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What Can Polls Tell You
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

February 15, 2004

Professionals within the green industry are always interested in what the gardening public is interested in. It makes sense since they must be ready to supply their needs. As a result, they are always asking questions in the form of polls to help them stock their shelves so to speak. My very favourite gardening web site is They have a series of polls which we’ll visit today. Another site is which is the Garden Writers of America’s professional website. Their polls are similar although one of the main uses is to give writers a focus for columns or other materials.

One of the primary considerations is to find out how “avante“-garden you folk are. In other words, with which style of gardening are you most comfortable. Here’s the first poll:

What garden characteristic is most appealing to you?

  • Rustic, old world charm 28%
  • Lush green foliage and shade trees 12%
  • Colourful and exciting plants 35%
  • Low-maintenance and simplicity 11%
  • Native plants and pastoral feel 10%
  • Clean cut formality 2%
  • Zen-like balance and minimalism 2%

Numbers four and five on this list can be considered sub-categories of the first three. As a garden writer I know to look for a plant that is a native, has excellent leaves plus something special for a bit of a kick. Itea virginica “Henry’s Garnet or sweet spire would be an example. That could be a whole article all by itself.

Notice that the Zen garden rates only 2%. Several years ago I was fortunate to see such a garden at the Canada Blooms show in Toronto. It was composed of three elements: a low deck for viewing, three large blue agate (?) stones and a sea of sized, rounded gravel raked into patterns of ocean currents. Not a speck of green or a plant anywhere and it was probably one of the most restful gardens I have ever seen.

As you know, you can’t depend on people to answer these polls truthfully because they sometimes aren’t too sure what they like. If you ask similar questions often enough, some trends do emerge. So here’s the second poll:

What kind of style do you prefer in your garden?

  • Italian 2%
  • English Cottage or Potager 69%
  • Formal 2%
  • Japanese 2%
  • Chinese 0%
  • Arts & Crafts 5%
  • French 1%
  • Tropical 1%
  • Mediterranean 2%
  • Natural.Wild 15%

The answers here certainly expose our traditional, national heritage. Most of us in Canada are probably descendants of European stock and these answers reflect it. Okay, before you all come after me, let me clarify a few of these assumptions. Most die-hard gardeners are fifty years old or more. They are also the folks most likely to read about gardening and then take the time to respond to these polls. (Trust me, I read other polls.) Hence the reflection of the English./French synonymnity, I.e., an English country garden and French or even Quebecois potager, are very similar in function and appearance. I fully expect this to change dramatically, Gentle Reader, as the wonderful influx of folks from other parts of this good earth begin to influence our communities. Exciting times are ahead for us.

One of the more telling polls, taken from the same site, tells us who is actually responding to this type of information gathering.

How would you rate your level of gardening experience?

  • Master Gardener 22%
  • Novice Gardener 19%
  • Some Experience 37%
  • Somewhat Experienced 15%
  • Very Experienced 7%

The vast majority of the folks are clearly comfortable in the garden and possess some knowledge and experience. . Sort of interesting, isn’t it, to see what “experienced” gardeners are doing. Exactly the same as the rest of us if truth be told.


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