What better way to close this tumultuous last year of the first decade of the 21st century than by writing a “list” article? You’ve probably read your share of them: Top 100 Tech Toys, or 50 Celebrity Arrests For Acting Foolish In Public, or 10 iPhone Apps To Improve Your Dental Hygiene. 

Now it’s my turn. Since starting this Cool Green Gardens blog in April I’ve written about water conservation, helpful design ideas for your garden, posted a video interview about coyote pee and shared just plain beautiful images of enchanting gardens.

I enjoy bringing you that kinda stuff. But deep inside me, pulsing like trapped magma, beats the heart of a smartass garden critic. This dark side was revealed in my June 5 blog titled Why Not Replace Your Plants With Styrofoam? in which I threw virtual rotten eggs at the worst examples of ugliness and environmentally bone-headed gardening practices. Boy, did THAT attract an avalanche of comments.

So why not do it again!

My intention is to provide positive lessons using bad examples – the stuff that either makes you laugh out loud or contemplate gouging your own eyes out. There are so many out there to choose from. For now please accept Billy’s Top Five Crimes Against Horticulture.

Rules of the Game

There are two simple criteria for stopping my car, unpacking my camera and snapping a few pics:

1.  On What Planet Is This Attractive? Indiscriminate shearing of plants into random shapes that bear no connection to nature. Bonus points for Dr. Seussiness.

2.  Wrong Plant / Wrong Place Jamming super-sized plants into spaces the size of a shot glass, thereby destroying their natural beauty and guaranteeing endless warfare to keep them from devouring each other.

Before I start slashing with my Samurai Sword of Smarminess, let me clarify where I’m coming from. After all, if my goal is to educate via bad examples, I need to explain what I consider to be a good example.

Here’s a garden I designed a few years ago.

Looks like something you might see in Fine Gardening magazine, eh? Notice how the plants are arranged to achieve their mature size without running into their neighbors.

There are two benefits to this simple approach:

  • The natural form and inherent beauty of the plant is revealed. My guess is the gardener didn’t think, “I’ll buy this beautiful plant so I can hack it into a lifeless green box perched on skinny legs.”
  • Picking the right size plant for a garden bed assures a sustainable result – less work, less greenwaste, no fumes or noise from gas-powered trimmers, healthier plants.

Let’s get started…

Take These Plants and Shove Them

Can we start by agreeing that this looks ridiculous? Yet we see similar plantings all the time. I won’t even ask why some numb-nut thought it would be okay to put these five different plants into a three by three space in the first place. 

Actually, I know the answer: The plant was little when it went in. It didn’t occur to anyone that they would grow and get bigger. What about removing a few and letting the remainder grow unmolested? Not likely. Why mess up their job security?

The lesson: Send a few plants to the compost pile.

Know When to Say When

Here’s what happens when someone crams 20 trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) into a parkway where five would have done the job. Properly spaced, each plant matures at about four feet wide and stays about a six inches high.  Logic would tell us to plant them four feet apart. 

Instead, spaced about 18 inches from each other, they grow, then collide, then pile on top of each other. Until someone decides to thin out the planting, or just torch it and start over, they’ll be scalped about four times a year, leaving this lovely sight.

The lesson? Restraint and patience.

Circular Logic

Helicopter landing pad? Dining table from Land of the Giants? I’m really at a loss to explain the rationale for this too-frequently seen act of tree hackery. Unfortunately, I’m not brave enough to knock on the door and ask, “Are you a card carrying control freak or do you just hate your neighbors?”

Picture getting out the ladder, powering up the Extendo-3000 hedge trimmer, trampling the geraniums and cleaning up the mess.

Yes, I hear your defense – it would cost a few bucks to send this atrocity to it’s rightful grave and plant an appropriately sized tree. But think about the long-term gains, both financial and aesthetic.

If It Grows, I Shall Subdue It

The brilliantly flowering bougainvillea is one of Southern California’s most misunderstood plants. People like to pretend it’s a well-behaved vine, rather than the rampant, thorny bramble it really is. The irony is that it’s frequently planted in small spaces, forcing it to be continually sheared, thereby removing the colorful flowers just as they appear on the new tip growth. 

Benefit of the doubt – perhaps it’s a creative Picassoesque cubist sculpture, or a Shaker-inspired chair. Or perhaps it’s just the mindless application of power tools. Either way, it leaves me scratching my head.

A Bit of Light Reading

Once again, I’m astounded at the effort people expend in the name of weirdness. I could see if you placed this over a couple of chaise lounges – then you could put a light bulb inside each orb and have a one of a kind, hydra-headed organic reading lamp. Maybe I’ll drive by after dark. (BTW: Extra points for Dr. Seuss influences.)

Well, that does it for this year’s last installment of Cool Green Gardens. I’m sure I’ll have lots more examples of what not to do in 2010. If you’d like to see the rest of my rogue’s gallery or have a few examples you’d like to contribute, visit my Flickr photo collection and join the fun.

Wishing you a safe, healthy, prosperous New Year and a garden that fills you with joy.

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