Goodbye Good Taste?

To what extent should we all be slaves to good taste? How earnestly must we mix our grasses with perennials in that Oudolf-inspired prairie look, or shy away from gaudy Rhododendrons and stick to tasteful, more natural looking plants?

None at all, my dear friends, none at all.

Gardening has been swayed by fashions for well over a century now. In the early 18th century the British aristocracy were hungry for new plants from areas being explored by intrepid men such as the Scottish explorer David Douglas, the man who introduced that most ubiquitous of forestry conifers the ‘Douglas Fir’ (Pseusotsuga menziesii). So called ‘American gardens’ were developed across the UK to house plants sent back from the New World, and people would marvel over these new introductions. With increased exploration of the Far East in the 19th century American gardens were no longer the new home for American plants; now it became fashionable for the aristocracy to collect plants sent back from the Far East they abandoned American plants in favour of new exotics.

Some Rhododendrons, like this ‘Percy Wiseman’, have always been popular.


This might sound rather like a child abandoning a much loved toy in favour of something new, but in fact it’s just what we do now, albeit on a grander scale in times gone by! Scroll forward to the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015… next year, as with previous years, there will be the usual crystal ball gazing that goes with the show; what will be the iconic plant of Chelsea? Each year the gardening press try to predict, and each year they seem to get it wrong. The fact that there is speculation does, however, serve to illustrate in a small way how fashion-driven horticulture still is. I can just about remember a time when bamboos were still newfangled and alien, when conifers got time on Gardener’s World, and when several species of grasses were commonly recognised but all were found in lawns! Now we play with bamboos and ornamental grasses as though we’ve always had them, while we sniff at conifers, heathers and the suchlike as being old fashioned and out of place.

It’s very nice, but do you like it?


But what happens if you don’t like the latest trends in gardening? Is it still acceptable to enjoy growing Fuchsias in hanging baskets, to fill your garden with gaudy bedding plants and to grow conifers? Yes, of course it is!

Bedding isn’t to everyone’s taste, but if you like it then grow it!


Much as with fashion in clothing there are trendy new products coming out all the time, but in the same way you wouldn’t be seen dead in most catwalk creations, neither should you be forced out of your comfort zone purely because something else has become fashionable. If you like to clash vibrant colours then go right ahead; if you want a gnome then get one! Your garden is your own space and it reflects your personality, and if you don’t want to be fashionable then oh boy I’ll stand up for your rights!

Find out more about Ben and his plants!

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  • I completely agree. Fashions are fine, they can be game changing and we need that constant push forward, but that doesn’t mean what’s gone before is irrelevant or old-fashioned. One day we’ll look back at our current preoccupation with perennial prairies and consider them out-moded. As you say, gardens are principally personal things as should be as the owner likes them to be. And, in the end, everything comes back around again – just look at how dahlias have burst back onto the gardening catwalk. Nice post, thank you. Dan

    November 22, 2014
  • Stephyakadiggs

    Completely agree. I plonk plants in at work that would probably give most designers a heart attack with regards to positioning etc. If it works and I like it I keep it. If not well I move it.

    With regards to gnomes. I have often thought about putting a few round work. Hmmm maybe I should sneak some in!

    November 23, 2014
  • Nothing new in being influenced by fashion. It started long before the plant hunters and will continue long after grasses. Bell bottoms? Crinolines?

    Might it just be that the industry needs it as well as us?

    November 23, 2014

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