I can see how it might convey endorsement and/or sponsorship.

    Second, as a landscaper, yes, I have a preferred plant pallet, but would not categorize it as, “the same few plants,” unless that means the 50 (or so) deciduous shrubs, 35 evergreens, and 100+ perennials I use consistently in my designs. I don’t know a landscape designer with a broader pallet than mine—in Zone 4, no less.

    But to be fair to Linda, in articles on my site, I do refer to some of my favorites much more often than others, and call them “the usual suspects.”

    Thanks to all for the good feedback, and to Susan for featuring the 2009 Awards in her post.


  8. Comrade Engebretson has a site full of the most interesting, entertaining and informative articles that I have found on gardening. He has always answered questions which I have emailed to him (during the winter anyway).

    Linda, I have no idea where you got the impression that Don “puts the same few plants in”. I would suggest you look at some the extensive renovations he has documented and the inovative and varied plantings that he has employed. Browsing through his website, anyone with an interest in gardening and even those who do not will get hours of entertainment and enlightenment. He puts a great deal of effort into updating the various subsets on his website and providing a great resource.

    I do worry about the pedicure thing though.


  9. Don is definately opinionated. I like that in a writer. When someone is up front about his or her opinions, you know where they are coming from, even if some of those opinions are rediculous (like his prejudice against red and orange flowers). See. I’m opinionated, too.

    I don’t see anything wrong with a plant palette of “tried and true”
    plants that work, especially in sites where they are unlikely to get knowledgable attention. What I hate to see is those same work horses used in ways where they don’t work, or don’t show to advantage; like berberis clipped into gumdrops next to a path.

  10. Raising chickens, urban or otherwise, feeds a primal need. In town, you probably won’t have a rooster and hatch chicks. And that’s the best part of raising chickens. At least when I eat my eggs, they came from happy, cage-free chickens.


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