We all have different ways of looking at our gardens

By Dan Gill

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder … One man’s trash is another man’s treasure … It’s all a matter of taste. These sayings all make the same point: People look at the word in their own individual ways. Gardeners, of course, are no different.

The plants you choose to grow in your landscape and garden is a very personal choice. You are, of course, limited by the growing conditions and guided by the purpose of the planting. But within those boundaries, what you actually decide to plant from the many, many possibilities makes your garden individually yours. Someone else faced with exactly the same situation would likely create a very different landscape using different plants.

One time, I was at a nursery filming a TV segment about Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). I admire this plant for its unique iridescent silvery purple leaves with deep purple undersides. Before I got started, one of the nursery staff stopped by and mentioned that they didn’t like Persian shield. “I just don’t think it looks attractive,” she said.

Persian shield, photo by Phillip Oliver.

Of course I still filmed the segment, but this is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. I told her that I thought Persian shield was an attractive plant worthy of garden use, but I did not argue. Everyone has the right to decide what they like and don’t like when it comes to plants. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

This can occasionally lead to some frustration when I’m asked for plant recommendations. For example, I may be asked to recommend a ground cover. I suggest Liriope and I’m told that’s just too plain and common. I may then reply that Japanese ardisia (A. japonica) makes a nice ground cover, and the response is that they don’t find it attractive. See what I mean? I think those ground cover plants are reliable and attractive, but that is not important – it’s what that gardener likes that will determine what is actually planted.

What would help considerably in these types of situations – and/or anytime you ask a professional for recommendations – is to do some research; find a few ground covers (or trees, or shrubs, or flowers) that are suited for the intended planting site (sunlight, moisture, etc.) and are acceptable to the gardener. Then ask a professional to help you pick out the best choice from those selections. That way you receive the benefit of the professional’s knowledge and still end up with a choice you made yourself.

Now, let’s discuss weeds. I cannot tell you how many times someone has handed me a piece of a plant or sent me a picture with the question, “Is this a weed?”

That question seems to imply that a plant either is or is not a weed … period; but that is not typically the case. The concept of “weeds” is a method humans came up with to categorize a plant. In reality, a weed is merely a plant growing where it is not wanted due to myriad reasons.

Seeds of native trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants may find their way into flowerbeds. In their native habitat, these plants would certainly not be considered weeds. But in our gardens, they may or may not be welcome.

Native pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) shows up in gardens around the state. With its broad leaves, magenta stems, and clusters of black berries it is a rather attractive plant. I’ve had gardeners call it a weed and ask how to get rid of it as well as gardeners comment on its beauty and ask how to grow more. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Whether or not a plant is a weed doesn’t depend on what it is or how it looks, but rather where it is growing and if it is causing problems. A live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) that you planted in your front yard is not a weed. But, the live oak seedlings growing in your flowerbeds from the acorns it drops are absolutely weeds. Common bermudagrass on a football field is not a weed. Common bermudagrass invading your vegetable garden or your flowerbeds is a major weed issue.

We all have different ways of looking at our gardens and the plants we choose or do not choose to grow. I love that about gardeners and gardening. It’s what makes our gardens and landscapes diverse and interesting. Each gardener is free to create according to what they feel inside. After all, it’s a matter of taste.

Scroll to Top