Friday Night Opinion: Horticultural Hostility

I make a point of publishing essays that focus on all the good that gardening provides. Why wouldn’t I?  I do believe that gardens are good for people, and the act of gardening is even better. Reading about gardens and gardening is an excellent pursuit. Looking at gardens is like looking at at a sculpture that expresses one person’s singular relationship with nature. An interest and attachment to the landscape -both wild and designed- is good, no matter one’s age, or circumstances. Involvement,  interpretation and imagination is what makes the gardening world go round. In my opinion, a beautiful landscape is first and foremost a place to be. But it could just as easily be one of those natural places one can observe from afar, without intruding. Everyone’s idea of a place to be or observe is different, and worthy of the respect.   Other gardener’s interpretations get my respect, standard issue. I do my best to refrain from judgment. No gardener needs my opinions or experiences to live or work. I have my point of view, which may or may not strike a chord. Gardeners I have met are passionate and thoughtful individuals who have managed to garden independently.  I wish all of them well.  Their ideas, both traditional and daredevil, interest me, and enrich my gardening life.

I try to fend off what irritates my gardening eye. I make light of the weeds, even though I dread them.  I write as if digging a hole was no more effort than thinking a thought. I roll my eyes, and breeze by an unmitigated cold and rainy summer as if having poor containers did not matter. I never cry in public about a treasured tree that dies. I never chide a neighboring child who snaps off all of the buds of the lilies in a fit of childish pique. An old landscape of mine in disrepair? I would rather focus on bringing it up to speed. I do not talk about distructive bugs or bug poison-both of these topics equally disgust and silence me. Disease in plants is heartbreaking, but I have no plan to make that heartbreak rule the day. Gardening comes with a lot of scrapes, scuffs, disaster, and injury. Some things in my garden make me feel like my digging arm is broken. No need for anyone to hear about the setting of the bone, and the cast.  I choose to make much of the small victories.  The race well run. The effort that goes beyond. Every gardener understands this.

I have never had much to say about deer, even though their exploding populations now more than ever bring incredible ruin to beautiful landscapes and gardens all over the country. Deer damage has escalated in my area dramatically over the past 10 years. But I do not want to write about the deer problem. It is a big problem with no easy solution. I do not have a solution.   The rabbits that stripped the bark and shoots from my espaliers this past winter-I took that experience as an occasion to discuss how plants can recover from drastic and thoughtless pruning.  I try to discuss what is within the grasp of every gardener to influence. The troubles-every gardener has them.  I do not see that these troubles need front page coverage. Trouble is so ordinary.

I do not review gardens or landscapes. I would rather point out what I like, should someone ask. What other gardeners and garden designers do is their own affair, and I admire their effort, first thing. Lots of what I see is beautiful, and thoughtful. The longer I professionally garden and landscape, the more I realize that many things work. That there are no hard and fast rules. Be free, and garden-this would be my advice. Though some would value the results of the world series of gardening with a list of the best, the reality is much more low key, personal, and not so easy to rank. We all have the opportunity to create our own garden.  We can endow the landscape as we see fit.  I have never seen the need to convince anyone to garden or design like I do. I like the exposure to lots of different voices- they educate me. Another point of view does not challenge my confidence in my voice. I encourage clients to speak their peace – their voice is essential to my work  No one knows better than they do what is not working, or what does not look good, or what they do not understand. Strong relationships between people and nature have produced incredibly beautiful gardens and landscapes. All of what I see challenges and delights me.

I only occasionally allow hostility to punctuate my narrative. There are those moments when the hair on the back of neck stands up.  Of course a too brutal weather makes me hostile. Any plant mowed down with an electric hedge trimmer makes me hostile. Contractors driving up over the root system of an old tree makes me hostile. I have a bigger list than this-but what is the point of publishing it? Hostility is not a good look. I like the look of benign resignation better – whenever I  have enough grace to manage it.

I plan to start planting my annual and seasonal containers tomorrow.  I have some lingering hostility that our night temperatures have been too cold to plant, before now.  37 degrees is forecast, tonight. It is a late start for us, considering the number of plantings we have to do. But not too late a start warranting any hostility. Cold in Michigan towards the end of May is ordinary, and routine. I plan to be benignly resigned to a late start – as best I can. So with as much grace as I can manage, our summer container and in ground planting season is open. I am looking forward to it.


  1. Dear Deborah,
    You are a treasure. Thank you for this thoughtful piece that transcends gardening. A lesson here for those who care to learn it. Harder still to put in practice, but worthy of every effort.

    Wishing you warmer nights and joy with your annuals,

  2. Dear Deborah,
    I love reading your passionate blogs – whatever you are moved to write about. Thank you for reminding me not to linger on the heartbreak – winter damage, deer, rodents, disease, infestations, maintenance issues – sometimes it does wear me out.

    Blooms, beauty and potential – spring is here!

  3. mollie duvall says

    Sigh…..I live in Rochester Hills and share your angst. I just came in from covering the few annuals I have been bold enough to purchase this cold spring. Fortunately, I did not plant them and I have hopes they will survive. But, surviving is not thriving ):

    On a brighter note, I visited Detroit Garden Works last week. Always enchanting. Thank you for such a wonderful store and thought provoking blog.

  4. Karen Raff says

    Amen! Let’s wake up tomorrow morning with a positive attitude and a humble spirit.

  5. Kathleen says

    Such a gorgeous lament!
    I’m sending hope that the act of planting offers you solace.

  6. Howard Blume says


  7. Hah! I too feel my blood boil a little every time I see a forsythia, red twig dogwood, burberry, etc., sawed down like a boxwood. I also get a little frustrated by homeowners who don’t pull voluntary trees out of their fence line and shrubbery. I try not to let it ruin my life too much! I love in Michigan now, but lived 30 plus years in the southwest and it was quite a change for me to not be able to plant until Memorial Day and to not have the garden filled out until July. But it was a pleasant surprise to be able to play hostas and impatiens in full sun .

  8. Joyce B in Atlanta says

    Dear Deborah
    Of course you should be looking forward to summer containers and plantings!
    You are one of the people I follow for ideas. Aren’t you one who showed us how well perennials mix in containers with annuals? Haven’t you shown us the wonder and beauty of an evergreen surrounded by a skirt of bright leaves or flowers? Where did I learn about height and drama from painted branches and lights?
    You sound angry and are railing against something completely out of your control – the weather! Buck up and find your creativity in a box of Heuchera instead of Coleus; long blooming Oncidium Orchids that thrive in 40 degree nights instead of spike plants; and beautifully variegated Deutzia or Weigela for mounds of color with a bonus of flowers instead of Impatients.
    Summer doesn’t have to be all petunias and marigolds. I haven’t planted a single annual anywhere in at least 3 years. My planters are filled with ferns, hosta, penstemon, Japanese maples underplanted with selaginella, and all kinds of wonderful and exotically colored leaves like sorrel and draping Heucherella. How about pots of curly parsley to bring in the Swallowtails – maybe surrounding a Rosemary standard?
    One of my favorite planters has regular soil with wall to wall horsetail (equisetum). A very stiff evergreen fern appeared on its own and nestled off center between the stems. I couldn’t have planned it better myself!
    I read this post with alarm that you are ‘burning out’. I hope it was written in an ‘oh woe is me’ moment, and that you hit send and immediately went about your merry business making plans for your next creation.
    While I’m admonishing, may I remind you that your exquisite pots hardly need a single plant to shine in any setting!
    If it makes you feel better, we have turned the heat back on in good old ‘Hotlanta’!!
    Soon enough, we’ll all be railing against the heat of real summer!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Joyce, Do not take from this post that I am burning out! This is ordinary end of May exasperation with weather that is uncooperative. On my way to the farmer’s market this morning-I think I need my winter coat. all the best, Deborah

      • Joyce B in Atlanta says

        Very reassuring, and made me smile 🙂
        Enjoy the farmer’s market, and I hope the sun is shining there!
        Wishing you the best and brightest spring when it actually comes.

  9. It is as easy to look for the bad as to look for the good. Taking the former course always leaves me dissatisfied and no better off, while looking for the good generally leaves me lighter in spirit and full of life’s possibilities. Thank you for your thoughts here. They are a gentle reminder.

  10. Katie B. says

    I have been following your posts for years, and I look forward to them whenever they appear! I LOVE your work, and prose. I can safely say that I am jealous of those who live near enough to you to visit Detroit Garden Works, and some of your gardens and projects.
    You of all people are allowed to vent, that was nothing!!! Good luck to you this growing season, I can’t wait to see what you create 🙂

  11. This was a discouraging gardening week for me. I had to dig up and destroy my carefree wonder rose due to RRD. I had never heard of RRD before this week. I had been stalking your blog posts on roses and had just planted a carefree beauty and Jeanne lajoie. I’m now afraid these will also get RRD.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Sherry, we don’t have RRD here-I don’t know very much about it. I would read up on it. good luck to you, Deborah

  12. Karen Alampi says

    Dear Deborah,
    I echo some of the lovely comments written here today in response to your thoughtful and honest feelings of this past season’s struggles. We all share them and they brings us closer together in a spirit of community. I am a couple of months post-op of total knee replacement surgery and the lure and siren call of my garden…planting,transplanting and re-designing of flower beds these past few days has given me the solace and healing that I yearned for these last few months. As I sit here with an ice pack on my knee, reading your blog – I am struck with your wonderful words that often mirror our pathways in life and the hope that we have in pressing forward in the goodness of renewal and re-creation. Our gardens are our metaphor for this possibility. Thank you for your (always) beautiful authorship.

    Sending you best wishes for a productive and enjoyable summer.


    • Deborah Silver says

      You too, Karen. I’ve had a knee replaced, so I can assure you that the day will come when you don’t think about it any more. best, Deborah

  13. carolyn jordan-white says

    “Hostility is not a good look. I like the look of benign resignation better – whenever I have enough grace to manage it.”

    i just copied this and put it at my desk … great words!

  14. Marguerite says

    Dear Deborah,
    I’ve always been a “glass half full” kinda gal, but I was so intimidated by the thought of starting to landscape my home. Reading your blog this past year has inspired me into action! Knowing that you have the same weather as I do (I’m in Southwestern Ontario) and going into your past blogs, I feel that I can forge ahead. So thank you for not going “on and on” about all the bad stuff. We all know its there! By choosing to inspire and dedicate your passions to the good side of gardening, new gardeners like me realize that its a process, and sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. I love to cook, and the same holds true in the kitchen, I certainly don’t give up when something doesn’t turn out, if anything it makes me dig in deeper. So thanks Deborah, you have given me the push and excitement I needed to get started!

  15. Carolyn Neiman says

    I know just how you feel — you are suffering from a prolonged absence from gardening! Since I live in Alabama, my case was worst in March, but I am feeling much better now.

  16. Genevieve says

    I lack your patience with deer. I have been know to bolt, screaming, from my kitchen sink. At this point, I’m dropping $20k to keep them out of the yard with a 10′ deer fence in the woods and a 6′ fence elsewhere, which will not technically keep them out if they REALLY want to go over but is effective because my community is full of other people’s delectable vegetable gardens that deer would rather attack than raid my scant few hostas.

    And yes, I’m fencing the front yard, too, with a driveway gate! I have really gotten to that point now.

  17. Lovely Deborah and tho we don’t know one another, I feel, from this writing, as tho we do – out there, in our gardens. Metaphors as they are, these gardens, their makings, changings, doings and hostilities are but reflections of us and only us. Making peace with temperatures, intruders, bugs and misfires. Best to you and thank you for tickling my garden fancyings, Annie Red Bird

  18. On a Sunday afternoon reading your blog and looking at you work is something very connecting to beautiful natural things and the mutual pleasure they bring. I am convinced that given the time these living plants offer so much therapy even though there are disappointments. I’m comfortable with visual pleasure you give us without the reality of what can make perfection impossible. I never tire of the inspiration of it all.

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