The Absentee Gardeners

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn
Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn -
A Crab spider happily clashes with a magenta Cone flower. - Lise Jenkins

When I was a young bride and mother in a decade before most of you were born, various garden clubs dictatorially mandated the rules pertaining to flower arranging. The fear of a grande dame’s scowl petrified me enough that I never wanted to even think of designing a floral arrangement, preferring to leave it to the professionals.

When I first started gardening there were also dictates that were handed down from older generations of gardeners. For instance, there was the dictum to never, ever use the color magenta in the garden. We have heard that we must always plant in odd numbers, never even numbers. Apparently three of one kind look better than four of one kind.

Now I can get contrary if I don’t understand the reason behind the directive. I happened to like an occasional magenta flower in my garden so I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t use it. During my research on the subject I discovered the basis for this rule: Gertrude Jekyll, a famous garden designer who ruled the garden world during the latter part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century simply didn’t like the color magenta.

This piece of information liberated both my garden and me. You see, I don’t garden to please Gertrude Jekyll. I garden to please me. Do I make mistakes? Of course I do. Do I plant an occasional magenta colored flower? You betcha I do.

Now I try to conform to the rule of planting in odd numbers. However, sometimes it isn’t possible. I might have room for only two particular plants—and two identical plants can sometimes look better than two different plants in a particular spot.

Once a garden landscaper advised me to always buy twenty-five specimens of a particular plant. I looked at him in horror because while he was obviously after large waves of color that was the last look I was after. I don’t want twenty-five of anything.

My daylilies are of different colors as are my roses. I can group perhaps five spigelias together, but my eyes would soon tire of viewing twenty-five amassed together. My color scheme occasionally resembles confetti, especially when the various daylilies are in bloom.

Now you, dear reader, might not enjoy the confetti look in your garden—and that’s fine with me. You see, I firmly believe we should garden to please ourselves. If you want to rigidly plant your specimens in odd numbers, please go ahead. If you eschew the use of magenta in the garden that is your right.

If you garden to please others, you will soon tire of it. Gardening is hard work as is pleasing others. In this endeavor, garden to paint your own picture. You will make mistakes—and that’s okay. Heed the garden rules, following them if that fits in with your plan.

Some rules make sense. For instance, in a perennial border it really is preferable to place taller plants in the background while shoving the smaller ones toward the front. It is prudent to occasionally refer to the color wheel when placing certain flowering plants. If you desire a monochromatic color scheme, go for it. If the confetti look entices you, please plant accordingly.

Remember, it’s your garden and you are gardening to please yourself. It’s okay to replace a plant simply because you have grown to dislike it. I took out a climbing rose, ‘Cl. Pinkie’ because it resembled a sloppy azalea, a look I’m not fond of. Set your own rules is the advice I give new gardeners.

I still to this day cannot try my hand at flower arranging. Don’t let this happen to your gardening.

Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn are contributing columnists. Absent from their gardens, they enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of innovation and horticulture. More on Twitter @AbsenteGardener or email:

Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn Jenkins and Kit Flynn

A Crab spider happily clashes with a magenta Cone flower. Crab spider happily clashes with a magenta Cone flower. Lise Jenkins
The rules of gardening

By Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn