What Not To Wear (For Gardens)

You probably know of What Not To Wear, where some poor schmuck has her (or his) wardrobe made over from scratch. I just realized that one of WNTW’s tenets applies to gardening. More on that in a sec.

My revelation came about because Sarah and I recently joined Blotanical, a great online directory of garden bloggers from around the world. If you’re looking for a blog about gardens in your area (Toronto Gardens, for example), Blotanical will help you track them down. Plus, with hundreds of bloggers to choose from, you can find ideas that work anywhere. For bloggers like us, it’s a way to learn from other gardeners’ insights and expertise.

My idea was sparked by a post from Blotanical founder and webmaster Stuart Robinson of Brusselton, Western Australia. In his blog Gardening Tips ‘n’ Ideas, he writes: Don’t plan your garden at the nursery. Stuart sagely warns that you shouldn’t step into a nursery without a garden plan. He compares it to a hungry person grocery shopping without a list. You’re sure to glut on the garden equivalent of premium chips and chocolate.

I’ve been there. As a matter of fact, I think I was gorging there just last Sunday.

Yet, some of us are too inexperienced or our dreams too fluid to have something so logical as a plan. So here’s my thought, straight out of What Not To Wear: Think outfits not pieces.

• If you’re overwhelmed by the big picture, break your plan into smaller units: let’s call them outfits.

• Each outfit would have elements of threes or fives – classic flower arranging numbers. See, less overwhelming now.

• Before you buy that plant you’ve fallen for, think how it will work with other pieces in your garden, old or new. Consider the shape, colour, texture and size of plant, flower and foliage, as well as the bloom times, and of course (horti)cultural compatibility.

• The goal is to create individual garden pictures using these elements. Focus on one picture or outfit at a time. Once it’s working, move on to another, keeping in mind how it will work with what you already have.

• Think about a main focus and accessories. It doesn’t always have to be plant material.

The photo of a neighbour’s garden that heads this post is a lovely example. The flaming orange tulips and purple irises provide great simultaneous contrast, softened by the variegated euonymus foliage. Anchoring the picture with something big or strong, perhaps an upright form to accent the many horizontal lines, might have created an even stronger outfit.

That’s a garden tip also gleaned from Blotanical; this time from Gardening Gone Wild contributing blogger Steve Silk in his post Design Lines: One Big Thing. Great reading.

An overall garden plan is certainly the wise way to go. But, failing that, you can start one step at a time. Create effective garden outfits, and eventually you’ll have a whole, coordinated wardrobe. One that suits you, and your garden.


  1. I’m glad you are enjoying Blotanical. It can be quite addictive … I’ve been taking the crash course in Blotanical withdrawal as the nice weather is here and I’m determined to work in the gardens. I discovered your blog via Blotanical and enjoy reading about my neighbouring bloggers about 3 hours to the west of me.

  2. I’ll always be a kid in a candy store. My eyes are bigger than my truck. No plan or ‘dress code’ will ever stop me from filling the truck and making anyone who went with me to the nursery walk home so I could stuff a few more plants in the cab.

    3s and 5s are a good rule of thumb. I’m all thumbs so it generally goes to 30s and 50s. I have a thing about mass plantings.

    I’m trying to not get too Blotanicalized. Like CG it’s not the best time to get addicted. But I always check to see if a new visitor came from Blotanical.

  3. Nice post! I just joined blotanical a few weeks ago and it is very addictive, but I’ve also met some really great people and learned so much about gardening. My problem is that I usually look at blotanical before I go to bed… I lose track of time and then look at the clock and it’s way past my bed time! I need more sleep! LOL -Jackie

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