Sunday, September 30, 2012

Supposed To's and Other Myths

I once had a bizarre conversation with someone about the Easter pancake requirement. I was asked if I had eaten pancakes for dinner on a certain day close to the Christian holiday of Easter. Completely confused, I asked about the religious significance of eating pancakes for dinner. "I don't know but you're supposed to do it. We ate pancakes." I continued to gently probe her about the history of pancake eating. She finally responded, "That's just what you do." My reply of  "So you do something every year without knowing why you do it?" went unappreciated. It was as strange to me to blindly follow convention as it was for her to challenge it.

I often find the same 'supposed to' mind set in gardening. But I just don't think there are as many 'supposed to's' in life or gardening as we think there are.


Aside from giving these Japanese hollies some soil acidifier to help counteract the alkalinity of the  concrete, I completely neglect them. The blue 'President' clematis, however, is a bit pampered. (Spring 2012)



You are supposed to use evergreens when landscaping your front yard.

Who made up this rule? While evergreens do give you winter interest and a beautiful canvas for snow, if you're lucky enough to get any, it's your yard. Do what you want. I have a row of evergreen Japanese hollies next to my front walkway that were planted by the builder nine years ago. Tough as steel, they are never given supplemental water and thrive in a small sliver of soil between the front porch and walkway. But I didn't keep them there because I was supposed to. I kept them because they look good and never died. The rest of my front yard plantings are flowers and deciduous shrubs.


I'm growing roses mixed in with perennials! What is wrong with me?? (Spring 2012)


Westerland climbing rose is super cold hardy and very disease resistant.

Roses should be grown in isolated beds with other roses.

Roses lined up like soldiers look weird. I know that's just my opinion, but it's such a pervasive design approach that it's come to be considered an absolute rule. I had someone comment this summer that I wasn't 'supposed to' grow my roses mixed in with other plants. But my garden follows my rules and my roses grow happily amongst perennials.



My monarda patch is full of conflicting colors. I picked my monarda based on how tough and disease resistant they are. I don't care if they clash. Neither do the hummingbirds. (Summer 2012)



I look forward to these geum every spring. With their bright colors and ruffled petals, they remind me of Spanish flamenco dancers. (Spring 2012)

Colors aren't supposed to clash.

As guidelines go, this is a good one. But what I consider cheerful, might be migraine inducing to you. I love pink and orange together and have plans for a big pot of perennials that will include orange coneflowers, purple liatris, and red silene. It's a party in a pot! Chose your color combinations based on what makes you happy and emotionally satisfied. It doesn't matter if no one else likes it. It's not their garden.


I never know where tradescantia will pop up around my garden. Since it's a self-seeder, it usually just shows up in groups of one or two, although sometimes it brings a crowd. (Summer 2012)


My potted perennials often contain just a few of each variety. (Late spring 2012)

Always plant in groups of 3, 5, or 7

Unless you find a plant you love on the sale table and they only have one or two. I have a friend who purposefully adds plants in ones and twos just to add a sense of chaos to her beds. She doesn't want a super neat garden and throws in plants just because she loves them, regardless of the overall scheme. The result? A colorful jumble of a garden that is happiness personified. However, when trying to attract pollinators large plantings work better than smaller ones.

63 comments:

  1. You make a very good point. I think lots of people follow tradition and don't even know why. I love pink and orange together too! And, I think roses with other perennials is a great landscape design. I usually buy plants in odd numbers more because I like mass plantings and have lots of space to fill. But I love the specimen plant that pops in a mass planting. Cheers to making your own rules and creating your garden for you!

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    1. You have so much space it makes sense to design mass plantings. :o) Smart move! I love orange and pink together. It feels tropical to me.

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  2. I love the monarda patch, and your Graham Thomas rose is GORGEOUS.

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    1. Thanks, Foo! I'm looking forward to helping you design your next dog-proof garden. :o)

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  3. I hadn't heard of the Easter pancake tradition before but it sounds like a good one.

    Agree that in your own garden you should grow whatever the heck you want!

    btw, who says roses shouldn't be grown with perennials? (need a confused icon here). That's just nutty.

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    1. The rose rule is pretty old school traditionalist thinking so I was really surprised when I heard it again this summer. Roses look so much better mixed in with other plants.

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  4. Yep, these rules were all made to be broken. That Westerland rose is one of the prettiest I have seen, Such an unusual shade, with perfectly edged ruffles. And it appears to be a graceful climber, not all rambunctious and rampant.

    The happy clematis is gorgeous too, and in just the right spot. You flout all the rules very nicely.

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    1. Thanks! Westerland is a keeper. It's vigorous and super disease resistant. :o)

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  5. I don't realize why we should follow some "flower rules". I do exactly what pleases me and looks beautiful to me in my garden. I must admit that I hadn't ever even heard of rules like that...Have a great week!

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    1. I do exactly what pleases me, too. That's why my garden makes me so happy. :o)

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  6. Tammy, I totally agree with you! I do not understand why the rose should grow separately and plant annual flowers next to them. It's not just your opinion!

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    1. When I see roses lined up like soldiers they seem lonely to me. I like the community party atmosphere of a garden much better.

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  7. Gardening to me is doing what pleases me. I never garden for anyone else either. It's nice to see others do what pleases them also and your gardens are lovely.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks! There's a rule in our HOA handbook that says you have to consult your neighbors before doing landscaping. Considering one of my neighbors has had a dead tree in their yard for 3 years, I ignore that rule.

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  8. Well Tammy, it's a very GOOD thing that you do it your way, because your way is truly beautiful. Loved all the combinations and "not supposed to's" creations...well done!!

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    1. Thanks! I just try to mimic what I see Mother Nature do. She gets all the credit. :o)

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  9. I don't find gardens respond as well when we try to make them conform to "rules." A garden is a work of art and like all art, is completely subjective. Very good blog post and I completely agree with you :)

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly!!! I wish more people saw gardening as an art form that reflects the artist/gardener. I've always viewed teaching as part performance art. Gardening is like painting with plants. Some gardens are a bit Monet while others are a bit Jackson Pollack.

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  10. Moje róże też rosną wśród bylin i nie mam zamiaru tego zmieniać. Pozdrawiam.
    My roses also grow among the perennials and I'm not going to change that. Yours.

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    1. Your roses are beautiful! I think roses look better with perennials, too. :o)

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  11. Thank goodness you're willing to question convention. I've never liked roses and I think one of the problems is that people plant exclusively roses, which to my eye look utterly ridiculous by themselves.

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    1. Ridiculous is a good way of putting it. It's almost like they're in quarantine.

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  12. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don't follow a lot of rules in the garden, preferring to create my own kind of garden. Great post!

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    1. Thanks! I'm a rotten rule follower. If my students knew that, they'd never follow any of my classroom rules again!

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  13. Fun post, and interesting how things differ by region. Clashing colors are seldom a consideration in San Antonio, the brighter the better.

    At The Antique Rose Emporium here in Texas, they teach us that roses are best when combined with perennials, annuals, and even our native cactus.


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    1. Roses and cactus? Wow! I'd love to see that! Now that you mention it, whenever I think of Texas I always imagine big, bright flowers. I think plants need to be bold to deal with all that heat!

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  14. go Tammy - radical, independent woman gardener! I agree wholeheartedly. Let's try and let the rules go. Trial and error, finding out what we like, what plants like, that's the way to go.

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    1. Thanks! I find rules really constricting and get frustrated at people who put themselves in a mental box and then wonder why they can't create/accomplish what they want.

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  15. Good for you, make your own rules and follow them...or change them. I like roses with perennials, I don't worry about colors, I do like having evergreen shrubs of some sort as foundation plants...they can be mixed with deciduous shrubs but I guess I could see rockin' the boat and not having evergreens.......maybe.

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    1. I agree that evergreens make good foundation plants. It's just sad when people think that's their only option. I do like that my little hollies are green all winter.

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  16. My latent rebellious spirit shines through in my garden...I'm breaking all kinds of rules, I'm sure. Shoot, down here, I just plant what I think will grow! The colors don't always "go" together or complement each other. I'm just happy if they survive the hellish heat of summer. I like where you're going with this post, sista!

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    1. Thanks! I have a very rebellious spirit and tend to question almost everything. I need to know why before I act or chose not to act. Plus, I'm convinced a healthy plant is a beautiful plant regardless of what color it is. :o)

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  17. I've never seen a rose garden that I liked that didn't underplant and overplant with other plants. ?!? Thats the dumbest rule of the lot. I also have hydrangeas out front too...now that you mention it. Heck, I've never heard of half of these rules. (though you aren't selling me on that orange :) haha.)

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    1. I saw a garden in DC last month where all the roses had been segregated into a separate section of the garden and barricade behind big boxwood shrubs. It actually really bothered me. I was ready to make a sign and start chanting 'Equal Rights for Roses'. I don't think anyone would have understood so I kept my mouth shut but I left that section fairly quickly.
      The first time I heard the evergreen rule was when I lived in SC. :o) I ended up planting loropetalums that the next owner pruned into boxes.

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  18. I agree with you completely. The ridiculous thing is that when enough people flout one of the "garden rules" and it can be seen that what they are doing is working, their practice then becomes the new "rule" that everyone is supposed to follow. This results in very boring gardens that all look the same.

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    1. What's funny is when you try to track down the origin or reasoning behind the rule and no one can explain or even justify the action. It's so bizarre. They just blindly follow someone else!

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  19. I immediately began to wonder if there are any conventions that I follow blindly...and thinking about it, I probably do. Three meals a day (hungry or not) springs immediately to mind and I am sure there are probably a few others. Convention is something it is just way to easy to slip-slide into! But I think you make an excellent point- a mindful person does pause every once in a while and think, "Why am I doing this again?" I like that you break the rules Tammy.

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    1. I specialize in creative insubordination. :o)

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  20. Yes, large swaths of like flowers really DO attract the bees and pollinators. But once they've been attracted to those plantings, they usually find their way to the singltons elsewhere in the gardens.

    Rules? Who needs stinking RULES and REGULATIONS in a garden? The bank? Yes. The government? Yes. IRS? Oh puh-leeze. Look where all THOSE rules have gotten us. Gardens are rule-free and independent. Hurray for our annual anarchy outside!! You go, girl. :-D

    Everything looks wonderful!

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    1. Garden anarchy is my favorite form of garden inspiration. Follow your heart reigns supreme here. :o)

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  21. Tammy, your sensible questioning reminds me of my attitude toward writing and gardening: Learn the rules; then break them at will. Cheers.

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    1. I'm very good at breaking them, especially when they're silly to begin with.

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  22. It's fun to break the rules, just ask any one of your students! Your rule-breaking garden is gorgeous and I'm certain it's largely due to your being a naughty child (remember that post?)

    Shrove Tuesday, Fasching, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras are all celebrations of the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a season of fasting and praying. During lent, some liturgical Christians give up things like sugar, butter, fatty foods, meat, etc. What could be more indulgent than fried sweet batter (In Germany, it's doughnuts.) So this day is sort of a last hurrah before the more sombre season of Lent where one can get his/her fill of all the stuff (s)he'll be giving up the next day. I think that's the origin of the pancake supper idea.

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    1. My husband observes Lent but I'm not Catholic and even he wasn't familiar with the pancake tradition. What I found absurd was the persons inability to explain why she had to eat to pancakes, yet she was steadfast in her adherence to the tradition. My aunt explained that it had to do with using up eggs before Lent. She called it Shrove Tuesday, too. Learn something new everyday!

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  23. Thankyou for such a thought provoking post... we're all different and yet the love of gardening is what makes the borders beautiful rather a rule book! I planted a border with plants that the bees and butterflies would love and luckily the colours clash wonderfully :-) I'm now mixing my flowers and veg in the same borders and enjoying the freedom to enjoy this. The monarda patch is just lovely!

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    1. I've seen vegetables and flowers growing together and it's beautiful! Half the reason I grow carrots is for their wonderful foliage. Plus, it's a great excuse to make a carrot cake!

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  24. I am so jealous of your garden. It's so green and all the wildflowers/flowers are amazing. Very very pretty!

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    1. Don't waste a nanosecond being jealous!! If you lived in VA, you're garden would be green, too. But you would miss all the incredible wildlife of AZ.

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  25. Great post. There's something in the saying, rules are meant to be broken. In Ireland there is pancake Tuesday around Easter time. I have no idea why we have this, but I like eating pancakes. I will now have to go look it up on the internet out of interest. All the best, Kelli.

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    1. I love eating pancakes, too. I just never knew it had religious significance. I just thought they were tasty. :o)

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  26. You are such a rebel! I really enjoyed reading this and I agree with you on the pink/orange mix. Strong pinks and strident oranges with a twist of royal purple and I am one happy gardener! Your pots will be a blast!

    Have you read Colour for Adventurous Gardeners by Christopher Lloyd? I suspect you might enjoy it.

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    1. I am a bit of a rebel! I will be sure to add that book to my reading list. The vibrancy of strong colors makes me happy. :o) I like plantings that seem cheerful.

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  27. There is a big difference between keeping good, tried-and-tested traditions alive and abiding by old school rules just for the sake of it. Since joining gardening blogging communities I get the feeling that you possibly might have more ‘gardening rules’ in the States than over here in UK? Planting roses with perennials is very common here, and I have never heard of having just evergreens in your front garden, I think the most common plant in front gardens around here is hydrangea!

    I am all for creating a garden after your own heart, never mind what the neighbours do or think! My garden is a mirror of my own personality and creativity, I make my own rules - you just continue to do the same :-)
    PS, I really think you will like Christopher Lloyd's philosophy, he was considered quite a rebel too when he first started!

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  28. I hadn't thought about it from that perspective, but I think you're right. Gardening seems so integral to English culture, whereas in the US it's just a fun hobby. I rarely find homes with large gardens or even gardens at all. I usually just see a few pots out front and a tomato plant in the back. Even our vocabulary is different. In the US, the back of a property is called the back yard while in England it's automatically called a garden, even if there aren't many plants. People here are more obsessed with their lawns.

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  29. Ah...I feel like my camera and I could spend a weekend getting lost in your flowers, darling! Those pictures are delicious. However, I must agree to disagree on the rules. If we didn't have them, it would be much less fun breaking them. I like to hum 'Born to be Wild' amongst my plantings of 4. After all, rules are made to be broken (in the garden, anyway).

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    1. I have lots of plantings of 4! If a rule is logical and has a practical application, I'll gladly follow it. If it jut seems stupid, I probably won't. You and your camera are welcome anytime! :o)

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  30. My only regret is that I didn't see this post earlier. I got a little sidetracked with some projects. This is a great message! It's your garden, so you can do what you want. A lot of people looking at my garden would say I have too many Hostas. They were planted by the previous owner, but I would never think to pull them out because they form the bones of my garden. And I often break the rules when it comes to zones and lighting suggestions--sometimes with success, and sometimes not so much. Great post!

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    1. Your hostas are beautiful! It's never occurred to me that you have too many. I do tend to follow zone guidelines because replacing plants can be expensive. But because I have so much dry shade, I'm always trying to see which plants can grow on the margins of those areas. My garden only has a few bones. It's a bit of a squid. :o)

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  31. I love how you deign to follow your own rules. Chaos in gardens are actually more interesting. A mishmash of plants is actually what I'm doing now. For example, I've also planted two bougainvilleas together, one of intense yellow and the other a deep red. It is definitely loud and gaudy but I simply love it this way.

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    1. I agree! I think your red and yellow bougainvillas sound fabulous! Gardens that appear micromanaged and overly tended don't seem as fun and exuberant to me. I like gardens that are a bit wild. :o)

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  32. I don't follow any gardening rules either. It's much more fun to just follow your instincts. My roses have always grown amongst other plants. I don't plant in groups of 3 or more, because I would rather buy 3 different plants than 3 of the same. I plant vegetables amongst the flowers too. In fact, as long as the needs of the plants are fulfilled, who needs rules in the garden ?

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  33. I know how you feel! I do have to say that this time of year is the worst to agonize about how the garden looks. I bet everything was much better in spring. And I totally agree that roses by themselves look bad!

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  34. Roses look horrible, all thorny legged in their isolated beds. When they (and they always do) end up with black spot and bug chew and you must employ lethal fumigations and then thwack them to the ground in frustration, it is best that they be surrounded by something cheery. Planted in this is a very good question (of yours): Where did this Separation of the Roses thing come from I wonder.

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