For A Garden's Bad Hair Days, The Art of Distraction

What's a gardener to do when caught with his or her petals down?
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Every garden has its off days, usually when visitors are expected. So what's a gardener to do when caught with his or her petals down? Inspired by the magician's art of distraction, I suggest subtly redirecting the visitor's attention.

Potted plants are the first line of defense. Placed in position where a plant has recently departed it might be taken as part of the design. The trick is to raise the pot the slightly, just above the plants around it, which might mean putting it atop an upside down pot. I've seen Chinese footbaths with water plants, water cabbage and even goldfish used this way. Decorative but empty pots are also popular although, I'm always suspicious of gardeners who make use of a massive, small mouthed jug, as a design element in a border. They look well enough. But no one could lift the jug to pour the water out and the viewer senses this. Garden statuary are other dodges. After trimming the dead or diseased foliage on a plant, I might tuck in a stone rabbit to hide the lack of foliage.

In the vegetable garden a traditional straw bee skep looks like it belongs. I have used one to cover a multitude of my sins, moving it around the garden to fill the space wherever a plant expired or was yanked out. I recently saw a snapshot of my garden on the back cover of the book, Garden Ornament. I had to laugh as I read the author's rhapsody about my bee skep. If she only knew of the evils it hid.

Every so often a dead tree has to come down, and it's no easy task to remove the stump. My answer is to camouflage the stump by growing vines over it or using it as a pedestal for potted plants until it rots and is easier to remove. A chainsaw-wielding friend has hacked a few stumps into crude chairs or tables, which, if they face a nice view, are humorous and practical for a time. Sometimes I've slip covered a tree-trunk chair with a vine. A potted plant or a basket of flowers placed on a stump, or even planted into a hollowed-out stump, makes the whole affair look more like it belongs in a garden.


If distraction doesn't work, give your visitors something to talk about--adorn the garden gate with a wreath of roses, set a basket of flowers in a birdbath, trim a tree with hanging baskets of flowers, wear a straw hat decorated with fresh flowers, float petals in a pond, fountain or birdbath. Set a scarecrow on a bench where he's not expected. Serve chocolate brownies on a tray of rose petals. Sweets, especially chocolate, elevate mood. People are always kinder when they're happy.


Humor is the next line of defense. It can get you in and out of a sticky situation. Buy or make a funny sign. My sign, "The weeds are winning" moves around the kitchen garden. Oversized rubber bugs on the garden gate will cause a frisson. I've gone so far as to stick three pink flamingos in the garden before a party. My husband that worried guests might think we had trashy taste. Even if they did, they'd get a chuckle.

If all else fails, the last resort is to spike the lemonade and give them packets of left-over seeds and cuttings to take home.

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