The Adequate Gardener Praises the Status Quo

Guest post by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Hang on tight. Because it appears that foliage is the new flower.”

It’s winter, and I’m hibernating like a big old bear in my cave (which, thankfully, comes equipped with a fireplace and a martini glass), but I’ve still been keeping one ear twitchng towards fads, and let me tell you, boys and girls, the news isn’t good. Did you know orange is the new pink? I’m not kidding you. Call it what you want to disguise it—russet, carrot—but at bottom it’s just orange, orange as a countertop from the 1970s. Which, if I’m reading right, means the lot of us need to hustle our butts outside after the groundhog doesn’t see her shadow and rip out everything—and I do mean everything—pink. Pink is apparently so yesterday. And not just pink, darlings. Hang on tight. Because it appears that foliage is the new flower.

And, by the way—while we’re at it, you don’t just plant your garden anymore, you decorate it. Your fences and beds are the bones corresponding to ceiling height, molding and floors in the living room. They come first, then you choose shrubs and trees the way you choose sofas and chairs, with an eye to shape, colour and—can this be true?—comfort, and then you accessorize around them. I’m looking for a little something to set off the redbud, you can now say at the garden store, a little something in beige, please. No, not yellow. My skin tones are completely incompatible. You crass little beast. Do you expect me to wander around my garden looking totally sallow?

When you’re agonizing over seed catalogues this winter, think subdued. Think monochromatic, think simplicity, think cool elegance. Choose an all-white border to brighten the shade or an all-blue border for instant calm. Think texture and subtle shades. Think classic understatement. Restrain, restrain, restrain. No more clashing. No more stripes and plaids together. No more mixed containers. And accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. With veggies. It’s de rigueur.

Out with all those depraved delphiniums, those hussying harebells, those sluttish shastas. Think chartreuse. Think variegation, a scintillating sliver of yellow on the edge of a kelly green leaf, as in hosta. And of course, while you are thinking simple, don’t forget the dash of—oh, I shudder—tangerine.

Oh, and think (no matter where you live, whether in the caressing warmth of Victoria or the buffeting cold of Thunder Bay) tropicals. Think palm, tree fern, banana, hibiscus, bouganvillea, bromeliads, gingers, plumerias.

When I complained to a friend about this edict, and about the loss of yet another Tasmanian tree fern in Vancouver’s hither we are and yon we are not weather rollercoaster, he just suggested I might rent a greenhouse for winter storage.

As if. Can you imagine me just as the winter winds start to howl, grunting my palm trees and bananas out of the ground, balancing them onto dollies for the wobbling trips to the car, hoisting them into the trunk (and how would I manage this? A crane?) for the drive to my Fraser Valley winter-nursery-of-choice? I am just not that addicted. Lord, this year I wasn’t even addicted enough to mulch, and I can already confirm the loss of the banana to the January cold snap. The agapanthus clings on by slimy brown leaf stalks. Here’s my take on tropicals: winter accomplishes what I’d never have time or gumption enough to accomplish on my own—by turfing the tender out so there’s room for the new.

Not new orange. Not new variegated. Not new tropical. Just whatever garish, galumphing, gorgeous gewgaw takes my fancy in the nursery.

Sure, the Arbiter of Good Taste is bound to drop by. He hangs out in my neighbourhood, doesn’t he? Just loves the east end, he does. You know the fellow’strolls up and down the street wearing a bowler hat, clearing his throat, twirling a brolly, pursing his lips, and pressing a monocle to his eye while he records all my gardening flaws for posterity. And I have many gardening flaws, don’t I? About these I am still not entirely sanguine—and this itself, it seems to me, is among the worst of my flaws. I sometimes catch myself up in the trends of the day, dreaming about doing dangerous things to my dicentras, or, damn it, learning to love orange. Why can’t I just ignore all the experts once and for all? If I like pink petunias, whole islands of them, who’s to say I shouldn’t have them? And if I don’t want to accessorize with veggies, really, who’s to make me?

A clever cabbage would look fetching with that fedegosa, darling. So what, so what, so what! Leave me alone!

Let us praise the status quo. Plants were welcomed to the status quo for a reason. Plants got to be popular because people, lots of people, recognized them as a good thing. The right plant for the right place. A stalwart grower. A show-stopping colour. A winsome seedpod. So even if it pleases a million other folks, if it also pleases you, grow it. Why not? After all, the experts spend a lot of time obsessing about gardening, enough time to get sick of even the most sumptuous flower. Overexposure breeds contempt, or at least boredom, and the experts become desperate for something new, anything new, never mind whether or not it’s hideous. We adequate gardeners don’t have to be governed by the same dictates.

Never mind what the gurus say. If they want nine of some etiolated white nothings in that curve near the maple, but you want two pink dahlias, go with the dahlias. If they want a garden of foliage with accents of orange, but you want a garden as soft and romantic and pink as Monet’s, plant it. And then you can accessorize not with veggies (unless you want to), but with the experts’ articles. Given the recent switch to all-vegetable dyes in printing, they’ll make excellent mulch.

Jane Eaton Hamilton is the award-winning author of four books. She grew up in Ontario, lived in St. Louis, Phoenix, NYC, Alberta, the Kootenays and on Salt Spring Island before settling in Vancouver. You can find out more about her at


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