Virtue Signaling In The Garden

Yoinks, y’all. I’m not going to link to the chain of articles that got me here, but suffice it to say one of the new authors over at Garden Rant’s claim to fame is a scathing critique of the British NGS charity open garden system, which of course, I read. The gist of which is that just because its for charity doesn’t mean that the gardens on display aren’t fair game for critique and judgement- even though most are tended to and created by non-professionals for their own enjoyment, shared with the masses out of kindness and generosity (because hosting an open garden is SO MUCH WORK, one does not do it for the fame alone.)

This sort of stuff just makes me so sad. So disappointed in the gardening community, so frustrated that some have made it into a competition or test of taste or innovation, that some seem so bent on wringing out the simple joys of gardens. I just don’t get it y’all.

I intentionally chose to call all of this malarky “Virtue Signaling” because it feels like that’s exactly what it is:

The action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue. “It’s noticeable how often virtue signaling consists of saying you hate things.”

The Oxford Languages

I’ve long bristled at the idea of levying brutally honest or scathingly unkind or even banal and dismissive critiques of other layfolk’s gardens publicly. Chelsea Flower Show entrants? Sure! Fair game! But Average Jolene’s home garden? Back the heck off.

Of course, if one visits enough gardens, you’ll surely come across ones that you don’t particularly enjoy, ones that perhaps bore you a little, some that leave you wondering what they were thinking, maybe even ones you downright dislike. We’ve all been there! But at what point would you feel it necessary to enumerate these things to either the event organizer, volunteer, or *gasp* the gardener? ESPECIALLY when it is for charity or a fun, free outing for a gardening group?

Can you tell this sort of stuff pulls my cord?

This isn’t to say that I’m afraid of critique! I mean, maybe a little, but what I’m saying is that when we invite groups or strangers into our garden, it isn’t in service of crowd-sourcing areas for improvement! Its either to raise money for a local charity or to share it with like-minded gardeners (usually for free). Either way it is a charitable act of sharing… done with good-will and some level of earnestness, putting something you created for yourself out for display to others.

I am insanely proud of what we’ve created in our garden and THAT is why we share it! It actually matches the vision I had when we first moved here, it is the culmination of what I wanted to create. And we did it! We built our vision, and we think its lovely, so we want to share it with others. I fundamentally KNOW not everyone will love it. Some will question plant choices or layouts. Some will hate that our Veg garden is smack in the middle of everything else or our formal-ish design. Some may hate that it is in the front of the house or that we used so much gravel. AND THAT IS OKAY! However, you, dear visitor, are a guest in our home, in our creative space that is a reflection of me and us and our inspirations, our labor of love. You don’t have to love it! But you also don’t get to be a jerk about it because you value criticism above manners.

I do understand wanting organizers of tours/programs to have high (some may say exacting) standards and provide new, exciting gardens year after year. Many want to go to open gardens and be wowed and/or inspired. But, I hate to burst that author’s bubble, but that means about a thousand different things to a thousand different folks… we all know this!

I’d much rather follow the lead of Monty Don and the 2020 season of Gardener’s World. Any space that is tended and cared for is a garden, and that is fundamentally personal. I can’t tell you how much we both enjoyed the viewer-submitted videos of humble home gardens and creative apartment gardens last year.

These videos were relatable, full of great ideas, unique plants, and so much personality. Be it a high-rise patio, a collection of indoor plants, a houseboat roof, a jumble of veg and flowers in a back yard, or a manicured allotment. They are all gardens, and while many may not traditionally be considered show gardens, perhaps they should be!

Perhaps we should simply enjoy them for what they are, for the joy they bring their owners and (hopefully) visitors, for the habitat they create and the food they produce, rather than being so intent on critique and tastemaking to meet some arbitrary and unnecessary standard.

And that, dear readers, is my Garden Rant.

10 thoughts on “Virtue Signaling In The Garden”

  1. I am a huge NGS fan! And, I have been posting some of these gardens in the Six on Saturday, Garden Challenge! I think there is ALWAYS something that you can learn or enjoy from EVERY Garden! Being from the US, I didn’t realize all the drama that goes on behind the scenes…..but I am so thankful that sooooooooo many gardeners want to open their gardens for the rest of us! Here is a sample of one of the posts about the NGS Garden.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting post! I poked a toe in the rabbit hole you traveled and quickly hopped out. I can’t help but wonder if we have somehow created an environment where getting attention is more important than maintaining civility or seeking truth. And, yes, in the garden community, where I have found refuge from the noise of 21st century life, this is indeed disheartening.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree! And I can’t help coming back to the fact that no one sets out to make a garden for others (unless it’s a public space), so viewing them with kindness and appreciation- even if it isn’t something you personally respond to- has to be the right way forward.


  3. Sadly, I think the attitudes you describe are what is prevalent in today’s society. Journalism has a negative, nasty tone because bad news draws viewers/readers more than good news. Book and art and theater reviews that are critical “prove” that the writer is unbiased and spewing “truth.” Somehow, even some garden writers feel they must find fault to show that their taste and knowledge is on a higher level than their readers’. All gardens have some merit, and are usually the work of someone who is trying, at whatever level of experience they have or don’t have, to create beauty, provide for wildlife, capture fragrance, or grow herbs for tea or medicine. What they create may not be to our taste, but to express criticism to the gardener is just plain rude!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t have said any of this better myself- you are so right about the tone of journalism and critics now. Everything is just so harsh and negative! I vote for more joy and more empathy!


  4. I applaud you for getting out the soap box and having a rant. Gardens are not status symbols or a badge of social status, they are intensely personal and created with love and hard work. The garden is the gardener, so please respect their taste and style. Visiting NGS gardens taught me so much about gardening, plants and design, more than I could ever learn from a book. I now live beyond the reach of NGS open gardens, but I miss those wonderful Sunday afternoon garden visits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I agree completely that gardens are intensely personal and there are things to learn from every one visited- I am eternally envious of those who can visit NGS gardens as we don’t have anything like it in the Midwest.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The country has in many cases become a divided and increasingly unpleasant place – and the gutter press have been acting like this for years and stoking it up – Hillsborough, Jade Goody and so on. Vote leave then you are a nasty racist. Vote remain and you are a traitor to Britain. Vote Labour and you are either a rich snobby Londoner or a violent trade union militant from Liverpool. Vote for Nigel Farage and you are either an outright neo nazi or someone who is too thick to hold an opinion and shouldn’t be allowed to vote and deserves their job to be sent overseas. Vote Lib Dem and you clearly own a second home in Tuscany and have a position as a diversity consultant for JP Morgan or eat mung beans and smell of hemp … well you get the picture.

    And if that’s not bad enough troll attacks on Captain Tom of all things!

    Unfortunately this mentality is creeping into all areas of society. Unless someone has 40 foot leyland cypress causing a menace, a garden full of waste attracting rats, used needles or other biohazards, smashed up asbestos on site, or an infestation of japanese knotweed – it’s not really anyone else’s business how people keep their gardens.

    Whether someone wants 10 foot pink cordylines and lush palms, neat box hedging and formal bay trees or a wildflower meadow – or simply some nice pots on gravel – all of it should be encouraged. I’d sooner see a cared for garden filled with plants of any sort, than endless concrete.

    Liked by 1 person

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