The Worst Garden Trends

Traveling to gardens all over the U.S. and internationally, I see garden trends pop up, take hold, and disappear regularly. I hate to be negative, but there are some trends or practices that we as gardeners and nature lovers should not be doing.

Read on to see my take on it. If you want to see things that are up and coming, see my post on Gardening Trends-New Plants 2020.

1.Excessive Mulch/Volcanoes

Mulch volcano around shrub will kill or weaken it

The practice of piling up mulch around trees and shrubs in the landscape is ubiquitous and I cringe every time I see it. Landscape firms need to take Landscape Planting 101, to learn the detrimental effects that happens to any plant material if you pile layers of mulch around a plant trunk. Rot, insect damage, and small rodent damage is liable to kill this tree above, within a couple of years. And how about the practice of piling too much mulch in a garden, sometimes as much as 4 inches thick, that can smother your plantings? And form an impenetrable crust on top? Rampant in the mid-Atlantic region, mulching excessively is too much of a good thing.

2. Bradford Pears

Bradfords tend to snap off

I can’t understand why people are still planting this fundamentally flawed tree. Hybridizers claim to have improved cultivars of the Bradford Pear, which are stronger and less likely to break and blow over. I haven’t found that to be the case. Bradford Pears are beautiful when they bloom, but short lived. Stay away from them and choose something as beautiful or better, like a native, Fringetree. Go to my post on Chionanthus-The Native Tree That Nobody Grows. 

Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus

3. Patented Plants/Seeds

Cardinal Candy Viburnum
Cardinal Candy Viburnum is a patented plant so you cannot propagate it

Just about every plant developed today has a patent or trademark.  Patents last 20 years, trademarks into perpetuity. I understand that the plant breeders would like to enjoy some profits from their new varieties, as it can take years of hard work to develop them. But it is getting excessive, especially with trademarks, since they last forever. It is illegal to propagate a trademarked or patented plant, which makes criminals of many gardeners who love “pass along” plants. when you buy a plant, check the label and it will tell you if it is patented or trademarked.

4. TV/Radio Gardening Programs

A little British humor displayed on a sign in the Cotswolds
A little British humor displayed on a sign in the Cotswolds

What ever happened to Victory Gardening? I loved this show but it was really hard to find on my local station, if at all. The dearth of garden related shows in the U.S., both TV and radio is depressing.  Ok, I know about landscape makeovers on HGTV! That show is all hype and no substance. But the British have a great sense of humor and know how to garden.

Listen to what the British public can see: The Edible Garden, The Landscape Man, Garden Question Time, Gardeners World,  and Great British Garden Revival. And if you go to English Vs. American Gardens you can see there are major differences between how the two nations garden.

Here is my wish list of a gardening TV program. I would like someone to cover things like Mosaiculture, which moves around the world and was recently in Atlanta and Montreal. It is an expression of new millennial values and is a refined horticultural art that involves creating and mounting living artworks made primarily from plants with colorful foliage (generally annuals, and occasionally perennials).

Or cover the gardening revolution with edibles. Here are edibles on the front steps of Parliament Building in Quebec City.

Edible gardening in Quebec City in front of Parliament building
Edible gardening in Quebec City in front of Parliament building

How about a show on gardening trends like the new tomato varieties, like the new dwarf ones (The Dwarf Tomato Project) that fit into smaller gardens. See my post on Dwarf Tomatoes.

Sue and Craig LeHoullier started the dwarf tomato project, Photo from Craig LeHoullier
Dwarf tomatoes in grow bags, photo from Craig LeHoullier

Or, wouldn’t you like to see the artists in action drafting the new seed packet cover illustrations? See “Art of the Seed“.

The topics are endless, but there aren’t any TV or radio shows on gardening in my area.

5.  Garden Snobs

You have all met one if you have been on a garden tour or gone to a plant sale. It is the person who is spouting the Latin names of plants and wouldn’t consider planting a petunia on their property. Annuals are a bad word for them and their gardens are full of unique and very expensive plants and statuary. I admit that I do use Latin names, but I only spout them out when I am with garden professionals, and I love annuals and garden gnomes! I won’t deny that I do have a garden of very expensive plants that die all the time, but nothing that I had to mortgage the house for!

6. Invasives 

Get over it! Invasives are here to stay and nothing is going to change that. I get frustrated when I hear about groups arranging slash and burn weekends to remove invasives from designated areas. I think it is a losing battle and you are just going to go crazy trying to fight it. Become informed and don’t plant them in your garden. Go to the National Invasives Lists for information on your state.

Lythrum is an invasive and shouldn’t be planted in your garden

For example, English Ivy is a rampant growing invasive, brought by the earliest English colonists, choking out native species. Lots of people still grow it, as it  covers the ground in the shade, and is deer resistant. At Princeton University, an “Ivy League”, they pulled it off the brick walls of the buildings to repoint, and then re-attached it! So, what is one man’s meat, is another’s poison. Ivy is still sold at garden centers because people demand it.

Princeton University covered with Ivy
Princeton University covered with Ivy

7. New Pests

Have you noticed that there are lots of new pests to bother you, and more prolific poison ivy? That is due to a variety of factors, namely climate change and the globalization of food production. I will quote from Shashi Sharma, an Australian plant bio-security scientist. He said at a recent conference that “Globalization of food production and distribution has enhanced potential for pests to disperse to new regions, find new vectors, new hosts, new environments and new opportunities to evolve into damaging species and strains.” .

Stink Bugs are here to stay
Stink Bugs are here to stay unfortunately
Poison Ivy is attractive but extremely toxic to many people

I think people go a little overboard (OK, hysterical) with pests like the recent news on ‘Murder Hornets’, the giant Asian hornets. They have been spotted in a small part of Washington State. But the bee inspector here in Maryland is being inundated with panicked calls from people who spot a larger than normal insect convinced that they have seen the murder hornet.

8. Ultra Neat & Tidy

Why do people want ultra tidy and manicured properties?  It seems that the entire property has to be scalped clean, with no wild areas. That means that the field that used to be in the back of the property, that was let go to wildflowers, is cut like turf grass. Or, how about the huge front expanse of lawn in the front that is cut and doused with chemicals periodically?  Let it go! Plant natives, like butterfly weed, rudbeckias, cornflowers, and goldenrod. It is a lot less maintenance and the pollinators will flock to it. See my post on Lawn Alternatives for ideas.

Carex is a great turf alternative
Meadow around my bee hives
Plant Joe Pye Weed and other butterfly friendly plants in your yard
Plant Joe Pye Weed and other butterfly friendly plants in your yard

Go to Plant These For Bees for ideas on native flowers to attract our much decimated native bee population.

9. Decline of Honeybees

I hate to say this, but as a beekeeper for over 20 years, I don’t see things improving. I think that this trend of declining bee populations is here to stay. For the past couple of years, my bees have struggled and died. I have put a lot of money into starting up new colonies, but every year I need to replace many of them. More and more people, many of them young, are putting on bee suits and tending to new start up hives and have revolutionized beekeeping for the better.

Capturing a swarm on my property

I am also dedicating a portion of my property to planting milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, the plant that sustains monarch butterflies. There are lots of different varieties of milkweed suited to different parts of the country. If everyone plants a variety of native flowering plants all over the country, we can add to the habitat that is needed by our declining native pollinators, as well as honeybees.

Asclepias syriaca

10. Rollout of Plant Varieties that Stink

At my local wholesale nursery-Coral Bells are everywhere!!

Do we really need another Heuchera (Coral Bell) that looks great in the pot, costs a small fortune, has a snazzy name, like “Red Velvet Ambrosia”? But the instant you put it in the ground, it sulks, and then dies? Or, maybe it looks good for a season, but come winter, you find that that the plant is not hardy as stated? Remember, ‘Limerock Ruby’ Coreopsis??  The hype that is attached to a plant sometimes is so premature and over-stated, that I look at every introduction with a jaundiced eye. I have had more Coneflowers die on me than I have Carter has Liver Pills! Remember, my rant earlier in this post about patented plants? It seems like the patented plants are put on the market before they are fully tested!

Magnus Echinacea is a tried and true variety of coneflower

Before I stand behind a plant, I have to grow it for 3 to 5 years, and I suspect growers who introduce these new plants, don’t give them enough time as well as trying them in different parts of the country. If you are unsure, look at reviews on line of a particular plant before plunking down your hard earned cash.

I stand behind this variety, African Blue Basil. It is a stellar performer, great for pesto and pollinators, and beautiful
I stand behind this variety, African Blue Basil. It is a stellar performer, great for pesto and pollinators, and beautiful

I periodically showcase varieties of plants that I have luck with, can take neglect, are pollinator friendly, and are foolproof. See African Blue Basil, or  Butterfly and Bee Magnet, Joe Pye Weed, or Autumn All Stars.


8 Replies to “The Worst Garden Trends”

  1. I live in Kansas and the flowers that grow best are native and invasive. The others have to be babied or they simply die. All those lovely (in the catalogs) Echinacea will not last a season in my garden! And we have a Bradford Pear planted in our yard back in the mid-90’s – not by us – and I’m just holding my breath, waiting for it to topple into my house. Thanks for posting! Very informative!

    1. You can avoid that if you prune the tree judiciously, removing any crossing branches, and removing some of the bulk which reduces the likelihood of it breaking. I have seen it done and it will last a lot longer. Thanks for commenting!

  2. That’s a lot of information. I’m so sad about the bees. They are just going to keep poisoning everything till we have nothing left to eat. Silly people. Thanks for all the work you put into this. I’ll read it again.

  3. june 2018-did your phenominal lavender hold up. What is your zone? I am in N.S. , zone 5b – 6. My phenominal lavender did not come back to life yet. I bought it last fall.

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