Long Live Laidback Gardening!

Credit: HayDmitriy & yayayoyo, depositphotos

Yet another trip down memory lane! My son Mathieu and I are into that these days. The more my health slips away, the more we dig into the past. Here, we tried looking at when I first started using the name Laidback Gardener. The article below, from 1997, where it appeared in the French-language magazine Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, is certainly not the first article where I used the term. By then, I’d even published a book under that pseudonym! Still, it sounds like I’ve recently begun to realize that I’d struck a chord by using the term “laidback gardener” in my writing, that people were reacting to it. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

Hi! My name is Larry Hodgson and I am a laidback gardener.

Admitting you’re a laidback gardener is a bit like saying you’re an alcoholic at an AA meeting. It’s the kind of thing you don’t dare say in public until you’re really ready to admit it. You must first accept it yourself. Fortunately, you can say it in front of a group of sympathizers, where many, if not the majority, are also laidback gardeners.

Perfectionist Gardeners: We Just Don’t Speak the Same Language

Person cutting a lawn with miniature cissors
Perfectionist gardeners are the people who trim their lawn with eyebrow scissors. Photo: circulating,

I can hardly imagine declaring that you’re a laidback gardener in front of a group of perfectionist gardeners. You know who they are. In fact, you probably have one as a neighbor! (Almost everybody does!)

These are the people whose lawn is so perfect it looks like they trimmed it with with eyebrow scissors. And whose garden would make Louis XIV flush with shame. Versailles has nothing on them! These people take landscape maintenance (they never use the term gardening; that’s for “the help”) seriously.

Fortunately, that kind of person finds that I do nothing but speak nonsense anyway (“But really, that guy — he just spouts balderdash!”). So, they never read my columns. They prefer in-depth articles on “The One Hundred Best Ways to Prune a Giant Sequoia into a Cube ” to a text written by a guy who looks like he’s actually having fun in his garden rather than trying to dominate it. So much the better if they don’t read me!

At any rate, what would I have to tell them? I don’t have a single straight line in my garden… and they do love their lines! I may have had one at some point in the distant past (everyone has the right to goof occasionally), but it disappeared under a crowd of unruly plants. Gardens of perfectly trimmed topiaries can be beautiful, but soulless; I prefer English cottage gardens that practically seem to scream “freedom!”. I love their mixture of plants each trying to outdo the other. Gardens where the real stars are those that others may consider weeds.

Dandelion with bee
A lawn isn’t beautiful if it doesn’t contain at least a few dandelions! Photo: b52_Tresa,

If you’ve read me this far, I know you’re a laidback gardener and I can freely speak my mind. So, you won’t be shocked to hear me say that I think a lawn isn’t beautiful if it doesn’t contain at least a few dandelions. Perfectionist gardeners freak out when they hear such things! Or that I think trees trimmed into perfect spheres are an urban plague. Besides, you probably thought so yourself, without necessarily daring to say so.

One thing I’m starting to hear often, though, is other gardeners openly admitting they’re laidback gardeners. That’s new: I think I heard it for the first time last year. Since then, different people have told me on half a dozen occasions. The circle widens, the truth begins to come out of the mouths of… average gardeners. Everyone knows that a meticulous garden, perfectly manicured, without the slightest blade of grass out of place, is an impossibility, a chimera, an unattainable goal. Nature often does better than the most precise of gardeners … But until recently, very few people had dared to admit it.

Confession is Good for the Gardener

Person about to step on a rake
I can even leave tools lying around and no one (except my wife) says a word. Photo:

I don’t pretend to be a good psychologist. Still, in my experience, it feels good to admit your laidback nature. And not only to remove the enormous weight of trying to make others believe that you are a perfectionist when that simply is not in your nature. But also, because then people no longer expect to see a perfectly controlled garden when they walk past your house.

You see, now that my neighbors know I’m a laidback gardener, they don’t get offended by my lawn full of flowers (which they call weeds). Or my unruly flower beds and my undisciplined hedge. I can even leave tools lying around and no one (except my wife) says a word.

There are still people who say to me after a lecture, “you must have a very beautiful garden at home”. That’s because they don’t really know me.

Sloth laying in hamac
All I would need to do is install a hammock and sprawl out in it all the time to be the perfect laidback gardener.

After all, I’m a laidback gardener. A few misplaced tools, a couple of dead stems jutting up from the middle of a garden, some “weeds” here and there, etc. They all fit in perfectly with my image. All I would need to do now is to install a hammock and sprawl out in it all the time to perfect it. And, actually, I do have a hammock, except it casts too much shade on my flower bed for me to leave it up very long. So I’m a laidback gardener, but I’m laidback while on my feet. I may be a bit on the lazy side, but I still put my plants first!

T-shirt inscribed "I Have Dandelions In My Lawn And I Love It"
Wouldn’t this make a great T-shirt?

If I had more energy, I would start an advertising campaign to encourage increased laidbackness among gardeners. There’d be pins, bumper stickers, t-shirts, banners, etc., with the slogan: “I’m a Laidback Gardener”, “I Have Dandelions In My Lawn And I Love It,” “Set Your Lawn Free: Burn Your Mower!” or “Free Your Garden: Let It Be Itself!”.

Maybe I could even found a political party: the Laidback Green Thumb Party. The motto could be: “Since everything always works out in the end, why bother?”. The problem is that I’m way too laidback to do it. However, I promise to wear the t-shirt, if anyone has the energy to make it. I just hope it’s going to be a permanent press one!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

14 comments on “Long Live Laidback Gardening!

  1. You have long inspired me, Larry, since I first discovered you more than 20 years ago. My garden is joyful chaos, but it’s colourful and joyous with native and naturalized wildflowers jostling with fancy ass cultivars. I’m so sorry your health has taken a turn. But you’ve planted seeds in many gardeners heads and long may you continue to do so.

  2. hmmm. . . . We all have our own style. I work very hard in my garden, but it is still a utilitarian garden that few garden enthusiasts would appreciate. It is intended to be productive, but not pretty, like orchards. I believe that more people work as much as necessary in the garden, in order to make it a nice place to relax. I mean, after all, that should be part of its function.

  3. My Grandmother would say if its green it’s grass.

  4. Perfection is not a noble goal… have been saying this for a while. Enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

  5. Cristine

    I would wear that shirt! I once was under the influence of perfect lawn neighbors. Then I met a truly laid back Gardner who allowed weeds to bloom. I was talking to him one day and he said weed roots contribute to the soil, weed flowers attract bees and beneficials. As I lost my battle with dandelions in our lawn I realized he was right. As I get older and leaning over pulling weeds is no longer as easy, I let my garden and lawn roam more freely, and I watch the insects and bees come in. My neighbor doesn’t approve, but oh well. Thank you for reminding us we aren’t alone!

  6. Christine Lemieux

    The last paragraph cracked me up! It’s the truth! ?

  7. Frances Lester

    Though I only discovred your blog a year ago, I’ve enjoyed it and learned much from it. My gardenis better because of you! Laidback Gardener, indeed!

  8. Have always loved the “Laidback Gsrdener” I firmly believe that if one is not laidback, one cannot truly enjoy a garden or gardening. Thanks for all your columns and great advice over the years.

  9. good read! ?

  10. Agree with you on the souless nature or gardens full of straight lines and rigid topiary. A little chaos makes the garden way more interesting. You were way ahead of your time but thankfully people are coming around.

  11. Carol de Se?vigne?

    Many years ago you visited The Hudson Garden
    Club and I was fortunate to hear you speak. Until then whenever I put in a new garden I removed all the sod (fortunately we have a big yard and I have a good sized dumping area) and proceeded. Then I heard you describe how to install a new garden with newspaper and soil and literally be able to plant the same day! Absolute genius! Lazy Gardeners rejoice! You saved me many many hours of back breaking,tedious work!

  12. Amen, Larry-Thank you!

  13. As a “recovering” perfectionist, my motto now is “Good Enough” which applies to everything including my garden 🙂

  14. Each year I become more of a Laidback Gardener. 🙂

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