What NOT to say in someone else’s garden….

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: July 6th, 2014 In: Garden style & living

‘Oh, it’s so refreshing to see a garden that obviously hasn’t been designed,’ said a visitor to Emma Daniell’s garden. Emma took the remark as a compliment – it was clearly warmly meant.

Emma's garden

Emma’s garden – ‘obviously not designed’?

At least it wasn’t…..

‘Oh, I see you’ve got a fruit salad garden!’ This was a remark from a garden designer to another friend of mine. She went onto explain that a ‘fruit salad’ garden is one with lots of different colours (and possibly not much planning). I have to admit that my garden is looking a bit fruit-salady at the moment – see below.

Fruit salad garden

Would a smart garden designer call mine a ‘fruit salad’ garden?

Don’t issue commands…

I was a bit irritated when someone told me I ‘should plant a clematis’ to climb up into a tree. (This was in my last garden in London). ‘I know it’s only a courtyard, but it could be so lovely,’ she added. But it was mid-winter, and there already was a clematis climbing through the tree – she just couldn’t see it because tree and clematis were both leafless (and I think the courtyard was quite sweet in the summer, just not in December…). A writer friend, Rachel Hale, says her mother used to open her garden. She was quite taken aback when someone said ‘You could have done something better with the compost heap.’ Other gardeners also say they don’t like people saying ‘you should plant marigolds or….’ On the other hand, gardeners are very supportive to each other, and offering suggestions is part of that support. Maybe re-think the wording and avoid the phrase ‘you should…’?

marigolds and rhubarb

Gardeners get irritated when visitors say ‘you should plant marigolds…’

A guide to garden etiquette…

There’s quite a lot about garden visiting etiquette on the web. I was surprised to see that what makes people most cross is when visitors take labels out of the ground to read them, even if they put them back. Nobody has ever picked up a label in my garden – possibly because apart from a few saying ‘beans’ or ‘lettuce’, there aren’t many. And they aren’t very specific. I think garden visitors can probably identify ‘beans’ and ‘lettuce’ without having to read the label.

garden labels

Garden etiquette – don’t pick up labels….luckily mine are very uninteresting and this isn’t lettuce anyway.

 Ask about the plants rather than the teas or the loos…

People who open their gardens regularly to the public say that there is a specific kind of garden visitor who only wants to have tea and use the loo. There is certainly an awful lot of complaining on the web about garden visitors wanting to ‘use the bathroom.’ This wouldn’t worry me, personally – if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. And if you are going to talk about the plants, maybe don’t go for ‘we’ve got those but the flowers on ours are larger.’ This came courtesy of Twitter friend @aNorthernGarden.

Lav signage

Professional gardens, such as the Architectural Plants nursery have proper ‘facilities’ ….

 What is the etiquette of pulling out someone else’s weeds?

Another gardening friend, Kylie, couldn’t resist a bit of weeding when she last visited my garden. ‘I’m never quite sure of the etiquette of pulling out someone else’s weeds,’ she said, handing me a large clump to dispose of. ‘Perhaps you could blog about it?’ I assured her that she could weed away any time here at Middle-Size Towers. Checking through the one million ‘garden etiquette’ guides on the web, I find opinions mixed about whether visitors should hoik out strands of bindweed. ‘They may be treasured natives’ said one guide. As my ground elder was brought over by the Romans, I wouldn’t call it native.

…or taking up someone’s lawn?

A successful designer friend went round my garden the day after the landscape contractors had left. ‘Why have they laid the lawn like this?’ she demanded. She lifted up one end of a strip of lawn, as if it was a rug. ‘It’s never going to take.’ I hopped up and down, suggesting that it would never ‘take’ if she kept holding it in the air. She eventually put it down again, adding ‘well, all I can say is that you had better water it thoroughly every day, even if it rains.’ I did. You should see our water bill for that year. And the lawn took. So I think she gave me valuable advice, and if she hadn’t been so blunt I might well have disregarded it.

Lavender and lawn

The lawn ‘took’ but it might not have done if I hadn’t taken my friend’s blunt advice

So what should you say?

Garden consultant Posy Gentles had around 400 people through her long, thin town garden at this year’s Faversham’s Open Gardens. She said that she really enjoyed everyone’s compliments. ‘But what I remembered were the specific comments,’ she says. ‘One woman said that she ‘really liked my use of colour’.  I really appreciated that.’ Many of the other garden owners open that day commented on how delightful their visitors were. ‘Having hundreds of people come through your garden and tell you it’s lovely is really uplifting,’ added one.

lovely use of garden colour

‘I love your use of colour’ was a great compliment  – Posy appreciated it because it was specific.

Finally, store your firearms in your car’s glove compartment….

If you are visiting the Chicago Botanic Gardens, keep your firearms locked in your car (in the trunk or glove compartment), according to their ‘garden etiquette guide’. This seems like a sensible rule which we can all agree on, even if we are divided about whether or not our guests should pull out weeds.

Let me know if you have any useful garden etiquette stories. If you’d like your friends to remember to lock their firearms away before visiting your garden, do share this using the buttons below.

3 Comments

  • People come to me these days and say they know they mustn’t describe the garden as ‘lovely’. Which is gratifying – and also tends to drive them into saying something more interesting. Even suggestions, sometimes!

  • Tom says:

    I don’t think I could cope with the comments if I opened my garden. I would just be apologising all the time. It has got some design elements but they are very loosely connected. I used to want the perfect lawn but then I decided it was really boring and lots more work that way. Since I let the clover and self-heal grow it has attracted more wildlife – I tell people it is a wildlife lawn.

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