The Top 5 Lies People Like Telling About Gardening with Less


If you didn’t get a chance to guest rant, remember that we
continue to offer guest rants on Thursday. Here’s one by Lisa Ueda. Lisa offers
home gardening tips at The Frugal Garden.

Gooseneck Loosestrife

The bubble really has burst. The economy isn’t recovering
any faster, and Obama continues to be blamed for what he has or hasn’t done.
While we’re learning to live without, gardeners are looking for different ways
to garden on a budget. To save everyone years of misery, I’m compelled to
uncover the top five lies people like telling about gardening with less. (4 of them are lies anyway.)

1. You shouldn’t spend money on plants.
If you fall prey to this lie, you’re dooming yourself to an
endless procession of ditch lilies, irises, and cast offs prevalent in most
plant swaps, or the ratty half dead things on discount at Wal-Mart. You might
score big time, but you also might just get stuck with the exact same stuff you’d
love to get rid of. You can judge me for the Japanese maple I dropped $50 on
that didn’t make it thru its first winter. Only the top graft died off. Where
it suckers at the base, I think it’s cute and looks more charming than a bunch
of boring freebies.

2. You should compost everything, and you’re not a dedicated
gardener if you don’t.

Compost is good; compost with dog poo is bad. If you’re
a militant composter and this is your M.O., that’s great, fine, you’re right,
they’re wrong. Just don’t include it on your list of facebook likes.

3. You should only garden with native or “heirloom” plants.
They can be cheaper, but why the heck should you be stuck
with someone else’s garden vision? Hybrids can be more disease resistant, or
may tout a unique fragrance or leaf form. Just do your homework first. See if
you can find it in a friend’s garden to get an idea of how it will do in your
own. Hybrid does not equal evil so say goodbye to your grandma’s flowers if
they really don’t work for you.

4. Never, ever, EVER garden with invasives.
Well, OK, you may regret the day you
plunked that “slightly aggressive” plant your friend palmed off on you into
your own garden. Just say no, or make sure your barricade method can withstand its
insinuating ways. I plan on digging out my Gooseneck Loosestrife until the day
I die, or sell my house.

5. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.
So what if the boring bed you inherited with your house does
so well—if it’s boring why settle? Dig it up, lug that stuff to your nearest
swap, see if you can score any great finds and start over. Pretend you’re
purging your closet. If you just really hate it, get rid of it; it won’t look
any better next year.

Stay tuned today for one more from Ginny Stibolt.


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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Love it – totally agree, especially with the hybrid argument – for the first few years of growing my own veg I felt a bit guilty about growing F1 tomatoes as well as heirlooms because other gardeners were so rabid about them. The fact is though that some hybrids (not all) taste epic, so why be all holier-than-thou?

  2. LIE#6. You should do it ALL yourself, and never ever hire a pro, and brag about it to all your friends and neighbors. BIGGEST LIE OF EM ALL!

    there are garden #coaches, landscape designers, permaculturalists, tractor artists, landscapers, gardeners, arborists, horticulturalists who can and WILL save you money, time and make the garden more sustainable over time in terms of $, time, energy, inputs and your lower back health.

    AND THEY ARE BY THE NATURE OF THEIR BUSINESS, MOSTLY SMALL, LOCAL BUSINESSES. Support your local community and economy and save your pennies from the dead plant/mystery plant aisle and extra chemical fertilizer/pesticide sale endcaps at the big box stores. Hire a professional occasionally, periodically, to help you do it right, sustainably.

    Otherwise, resign yourself to having fewer local choices and only big box, multinational, industrialized survivors to choose from…..businesses whose goal is to hook you on making the lawn & garden LESS sustainable over time in order to reach THEIR goals, not yours.

  3. Love #5. We just moved this summer and I’m in the midst of ripping out and rearranging everything in sight. Now if we could just get some rain in the northeast!

  4. Great advices!

    All of it is so true (or so lie?)

    In the end your garden is your garden, you should do what you think is best, maybe they are traditions or general recommendations that people give, but what works is what is good for you.
    So, if you want to move things around every year, buy the most expensive hybrid and never compost then go for it, is your garden.

    Great post Lisa!

  5. The Gospel according to Antigonum Cajan:

    No turf
    No palms
    No topiaries
    No hedges.

    Mother nature will appreciate it, and you will have more quality time for your family, unless you hire typical
    illegal labor for cut and blow services..

  6. The lie I expose when giving advice to newbie gardeners is that home made compost is a great idea for reducing the amount of stuff going to the landfill but it will take you and your childrens life times and beyond to make enough compost from one household to turn around bad soil. A pile of leaves the size of a standard four door car will compost down to a size that will fill a small kitchen trash can. Thats a big drop in volume. If your soil is poor, buy good soil by the truck load – its what I’ve done at my last two homes much to the surprise of my fellow gardeners. If you have a full time job and any sort of responsibilities taking up your free time you have to pick between spending your free time stirring the pile or tending the crops. There’s not enough time to do both.

  7. For the most part, that’s a good list. However, you seem to be confusing “aggressive” with “invasive”. Additionally, there are shades of gray among outright invasive plants. The worst invaders are, in some states, illegal to sell, transplant, or propagate.

  8. Here’s another lie that serious Gardeners know isn’t true. Good Gardeners don’t kill plants.

    If you aren’t killing plants you aren’t pushing the envelope. Which is fine, but I like to try pushing zones and trying new, untested varieties. And that means some plants will die. I consider this an acceptable price.

    Re number 4 – I use “aggressive” plants in my fenced yard where the dogs play. The dogs are great at keeping them under control and aggressives actually stand a chance of standing up to my rowdy canines!

  9. – You shouldn’t spend money on plants ON CLEARANCE. (They’re usually diseased or infested or extremely weak from disease.)

    – You should compost ONLY IF YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH IT. If you’re too lazy, disabled, busy, or otherwise impaired, don’t bother. You could end up with a patch of anaerobic and possibly toxic, smelly crap that doubles as a vermin nest.

    (Pet poop can be composted separately and WAY underground, but that requires twice the vigilance and care that “regular” composting does.)

    – You should garden only on your level of commitment. I’ve heard WAY too many friends talk about ‘xeriscaping’ because they don’t want to deal with yards or landscaping. FOOLS! Even the most tightly native-xeriscaped-whatever yard needs attention and occasional maintenance. Don’t pretend like you’re doing something noble by being lazy.

    And thank you for the gratuitous xenophobia, AC.

  10. Spending no money doesn’t have to mean a boring garden. If you know the right people; ie fellow gardeners, freebies don’t have to be boring. Earlier this week, a friend came to visit bringing me a Serbian spruce and a western red cedar he’d started from seed, and I gave him a variegated Korean forsythia and a red leaved ninebark I’d started from cuttings. In the past, he’s brought me Japanese maples or Japanese Styrax, and I’ve given him ‘Scarlet Curls’ willow cuttings. I’ve searched under my rhodies for layered branches to plant elsewhere (repeating plants is good design as you know). I’ve dug up heirloom daffodils that come up in the field behind me (yes,it’s mine) to plant in the garden. And sometimes those plants on the clearance table just need watering, drying out, or dead heading. I love spending money on the latest cultivars, but right now, I don’t have the money, and I’m not going to let that stop me from having a gorgeous garden.

  11. Some of my favorite plants are the half-dead, double-discounted things from supermarket ‘florists’. I revived them & they paid me back with lush foliage & bloom. Don’t knock it, but do pick carefully to avoid flat-out diseased specimen. And I LOVE irises.

    My husband is constantly wondering what I’m doing to the “ain’t broke” perennial beds, borders, etc. I ask him why he tinkers with his vehicles if they run just fine. He understands then … until next time I move something that was doing fine in its previous location.

  12. Wow, I spend less time on my compost pile than anything in the garden and have no smell, no pests, and enough for my 150 x 80 city lot. But then I had great soil to begin with and this is to maintain, not build up.

    My favorite myth: Ground cover is less work than a lawn. Less use of power equipment, yes. Less use of weed and feed chemicals, maybe, if you use them. More hands on care, yes. Lawn = Man’s work. (real men use power equipemnt.) Groundcover = womean’s work (hand weeding, and picking out leaves)

  13. I’m not exactly sure what the reasoning is in 2,3,4 regarding saving money. Wherever I buy perennials, the natives go for as much as the non-natives. I suppose we’re talking about buying compost vs. making it in no. 2?
    Is gardening not gardening with invasives (agressives) a lie or what we should do to save money because they spread so fast -just confused on that one?

  14. Aw, come on, you can buy plants on clearance if you know what you’re doing — I’ve got an $8 Cecile Bruner own root from Target that is freakin’ gorgeous. I often buy plants on clearance that do great. Just know to look for ones that are still in good shape.

  15. Starting from seed is too hard. You need to buy transplants.

    I live in Massachusetts. I do need to get transplants for tomato, eggplant and peppers. Eveything else (including Basil) grows better from seed directly put in the ground.

    I laughed when I saw pea seedlings for sale. Kudos to the farm stand for taking advantage of the naive gardener. $3 for a flat of peas that will die when you transplant or $2.50 for a packet of peas that’ll start growing as soon as you can dig in the ground.

  16. I disagree somewhat with your first point. I have saved vast amounts of money filling in my garden by propagating plants. I do buy plants on occasional when I see something new or interesting that I would like but much of my garden came from other gardeners and by making more from what I already have. On the discount rack thing (to another commenter) they are not always diseased. The box stores have a mandate that once something has ceased flowering it is to be removed from the shelves. Flowering stuff sells. There are plenty of ugly diseased looking plants that end up there too but if you are choosy you can find something nice and healthy.

    “just get stuck with the exact same stuff you’d love to get rid of” if you want to get rid of it why would you buy it in the first place? People should shop judicially and know what they are getting before they buy. That’s how you save money.

  17. I make sympathetic noises about your gooseneck loosestrife. My last garden had an entire bed of the stuff left over from the previous gardener, and I confess, I just tried to forget that bed was there. The sheer scale of the problem was more than my brain could handle.

    My current garden, fortunately, was carved out of lawn, and thus a loosestrife free zone.

  18. I completely agree with this statement:

    “- You should compost ONLY IF YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH IT. If you’re too lazy, disabled, busy, or otherwise impaired, don’t bother. You could end up with a patch of anaerobic and possibly toxic, smelly crap that doubles as a vermin nest.”

    As one who has the misfortune to live next door to an lazy and inconsiderate composter, we watch in dismay as the heap grows but is never turned or managed in any way. Then, there’s a stocked bird feeder right next to it. Rat infestations are not fun for anyone and seeing rat burrows multiply in one’s yard is pretty depressing. Especially, when children are playing in close proximity. Don’t even get me started on the smell factor.

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