CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This column will get me into trouble with many readers. For years, I've kept a list called "Gardening Faux Pas," jotting down things in other people's gardens that bother me. (If I kept a list about my own garden, it would fill my hard drive.)
Wikipedia defines "faux pas" as a violation of accepted social norms, and they add that what is considered good manners in one culture can be considered a faux pas in another. So while this is my opinion, it might not be yours. I'm often wrong. (Just ask my kids.)
In French, the phrase is employed literally to describe a physical loss of balance. I think that's what's wrong with many of these garden problems on my list -- they seem off-balance. A synonym for faux pas is gaffe, which will be the title of my new list once these are off my chest. Here goes.
Benches placed where no one wants to sit. Do you really use that bench placed so artfully under that tree that overlooks a busy road? Or do you want to linger on that bench that's perched high on an inaccessible hill, in the hot sun? I've seen a lot of these bench misplacements, many that I drive past on a daily basis, and I've never seen anyone sitting on them. Makes my point, doesn't it?
Too much, too much, too much. While I adore a lush, full garden, I can't stand too many "design elements." In a small yard, one statue is good. Two are nice. Twenty, not so much. Same for fountains or birdbaths or birdhouses or whatever you're collecting. Edit.
A landscape designer once described a yard as having "little soldiers, all in a row." Trees and shrubs do not grow in rows. Unless you're lining the driveway heading toward Tara, don't do it. Did you ever see trees in the woods growing in a straight line? Stagger them, at the very least.
I read a blog once about movies with gardening mistakes, and now that's on my hit list as well. Did you ever watch a movie where tulips and roses and daffodils and sunflowers all bloom at the same time? That doesn't happen in the real garden world. And when television shows someone working in the garden, they often are decked to the nines in fancy clothes with pristine gloves and cute little boots. Not in my world.
Huge, deep mulch rings around trees. These are not healthy, and, again, did you ever see a tree in the woods with a mulch ring around it? I know, it's easier to put a large ring of mulch around a tree than to plant a shade garden that requires more work. But it looks so much nicer. Or just let the tree grow up in the yard, and carefully trim the grass around its base.
Landscapers sometimes call plants "plant material." What's that? They are plants. Sounds like a phrase created by the same person who coined "think outside the box," "teachable moment" and "bromance."