Monday, March 22, 2010

Ugly Garden Silence

Like every other garden blogger out there, I've read Robin's guest post on Garden Rant.
I've also read through posts in response to that post from Colleen, Gina, MBT, Jessica , along with a few others, and Robin's response to the responses (whew!).

After reading the original guest post, I felt as though I'd just been picked on in the school yard because I was wearing hand-me-down bell bottoms instead of those cool new designer jeans I couldn't afford.
Seriously, Walmart tomato cages be damned, have you ever seen them grown in an uglier way than this?

Yes, rightly or not, my feelings were genuinely hurt. And it surprised me. A lot.

A friend asked me why her post bugged me so much when I've been growing veg and flowers for more than forty years and maybe she's been growing for two or three and probably doesn't know what she's talking about - and besides, anyone can put anything on the internet whether they know anything about the subject or not. But, I have great friends who would defend me if I said the sky was purple, so they don't count.

So I sat down to think about it and analyze why this was.

I think I've found the answer, but it isn't a simple one.

I believe vegetable gardeners can be split into many different groups, some individuals overlapping multiple styles.

The elitists (lets not even go there)
The newbies (and weren't we all at one time?)
The ornamentalists (I only grow those because they're cool)
The designers (anything that doesn't look pretty goes)
The truists (my grams/gramps/forefathers did it that way, it's good enough for me)
The scientists (start with the soil)
The budget-wise (It's not what I want, but it's all I'm willing to pay)
The mother-of-inventioners (I have 0 dollars to splurge and will Mickey mouse what I have to)
The crammers (I'll make it all fit)

And I'm sure you could add many, many more.

I overlap into many of those categories. I imagine many will only fit into the same ones as Robin, so will, quite rightly from their perspective, agree with her wholeheartedly. Those that don't, won't. Those that slightly overlap into hers will see some of her points as valid but see red at others.

But what got my panties in a wad was that she's assuming people have endless amounts of time and money to spend on their veg gardens and they all know what they're doing right from the get-go.

I'm sorry to burst her bubble, but a lot of people have none of the above.

Can you picture a single mom of 5 kids with two part time jobs, trying to get the bills paid and the kids fed, worried about a few weeds invading the garden when she's simply trying to get extra, healthy, nutritious food in their diets? Should she not garden at all? Should those children learn nothing about where their food comes from?

Or a disabled person on social security worried about what the neighbors think of them growing in 5 gallon buckets instead of in the ground because they can't bend over that far and can't afford to pay help? Instead, should they simply stare out the window wishing there was a way?

Or someone with every single plant surrounded by chicken wire or some other supposed 'ugly' barrier because the local wildlife decimates everything for the simple reason the neighbor thinks feeding anything with fur is cute? Should they just give up because someone thinks it's ugly?

I think Robin simply needs to walk in other gardeners' shoes for a few miles.

These are my personal facts:
I garden because I have to. No garden, no veg to eat. And yes, it brings me great joy.
I'm far from being any sort of designer.
I can't afford to buy cool garden stuff. Period. I use what I can get my hands on for free, regardless of how ugly it is.
In a nut shell - I do what I can with what I have. This is not a choice.

I've come to realize, sadly, that my way of gardening, and this blog, simply do not fit into the norm. The only place I fit is at the very bottom of the totem pole - the poor gardener.
Although I may have forty years of gardening knowledge to pass along by way of this blog, I probably won't. I certainly wouldn't want to contribute to the decay of the 'perfect' way of gardening or upset someone's sensibilities by suggesting they use buckets and window boxes if they can't bend and can't afford raised beds.

So, until I start feeling a little better about my garden, and myself, I'll let this blog sit silent.

I'll still continue to read and learn from all those great garden blogs because one can never stop absorbing useful things.
Besides, I'll be busy starting seedlings in some very ugly recycled containers.

Happy (ugly) Growing.


Colleen said...

Tina, if you let this blog sit silent, I will personally come out to wherever the hell you are and give you one hell of a profanity-laden talking-to. Don't MAKE me come over there! :-)

We need voices like yours. If a certain segment of garden bloggers and garden writers had it their way, the only voices we'd hear are those of the affluent and connected. And do you know what? That is BORING? Who the hell wants to hear from them all the time?

This was a great post, and you had me nodding along with you several times. I hope you keep blogging and sharing your experiences with us.

Colleen said...

And, by the way -- don't let anyone make you feel bad about yourself. Why give them that kind of power over you?

Studio6or7 said...


I'm a poor relatively beginner gardener and I want to learn from other gardeners who's methods and style I can relate to- methods and style that are realistic for my life. If no one on 'our end of the totem pole' is willing to share, then some of us are really sunk as gardeners- I rely on tips from my favorite gardeners. Forget what snooty gardeners have to say, they are out of touch with the reality of the masses. You on the other hand, are not.

isadora said...

Please don't let your blog be silent! No one has the right to take the pleasure of your own garden away from you. Gardens are as much emotional as they are a physical presence, and just like your children, some are more physically attractive and well behaved, but to each of us, our own is beautiful and well loved. You don't need to spend big bucks to have a beautiful garden, and to me, a garden that recycles, makes do, grows something that makes life better, healthier, and easier, is way better than the best landscaped, most expensive garden in the best neighborhoods in the world.You grow, girl!

Colleen said...

So, I posted a link to this on Twitter. Gayla Trail (the author of You Grow Girl and Grow Great Grub, and one hell of an amazing writer and gardener) said she wasn't able to leave a comment but wanted to say that she loves the way you grew your tomatoes -- in her words, "I love the way she is growing her tomatoes -- impressive & smart!"

This is a bestselling garden author, a real person who loves real gardens. I'm a little jealous right now ;-)

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Hi Tina, Everyone has an equal right to garden in whatever way they can or want to. I overlap in many of the categories, too. I have been well-to-do (others probably would call it middle-class but it felt rich to me!) and I have had to watch every penny. I've always reused materials, I curbside shop, I get plants for free or cheap, and if I can't improvise, I get great stuff at yard sales or on craigslist for way cheap. I never think shopping is the first or only solution to any situation. Because of how I was raised, even when I had enough money to buy doodads and other expensive things, I didn't. I didn't see it is necessary or desirable. I think, unfortunately, many people who are blessed with high incomes forget how others live and view luxuries as necessities. Right now, I go without a ton of things that everyone else views as normal. I rarely eat out. I don't have many electronic gadgets or cable TV. I keep my thermostat at 55 (my lord, I finally said it!). I own four pairs of pants. I think being poor is the last big prejudice in the US, something no one wants to talk about, but which is all around us. I won't be pressured into going into debt to keep up and I'm proud of my frugal heritage. By the way, your containers look just fine--what are they?--and the tomatoes look great. Don't let anyone imply otherwise.

Kat said...

I think there are more poor gardeners out there than you think. Poor gardeners just don't grace the covers of magazines or sell books. It's not because what they have to offer isn't valuable information, it has more to do with the fact that gardeners that garden on basically nothing don't buy things and don't give publishers the opportunity for product tie-ins. We don't see poor gardeners featured in magazines because they don't sell advertising space. I sell tomatoes to gardeners that grow them in buckets, trash cans, grow bags, and whatever else they can get their hands on for cheap. And you know what? At the end of the season their tomatoes taste just as good as those in fancy gardens.

Xan said...

It's not just people who the so-called "ugly gardens" who were a bit put off by Robin's post. I approach my garden, both veggie and ornamentals, with a very deliberate aesthetic; beauty is important to me, and I'm a compulsive weeder. It KILLED me last year when I had to put chicken wire around my beautiful, serpentine veggie patch because the critters kept eating them. It was the whole tone of the thing-- do it right, or don't do it at all, and "right" means "my way."

Anonymous said...

Tina don't you dare go silent on us! Such blog posts show just how ignorant people like that are of the way many folks happily garden, aside of the often considerable constaints of money and time.
She'd certainly be appalled at many of the allotments over here in the UK which all too often look disorganised, messy and with ramshackle sheds!
Happy gardening! Flighty xx

Anonymous said...


You and I are not that different. I posted photos of my ugly garden yesterday and am thrilled to see other folks using straw as a mulch! I though I was the only one. And I also can't afford the luxuries of raised beds (made of safe wood), fancy picket fences and giant Texas tomato cages. Please don't go silent. I think, and am sure Colleen would agree, that we need to be especially vocal right now and not be left out. It's time for an ugly garden Census!


Anonymous said...


There is nothing wrong with your garden and it isn't ugly. I love your garden Tina. I would grow tomatoes in something similar.

chuck b. said...

A productive garden is a beautiful garden, period.

NeCole said...

Add a category for frugal. I choose cheap and ugly over expensive and pretty. In this economic downturn, it is more fashionable to be frugal than pretty. It's wasteful to be pretty. Ugly is where it's at and bragging rights come with what you saved, not what you spent. Ugly is more creative than pretty too. We should all be "re-using" any safe materials we can to build and manage our gardens. As long as you can grow healthy plants, looks shouldn't make any difference.

M Sinclair said...

Why should this silence you? You've articulated your point of view intelligently and with grace. Just be who you are, unapologetically. There's enough room in this world for all the types of gardeners you listed and many more besides.

There's no one right way to garden.

(It would be nice, however, if you had comments open to non-Blogger users.)

mss @ Zanthan Gardens

kate smudges said...

Thank you, Tina, for putting into words what I was thinking. Keep on blogging ~ you'll have a regular reader in me. It's disheartening for those of us with limited funds & energy to read a constant stream from gardeners who can purchase the latest plants, gadgets, garden furniture etc. It's also kind of boring ~ I'm far more interested in people who talk about repurposing old things and growing plants from seeds ~ things that are within my reach and budget.

Elephant's Eye said...

'I do what I can with what I have' ' Sounds to me like a good motto to aim at in life. Count me in with the Ugly Gardens. Ours is full of the Ungardener's free spirited plants. And don't go silent on us ...

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

It's true that i'm a wee bit emotionally fragile today. (Memorial services, even ones with much laughter and reminiscing will do that to me). But this post sent me into tears, Tina.

Please do NOT let the hoity-horty types discourage you in any way. You have a wise, passionate voice and are just as valuable as any other person in this conversation--and it IS a conversation, with disagreements and negotiations, point and counterpoint. I like the myriad groups you mentioned, and how they can be overlapping.

The only perfect gardener is the one who has never done anything but look at photos in a magazine.

I'm adding my voice to Colleen's: don't make me come over there and give you a talking to! Now you should be very, very scared. Not really. I hiss and spit a little, but I'm actually a pretty peaceful person. I just get protective when people's hearts get hurt by others who didn't think before they spoke/wrote.

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Rah,Rah!! I agree completely.That Ugly Garden article was the biggest crock of snubbed nosed drivel I ever heard. What a way to encourage new gardeners and to make those who can't afford to feed their families working two jobs feel. Not to mention those who have chronic illness and just can't.A person never knows what another household is truly going through or has to deal with so no one should for pity sakes judge someone by an acre of dirt.
If we garden so others will love and admire are work we would never be happy gardeners because one can never please everyone.
If we garden to please ourselves then we will love our gardens and be happy.
It all was just a load of manure, which would be banned for the smell in some gardens too. LOL!

It is was all not even worth your even worrying about lady. Keep doing what makes you happy and keep writing those postings.

Jim Groble said...

Bravo! Do not go silent. I quit "the" garden club because of not following the one true way, or was it the true path. Garden for you, not some critic. I'm using snow fencing for my veggie garden this year because that is what I have in the garage. Now the veggies will be planted in rows because that how my Grandma and Grandpa Drees planted.
Did I mention how you need to continue posting. I'm new at veggies and need to see how it's done. jim

Gina said...

Hi Tina, I had the same sort of response that you did when I read that post. It's fascinating to me how this one post has offended so many of us on so many different levels. That is really powerful! But I am pretty sure you are in the camp of trying to encourage new gardeners to garden the best way they can. I love to see all the creative ways people hold up those heavy tomato plants. I've tried several of them myself including some heavy metal railing stuff left in my basement by the previous owners. The corners were very sharp - I nearly cut my arm off!

And yes, we're organizing a road trip to kick your ass! lol So can you please email me your address? Thanks!

ChickenFreak said...

In all areas of life, I'm vehemently opposed to the kind of "do it perfectly or don't do it" attitude displayed in the rant that you point to. That philosophy generally adds up to "don't do anything at all".

I also wonder what percentage of the people demanding a perfect and expensively accessorized vegetable garden are the same people who a decade or two ago wanted a perfect, unbroken, and expensively herbicided green lawn. People happily leap on the current fashion and declare their own rules for how that fashion should be followed, ignoring the people who were participating in that activity long before they came along.

I say, ignore, and just keep on blogging and gardening.

Tina said...

Thank you all, very, very much for your comments.
It was a cheerful (and tearful) morning reading through them.
They gave me a pretty good smack upside the head.
Thanks again - you guys are rock stars! :)

Kylee from Our Little Acre said...

Tina, this is the first time I've visited your blog and came here by way of MrBrownThumb (@ This is one fantastic post and PLEASE don't remain silent. I'll have Colleen pick me up so I can help her. I'll leave the profanity to her (although I might inject the *s* word now and then), but between the two of us, we'll keep you up and running, OR ELSE! LOL.
I'm not sure Robin meant to incite such a riot, but in a way, a lot of good came of all this and one of the good things is this great post you wrote.
Keep it up!

Sorrow said...

Being new to this gardening game.... I find that I am sad that some one with soooo much to give to those of us who are new would let a little free speech put a stop to it. How will those like me learn without you there to pass along knowledge and suggestions?
I started gardening because the price of food goes up every time I visit the store and the produce seems to be lacking in flavor.
There is no "extra" money to put toward this so I am using every "cheap trick" I can and I don't care if it seems "ugly". I just hope my brown thumb wont kill everything and I look to people such as yourself to glean a little advice from and maybe even steal a few good ideas.
You teach....we learn.....
Teach us, show us, help us....
the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Donna said...

what a wonderful post! Yup, your voice is needed!

frazzledsugarplummum said...

You cant go silent now when I have only just found you! Onw thing about that rant...I have found some cool 'ugly' gardens that suit me just fine. I am in the poor and unwell category and as a virutal newbie (10 months) to any sort of gardening I appreciate any tips I can pick up along the way. All I noticed when I looked at the pic of the tomato plants was how awesome the plants were growing not what they were grown in or what held them up. The proof is in the pudding not the bowl. Thanks and I hope you keep on sharing from an ugly garden in Australia.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sweetie, please keep blogging! The reason that your blog may seem "outside the norm" is precisely because the rest of us poor gardeners who just made tomato trellises out of the old bent-up metal shelving parts found on the curb believe that our contributions aren't valid. And here you are, validating us all with your elegant words and grace (under pressure) in the garden.

Those of us working two or more jobs may not have the energy or time to blog, but that doesn't mean that we don't benefit from the care that you've taken with yours.

The people with the luxury to consider beauty before all will never understand the pride and joy that the necessity-before-all people feel when gazing at our precious ugly gardens.

I just found you, and I would love to continue to learn what you have to offer. Please reconsider your decision to fall silent.