Possibly the greatest gardening mistake you can make?

September 4th, 2019 Posted In: Garden trends & design, Gardening know how

The worst gardening mistake you can make is not about planting.

It’s not about pruning wrongly. Nor is it about failing to do something, like aerate the lawn or net the pond (neither of which I have ever managed).

It’s about communication. I think it causes more trouble in gardens than any amount of planting and pruning.

My worst gardening mistake…

Our garden has a high wall over which climbs a Kiftsgate rose, which belongs to a neighbour.

Kiftsgate is the Kray brothers of garden thugs. The Chief Enforcer or Capo di Capi or whatever the head of the Mafia is called. Kiftsgate is very beautiful, but it grows to the size of a house. Or even a small office block.

The Kiftsgate that had invaded our garden was lovely, but there was too much of it. And it was swamping the other beautiful climbers – solanum, chocolate vine, another rose and a clematis on the pergola. So I discussed cutting it back with our neighbour.

Kiftsgate rose on wall

The Kiftsgate climbing rose out to conquer the world – having escaped beyond both the neighbour’s garden and mine to swamp a nearby alleyway. So pretty! Lovely fragrance!

The law regarding overhanging vegetation…

If a neighbour’s plant or tree overhangs your garden, you are entitled to cut it back to the boundary. But that is your responsibility. Your neighbour isn’t obliged to come round and cut it back.

However, our neighbour is very nice, and had someone doing some odd jobs for him. They both came round to look at how far the rose was growing in our garden and agreed to cut it back.

We had, I thought, a discussion about how far back to cut it.

Overgrown pergola

Almost the whole of the top half of this photo is covered by the Kiftsgate Rose, which covered the pergola (that mound in the top left quarter is/was a pergola) and also ran along the back wall around the statue of Artemis.

When communication fails…

Mr Middlesize has subsequently admitted to having been asked – about two hours into the job – whether we wanted it ‘all off’. Presuming he meant all the Kiftsgate rose, Mr M said ‘yes.’

The man doing the cutting had, in fact, asked whether we wanted all the climbers off the pergola. When I looked out of the window, every single climber had been cut to the ground.

Gardening mistakes involve lack of communication

I looked up to see that all the climbers had been cut off the pergola…

But this gardening mistake all turned out for the best

The first thing I thought was ‘oh, no!’ My second thought was ‘What a lovely wall.’

It’s opened the garden out, and created a new opportunity for planting. Although I like the wall so much that I won’t be rushing to plant anything there.

Moreover it revealed that the pergola was rotten and either needed repairing or taking down. We decided to take it down.

You can see Mr Middlesize taking it down in the video below (skip to 2 mins 40 secs if you only want to see the pergola go down). There are a few other gardening mistakes in the video, too.

Lack of communication is the main problem in gardening

When I shared this story on social media, I got a lot of response. So many people had had similar experiences.

There seems to be a particularly high number of gardening mistakes around asking someone you don’t know to ‘dead head the roses’. More than one person said that they’d come back to find the entire rose bush cut down to the ground.

It all goes back to a post I wrote on how to find a gardener who’s perfect for your garden.

Like many people, we mainly look after the garden ourselves. But if a job needs extra expertise or heavy-duty equipment, we get some paid help. But it’s very difficult for someone new to come in and see our garden the way we see our garden.

If you engage a qualified gardener, then you’re unlikely to have much confusion over dead heading roses. You can find one via the Gardeners Guild or ask around locally.

Even so, the gardener may not understand what you want done, however obvious it may seem to you. And if there are language difficulties or someone is not an experienced gardener, then they may have to almost guess what you want.

And there’s not knowing what you want…

I often hear professional gardeners grappling with clients’ contradictory wishes. ‘I want a wildlife-friendly, naturalistic garden  that looks good all year round,’ we say, flourishing our Pinterest boards full of Nigel Dunnett and Piet Oudolf plantings.

It takes huge skill – not to mention an Ouija board – for the gardener in question to work out that what we actually want is brightly coloured bedding plants.

Or that even if we do really want Piet and Nigel, then we haven’t realised that these are summer/autumn gardens and that you need some proper structure if you want a garden to look good all year round.

So what to do instead…

Think about what you really want. ‘Cut back that rose,’ isn’t a very defined goal, particularly when the rose is as large as this one. Be more specific ‘I want the rose cut back to there…and there. I want to keep these climbers.’ And so on.

Ask for feedback. I think I should probably have listened to any feedback or asked him to tell me what he thought we were doing.

And I should definitely have popped out into the garden every twenty minutes or so to see what was happening.

But if you do make a gardening mistake…

Remember that a gap in a garden is a joy to the keen gardener. What looks like a gardening mistake at first is almost always an opportunity five minutes later.

You can have so much fun planning what will go in there instead. Looking back on the ‘before’ photo in this post, I can’t believe I took so long to cut the Kiftgate back. The garden is definitely better now it – and the pergola – has gone.

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Possibly the worst gardening mistake you can make?


2 comments on "Possibly the greatest gardening mistake you can make?"

  1. Libby says:

    You have given me courage to cut back my lavender! I’m always in a quandary as to just what to do and consequently don’t do much…
    Loved the speedy video of your husband cleaning up the pergola: very effective indeed.
    Thank you for your wonderful posts every week; I really enjoy them.

    1. Thank you! I always feel a bit nervous every time we chop the lavender back but there are already new buds from the chopping you saw in the video. And in the end I tell myself that if it doesn’t work, then I can always buy another plant. It always has worked, though.

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