Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Landscape design Plant diseases

If You Can’t See the Problem, There is No Problem!

20170619C Pinsdaddy
Hollyhocks have beautiful flowers on top, yellowing foliage below. Photo: Pinsdaddy

If you have a minor gardening problem, it’s probably going to be much easier to hide it than to cure it.

20170619A Sissinghurst Garden
By planting hollyhocks behind other plants, you can ignore the diseased leaves. Photo: Sissinghurst Garden

For example, the hollyhock (Alcea rosea), a beautiful plant with magnificent flowers, is unfortunately very prone to hollyhock rust (Puccinia malvacearum), a disease where the lower leaves become spotted with orange and later turn brown and die, yet this doesn’t keep the plant from flowering. So the simplest solution is simply to plant hollyhocks at the back of the flowerbed or behind other plants, a fence, a bench, a sculpture, etc., so that you can enjoy the flowers without ever seeing the foliage. Problem solved!

Develop a Laidback Attitude

But wait a minute! Shouldn’t you treat the plant, cure its disease or at least cut off the diseased foliage? If that’s your attitude, you haven’t yet developed a healthy laidback attitude towards gardening!

20170619B UMass Extension
Hollyhock rust is pretty much harmless to the plant: it’s the gardener it upsets. Photo: UMass Extension

Think of it this way: rust doesn’t kill hollyhocks. They’ll grow back annually, always with yellowing leaves at the base and beautifully flowers on top. For a hollyhock, being lightly infected with rust is just part of day-to-day life. Spraying fungicides to prevent rust or cutting off the offending leaves when rust does appear is a lot of effort on your part and in no way reducing the disease level the following year. But if you plant your hollyhocks at the back of the flowerbed where you can’t see the diseased leaves, the plant will simply live out its normal life, like a hollyhock would in the wild, and therefore you don’t have to intervene. And you still geet to enjoy the flowers! Less work, just as much beauty: it’ a win-win situation!

(Of course, you could avoid hollyhock rust altogether by planting rust-resistant varieties… but that, as they say, is another story!)

Other Examples

Obviously, it’s not only hollyhocks that have minor defects you might want to hide.

20170619D Hort
Drumstick alliums: just plant them so their yellowing foliage doesn’t show. Photo:

There are all sorts of drumstick alliums (Allium spp.), bulbs that you plant in the fall, that produce spectacular globes of flowers on tall stems in early summer … but their leaves, borne at the base of the plant, are already turning yellow by then. Planted out in the open, they look more than a bit fatigued. Their place is in the middle of a flower border where their leaves’ decline will go completely unnoticed, yet their flowers are there for all to see.

Your hedge is thinning out at the base? That happens over time to many hedge plants and you can spend a lot of time pruning trying to fix the problem, but… what if you simply hide the flaw instead? The problem is going to be very noticeable if the hedge lines a lawn or a driveway, but you can make it totally disappear by planting things in front of it: a flower bed, shrubs, tall grasses, etc.

Let’s say rabbits have decimated your begonias, chewing them to the ground, but the rest of the flowerbed is still very attractive. Rather than look at a bare spot all summer, place a pot or two of annuals or a houseplant you’re summering outdoors where the munched-on begonias used to be. You’ll hide the problem instantly … now keep your fingers crossed in the hopes the local fox does its job and naturally controls the rabbit population.

Practice to Deceive

You can do the same sort of thing with all sorts of other plants that would otherwise be problem plants: there are many, many plants that have a stunning shape or beautiful flowers, but whose base is barren, yellowed or otherwise unsightly. Simply place them towards of the middle or back of a flower bed, surround them with a groundcover high enough to hide the problem or stick them behind a shrub or a garden bench.

Remember: if you can’t see the problem, there is no problem!20170619A Sissinghurst Garden

3 comments on “If You Can’t See the Problem, There is No Problem!

  1. Pingback: Biennials: So Pretty, So Often Overlooked! - Laidback Gardener

  2. Love this approach; am getting more and more into it as I get older. 🙂 I used to do battle with all kinds of things, but as my 15-year+ garden matures and plants volunteer themselves, I am amazed at how nature manages to conceive of combinations and garden spaces I wouldn’t have thought of. The lamb’s ears, heuchera, japanese painted fern, blue-eyed grass and others that have found home in the crevices of a brick patio and pathways that we installed are a constant source of delight and beauty now. (To think of the money we wasted on “weed-proof” brick sand is laughable). I am accepting of most insect life except hornets (the bane of outdoor eating life) and slugs, which decimate and kill my plants if left unchecked. Strangely, snails (in their shells) don’t seem to be as much of a problem. Or is just that I think one is prettier than the other? Am I slug-shaming?? And I am still definitely not accepting of my neighbour’s invasive Rose of Sharon, mock sunflowers and garlic mustard trying to take over my vegetable/herb bed and other areas of my garden. Give it another 5 years, though; maybe I’ll get to the totally laidback approach. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: