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10 Landscape and Garden Myths – Busted!


If you missed last night’s meeting of the Silver Spring Garden Club, here are the highlights of a fun talk by Dave Marciniak on the “10 Landscape & Garden Myths – Busted.”  Club president Kathy Jentz had heard Dave (a landscaper based in McLean, VA) give this talk at Green Springs Garden and signed him right up for us Marylanders.  Thanks tdaveo Kathy and especially to Dave for his pearls of wisdom and good humor.

Myth #1 Wood Chips Rob Nitrogen from Soil

If we’ve heard this one we’re probably cautiously restricting our use of wood chips to pathways only.  But Dave is correct in citing the actual scientific findings (as reported by horticulturist Linda Chalker-Scott) that only minor Nitrogen depletion has been reported in the top inch or two of soil covered with wood chips, and if you use any fertilizer at all, that depletion is corrected.


Myth # 2 Lush = Lots of Work

Dave showed us this simple but plenty-lush garden to illustrate the point that low-maintenance gardens can be full and gorgeous, especially if incorporate lots of shrubs and small trees.  He also quoted from a Homeowner Association rule one of his clients has to follow – outlawing the use of plants in a way that they’ll ever touch each other.  Never heard that one!  (And if my co-op rules were that silly I’d never have bought my current house.)


Myth # 3 Organic = Hard

This simple illustration includes almost all there is to understanding “organic” gardening.  In Dave’s words, “All you need to know you learned in 8th grade science.”

Myth #4 There are Such Things as Deer-Proof Plants

We’ve all seen plants mistakenly put on lists of “deer-proof plants” and the truth is that with enough overpopulation and especially in the winter, no plant is safe.  But Dave does offer a list of “deer safe-ish” plants that includes boxwood, viburnums, nandina, hydrangea arborescens, callicarpa, winterberry and inkberry hollies, mahonia and sarcococca.


Myth # 5 Lawns are Evil

We’re hearing lawn-bashing a lot these days, but the truth is that they’re not inherently bad for the environment.  It’s just the overly irrigated, overly fed and pesticide-drenched lawns that are a problem – like the artificial-looking one above from Dave’s slide show.  They don’t have to be perfect, uniform or kept green all summer, and if the soil they’re grown in isn’t compacted, they do a good job of retaining stormwater.

And as Dave mentioned, they’re great for playing (whether with kids or dogs) and for accommodating the extra guests that don’t fit on your patio.


Myth #6 Lawns are the Default

It’s soooo true that lawn is used where it doesn’t need to be, like the front yard above.  Dave’s client was tired of dragging the mower to the front for that small space.  The solution was the lawn-free and terrific-looking design below, shown here in its first season but now filled in.


Above is another example of a front yard with no lawn – in the suburban Chicago garden of garden writer Shawn Coronada.  For our region, with (usually) less than all-winter snow cover, Dave would incorporate shrubs and perennials into this mostly-annual collection of plants.

Myth #7 All Pavers are Permeable

I hadn’t heard this one myself, the fact that rain usually can’t percolate between pavers, as we hope it will.   (One study showed just 3 percent of water falling on pavers seeping down into the soil, the rest washing away.)  So for stormwater management purposes, free-flowing aggregate is the best product to use between pavers.

Myth #8 French Drains are Always the Solution

Another one new to me, but makes sense that French drains aren’t going to drain water away from a low spot.  Gravity still applies.

Myth #9 Lighting is Lighting is Lighting

In other words, not all lighting is created equal.  Sometimes it’s used to great effect, sometimes not.  Used well, it can serve these purposes: safety and wayfinding, security, and accent.  Instead of showing Dave’s slides of good and bad examples, I can just point to Google’s many images to show a range of uses, though they’re mostly gorgeous.

Myth #10 It’s All Been Done Beforeshade sail

Here’s a great point that I’ve never heard anyone else make – that there are always new products (not to mention new plants) available to us.  Dave’s recent discoveries include new steel fireplaces and a very cool-looking concrete ping-pong table for outdoor use.  Oh, and the surprisingly affordable shade sails for people who need shade NOW, not after their new shade trees have grown for 15-20 years.

For more of Dave’s garden wisdom go to Revolutionary Gardens/com.Blog.

Posted by Susan Harris.


Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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