The perils of giving and receiving garden criticism

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Private garden open to gardenbloggers during the 2013 Fling.

I can’t get this provocative post by Anne Wareham out of my  mind.  (It’s on the U.K.’s Think in Gardens – highly recommended!)  It seems that a well-known gardener was shocked to read criticism of her garden, which criticism was so well known that Anne was shocked that the gardener was shocked.   Apparently if your garden is well known, reviews of them – even negative reviews – are just a Google search away.

Anne describes seeing gardens flattered in print, knowing full well that the writer really thought the garden was (quoting some recent criticism she’d heard) “dull, twee, full of stupid wiggly-wobbly lines, over decorated, and old-fashioned. Or, quite simply, crap. The Americans tend to be especially blunt.”

Wow.  So though Americans are rarely critical of gardens publicly – even public gardens – we rudely bash gardens we see abroad.  To the gardener’s face!  I’ve heard a few grumbles among garden visitors but nothing like what Anne’s hearing – yikes.

But she goes on to make me look differently at criticism, at least of the famous gardens that people pay good money to see.  Why not help potential visitors make good choices?  And honest reviews help the gardener:

And I know thereby that no garden in this country has room for complacency – many (maybe all?!) of the so-say ‘great gardens’ attract a great deal of behind their backs criticism and really would benefit from discovering what people are actually thinking. Especially critical, of course, are knowledgeable gardeners but also visitors from abroad.  The latter are often very forthcoming and very disappointed.

Don’t they owe something to people who frequently travel considerable distances and pay substantial entrance charges?

So it’s a NOT like attacking the gardens open to us for free during our yearly Gardenblogger Flings or on a local tour.  It’s asking for payment that changes the dynamic.

For modest gardens like my own that visitors see for free, I hope for compliments and expect people to keep their criticisms to themselves.  Yet, some of my garden’s best features are the result of visitor suggestions, so how to get them without putting my ego on the line? I like Anne’s suggestion:  “You may also ask someone who tells you that they admire your garden what one thing they would do to improve it.”

But please weigh in!  When and how do you think gardens should be “reviewed”?  And what about hearing criticism of your own garden?

Posted by

Susan Harris
on October 18, 2013 at 9:18 am, in the category Everybody’s a Critic.


  1. Jeavonna Chapman 1 January, 1970 at 04:00

    There are civil ways to critique. Constructive criticism helps us improve. I’m always mindful that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And i don’t ask blind people what I look like. If the criticism is helpful, use it. If it is not helpful or intentionally hurtful, discard it.

  2. Anne Wareham 30 December, 1985 at 06:56

    Have to say this (besides thank you for opening this discussion here) – no-one has yet called Veddw ‘crap’ to my face. Not even you wonderfully blunt Americans.

  3. skr 5 January, 2003 at 13:26

    If there was one thing I learned in art school, it was how to take constructive criticism. Well that and that a lot of people have a really hard time with criticism of any sort even the constructive variety. People get very defensive very quickly when presented with criticism. I think it is because they have invested so much of themselves in the work that it is precious to them. That preciousness is blinding.

  4. donna 16 July, 2003 at 07:39

    I have a landscape design friend who refuses to help with my garden planning now because we didn’t do one thing she suggested when we redid our front yard to take out lawn — we didn’t take out a perfectly good, very deep concrete walkway.

  5. nwphillygardener 26 March, 2008 at 08:32

    I wonder if those friends would have been appreciative if you might have been able to suggest a contractor or two who might be able to perform the installation they were seeking. A response that says “Maybe I can lead you to someone who can solve your problem” instead of “this isn’t something I can do for you” might have had a less harsh reaction toward you.

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