Top Ten Most Annoying Garden Buzzwords and Catchphrases of 2011

Time to reflect back on the year and make a list!  Most of these annoying phrases have been around for longer than one year, of course, but since this is my first list it’s all fair game!

“Blurring the Lines Between Indoors and Out” 

Did P. Allen Smith coin this phrase?  Because he must say it at least six times per show.  But it seems like I can’t get through any gardening magazine or show without encountering this gem at least once (or its variations — see #2 and #3).  I don’t know about you, but unless I’ve been drinking heavily, I would find it highly disturbing to discover that the boundary between the inside and outside of my home had been blurred in any way.  When I leave a room, I really need to know whether or not to bring my keys with me.  I don’t want to feel like I’m in a house designed by MC Escher.   


“The Outdoor Room”

This one just won’t go away!  Real Americans don’t have Outdoor Rooms.  Real Americans have patios with some wooden or plastic furniture that gets pooped on by birds.  So what’s wrong with that?  Don’t put a suite of stainless steel appliances out there! Don’t hang your grandmother’s crystal chandelier from that tree limb just so you can have a magical outdoor dining experience!  You are not Queen Elizabeth the Second or Alice in Wonderland!

Also, what sort of housekeeping is meant to go on in these Outdoor Rooms?  Do you vacuum and dust an outdoor living room?  Can you smack the dried mud off your shoes out there, or should that be done in the indoor mud-room?  Is a clothesline considered an Outdoor Laundry Room?  Is it okay to stick your teenagers in Outdoor Bedrooms in the far corners of the yard?

“Bringing the Garden Indoors”  AKA, “Inviting the Outdoors In.”

This used to be called “putting stuff in a vase.”  I think this phrase still works, because not all garden denizens are pleasant to bring in, are they?  Cut flowers: yes.  Flies and squirrels: no.

“Sustainable Lifestyles”

I hate the word “lifestyle”, period.  But stick the word “sustainable” with it and there’s a phrase that really sticks in my craw.  There is really nothing intrinsically wrong with the word “sustainable” I suppose, but it’s going the way of terms such as “green” and “eco-friendly”.  Fine for awhile, used selectively and sparingly, but then becoming more and more loathesome with overuse.  When companies like BP start touting their practices as “sustainable” in their ads, it’s basically become a meaningless word.

“Green” or “Eco-“ used as a prefix

See above.  Green jobs.  Green technology.  Green energy.  Green living.  Eco-friendly. Eco-business.  Eco-design.  Eco-monkeys.  Eco-cupcakes.   See?  They all start to sound the same.

Outdoor “spaces”

I hate when designers refer to rooms or areas as “spaces.”  HGTV’s army of design show hosts are especially fond of saying “spaces” when they’re really just talking about rooms.  As in: “This fabulous throw pillow made from the hides of sixteen free-range, sustainably slaughtered chinchillas really brightens up the space!”  Ooooh, I see, it’s not the color or shape of the pillow that is so awesome, it’s the empty space around the pillow….oh yes, that’s fabulous!


Because it sounds more like a serial killer’s nickname than a person making principled food choices.  Headline: “Another Body  Found; City Terrorized by The Locavore!”  Ha-ha.

Godzilla vs. The Locavore

Abbot and Costello Meet The Locavore.

“Chicken Chat” blogs, Urban Chicken Consultants, Chickens Magazine, etc.

I have a confession to make.  The whole Urban Chicken Movement bothers me mostly because I want some chickens but can’t have them.  This is because my spouse remembers that the chickens at his grandparents’ farm were “loud and messy” and therefore he won’t get on board with the idea.

Hmph.  I personally think our neighborhood could use a tad more noise and mess, but for now I’m not pushing the issue, especially since our dog would probably use chickens as chew toys anyway.

Plant combinations that put on a “show”

This one probably makes me look petty, but still.  Whenever I read a rapturous description of a flower or garden “putting on a show” I can’t help but think of dinner theater: the plants are performing Oklahoma! and we’re sitting there watching them while eating cheap steak.

Overuse of the term “scape”: hardscapes, softscapes, tablescapes, meadowscapes, etc.

Again, I am very petty.  I acknowledge that.  I really shouldn’t let all this stuff get to me.

For my next post, I will be discussing Green Sustainable Eco-Scapes, or possibly Eco-Green Sustaina-scapes. 

Good night!

82 thoughts on “Top Ten Most Annoying Garden Buzzwords and Catchphrases of 2011

  1. I must beg to differ with you on two points. One is chicken chat. I love to chat about my chickens. Tell your husband that chickens are only noisy and messy in large numbers. A backyard flock of 3 to 12 chickens is nothing like a farm. In small numbers, chickens are pleasant and entertaining. My husband was surprised at how entertaining they are. The other is your objection to the term space. When used properly, it is a perfectly good word. My little orchard is not really a room, but it is a space (I doubt a throw pillow would do much for it The chickens, however do a great deal for it).

  2. Glad to see someone bothered by cliches and fads even more than me! Though I’ve heard and used the first 3 since I was in college in the mid-80’s…those were hijacked by the brand-come-lately.

    The only annoying buzzwords I would add are repurpose and upcycle. (“grrr”?) “Spaces” works for me, but how you combine buzzwords into one sentence, to show the trendy love of negative spaces over the objects in it…great!

  3. It takes a talented blogger to write a post that is both funny and controversial.
    Just in case you don’t know, or as a literary device pretend that you don’t, “outdoor room” is a British expression to describe a sub division of a humungous outdoor landscape that has been divided into different kinds of gardens. Most of us have only one garden, if we are lucky, but British estate owners, gardening on 20 acres of land with 13 full time gardeners, have several and each one, with a dedicated theme or outdoor function, is called a room. Understandably, that is a concept that some North Americans find difficult to understand, unless they have visited the UK and have gone on tours of those majestic, compartmentalized gardens that are open to the public. Why are these partitioned gardens called rooms? I dunno!
    I do understand the use of the word “space” as applied to the outdoors. Many homeowners without a blade of grass or plant, might have difficulty calling their patio, deck, or balcony a garden. Outdoor space is becoming correct contemporary usage for this concept.
    The word “hardscape’ works for me as a catch-all noun to describe anything in the garden that is not a plant. It’s a form of journalistic shorthand that garden writers find useful when describing a garden’s’ patio, pavers, fountain, sculptures, gates, fences, furniture, pergolas,… well, I guess you can see what I mean.
    However, I’m with you on chickens. I’m an urban gardener in a first tier suburb who would be fined by the municipality and ostracized by my neighbors if I kept any edible animal on my property. Besides, if I had a chicken clucking in my kitchen, I would be worried about contracting chicken pox. That’s how far removed I am from farming. Nevertheless, I do dream of someday eating a free range chicken raised on grass and seeds instead of corn and hormones. I understand that they make a delicious culinary experience.
    Well done Mary! I can’t remember ever finding so much to comment upon after reading a gardening blog.

    • Thanks, Allan! I SUPPOSE I’ll concede your point about “spaces” and “scapes (hmmmm….what about “spacescapes”?) And I appreciate your explanation of “outdoor rooms” as it applies to grand English gardens. I think the term is just waaaaaay overused on design shows, etc., so I stand by my criticism of it! But thank you for taking the time to write such a great comment…I am flattered!

  4. I agree on most of these points but if I can’t use “room” or “space” I am left with “this AREA is designed for your outdoor couch, chairs, coffee table, rug, and lamp – but it’s not an outdoor ROOM!”

    The other one is the overuse of “scapes” in the landscape company names around Atlanta. We have one successful company that has been around a long time named Scapes and every little start-up thinks they can steal a little business by using some form of scapes in their name! The naming of the maintenance companies around here could be a whole nother story!

    • Heather, If it’s a patio, porch, or terrace, you could call it by one of those names. But so far, I’m not getting a lot of support on my criticisms of “room” and “space”. I think most folks are siding with you!

      • True, but I think terrace is one of those words that has lost it’s meaning as well. When shopping for a house “terrace level” is what we used to call walk-out basement! Thanks for starting a great discussion!

  5. My list includes, (and has for several years), “New Urbanism”. There is nothing “New” about Ebeneezer Howard’s vision for the “Garden City” (another one) that is about a 130 years old, regardless what Duany/Plater-Zyberk/Calthorp would like you to believe. Most developments referred to today as “New Urbanism” are nothing more than over-priced, over-hyped yuppie housing built in mass on converted corn fields (sprawl).

  6. As always very entertaining. When I sit here laughing to myself while reading I know you have hit the mark. I am still chuckling. Looking forward to your next installment.

  7. Ha…love it! I’d add one of my most despised terms…”plant material”…really?!? Is there any better way to completely dismiss plants than to lump them all into one category. I’d also like to say that “organic” has become so completely overused as to be practically meaningless…and quite often, unnecessary…just a badge of honor and superiority. It’s sad how often such keywords can become not just annoying…but elitist as well…just like “clean, simple lines”…which is, quite possible, the most overused phrase in the “design” community. It has the annoying tendency to imply that anything else is, by comparison, dirty and cluttered…blech! OK, mini-rant over!

    • Scott, I’m totally with you on “plant material” and “clean, simple lines”!!! Funny you should mention that because I was just watching Top Chef last night and I notice that the judges sometimes refer to “clean flavors” in the food. WTH?? They also throw around terms like “flavor profile”. Obviously the food world also has their own set of wacky jargon!

  8. Mary,
    Thank you I always enjoy your postings. Actually the buzzwords, designed to make it sound like people know what they are talking about don’t bother me half as much of letters standing in for whole sentences that essentially say you’re not cool enough to know what I’m talking about. (This tactic was invented by teenagers in the second generation of mankind’s existence.) ROTFLMAO is a football player, right?
    If you ever have to sustain your lifestyle I recommend taking your blog to the newpaper as a column you’ll be a sure hit.

  9. My profession is full of ludicrous buzzwords that are virtually meaningless so it’s always funny to hear a different set of buzzwords with equally meaningless weight used by peolple who don’t look like they’ve ever actually worked in a garden. If my house “blurred the lines between indoors and out” it would be full of dog crap. Or maybe they’re just locally crafted, homemade eco-pellets that just happen to be turd shaped. I’d rather have a squirrel in the house.

  10. When I teaching, I referred to the type of writing Mary describes as “Engfish.” Yes it does have the stink of overuse on it. I think anyone who writes should carefully review their stock phrases for triteness and ambiguity. The language of garden design is rife with both. Right on, Mary!

  11. What a lively and entertaining discussion! Now that ‘clearly’ is ascending into the ‘cloud’, ‘absolutely’ has come to replace it. 🙂

  12. Agree with your wry observations completely, but when I really started snorting my drink was when I saw that picture. Is that for real or is it photoshopped? (a genius find either way) The absurdity of that one image is entertaining as your whole post!

    • Rochelle, I’m so glad somebody finally remarked on that picture! It’s not photoshopped (at least not by me) and honestly, the whole post was kind of an excuse to show that pic! I actually like P. Allen Smith. He seems like a super nice guy, but that picture is so ridiculous I couldn’t bear not to feature it.

  13. ow ow ow … my company, Verdant Landscapes, has the tagline “uncommon outdoor spaces”. Will I be banned from the witty banter forthwith? No fair, because I’m usually the snarky one in the crowd!

    • Naomi, I will add the caveat that “space” is acceptable if you’re using it as a general term, as you are in your company’s slogan. After all, it wouldn’t do to put on your business card: “Verdant Landscapes: Uncommon patios, terraces, perennial gardens, meadows, and all the other three dimensional kinds of areas that could possibly be created outside of your home.”

      Thanks for reading. :o)

  14. Love this list – a lot of these have been causing me private amusement for ages and at last its out there and cool to laugh at these phrases! But I have to admit to using the word “space” occasionally (although not in the garden, only indoors) and I didn’t realise it was un-cool to say “plants are putting on a show”. I’ll have to amend my garden-speak so I can continue to be cool 🙂

  15. I would like to buy an eco-monkey, please! Can I get one in green? Is it made of sustainable materials? ;>)

    As long as we can make fun of all our catchphrases, I hope we can avoid overusing them, or worse, actually believing that the convey some authentic meaning. “Authentic” is my pick for overuse in 2012. What happens to us when authentic becomes inauthentic, I dunno.

    Happy New Year to all,

  16. We are all copycats in a way- I remember in our much, much younger days when ‘buzz’ words would catch on like wildfire. Maybe you could invent some new words for us Mary? Hmmm- some food for thought? Hey, they are getting invented everyday!

  17. Well, since my most beautiful garden creations are in my mind during winter months, let’s use the term mindscape. In these mindscape gardens, my florascaped beds next to my rockscape are outstanding. Aren’t we all trying to naturescape…….whoa, this is silly. We are all missing the point. Scape by itself is a wonderful word. It is both noun and verb. “I love the scape from my front window.” “I think I will scape some dirt out on the terrace.”

  18. Charles’ line “my most beautiful garden creations are in my mind during winter months” is a powerful phrase that describes the winter state of mind of many gardeners.
    When he refers to “mindscape gardens” he touches on the essence of garden design. How fortunate it has been to “meet” him here.
    It is exciting that this collection of comments is so much more than just a reflection of a mutual admiration society. The stimulating dialogue is most appreciated.

  19. Good grief…can I say anything now? I’m scared to talk to my garden clients…I no longer have any buzz words to use so they think I know something. smile.

  20. These over-used buzz words can be handy. Homeowners have heard them so often I can get a point or concept across and be understood in reasonable time, while not having to totally educate from ground zero. Our creative minds meet on some level of comprehension using this language. It is still my job to define and guide because, as you all stated so eloquently, the mere over-use of these words and phrases have made many of them meaningless.

  21. Is there any real value from loading down our language with jargon and technobabble that has to be translated to be understood? Or does that maybe erase some of the natural beauty of it all? Would it be better at all if people actually understood us instead of wondered what kind of wool we’re trying to pull over their eyes? What if we stick with dirt, grass, trees, shrubs, landscape, flowers, plants, perennials and do them the justice they deserve based on the merits they were created with?

  22. Sid,
    I believe that each new generation has a habit of rejecting the culture of the previous generation. . For that reason, it sometimes becomes necessary to reinvent the mundane, to make it relevant or attractive to the next generation. My grandmother may have had a garden outside her kitchen door, but I need an outdoor space that flows from my indoor living area. It reflects who I am [ actually, just kidding, but that’s the point]
    Is it possible that those of us who consider new concepts to be jargon and technophobia are just showing their age? Or, are there regional influences in the way we speak and write. Do urban dwellers use the sophisticated terms more than rural people do?

  23. Okay … chickens in urban “landscapes.” Having a neighbor with chickens in Brooklyn was, I thought, strange. Not so bad, except if you sleep with a window open in warmer weather, you hear them clucking around in the mornings. A little disturbing, at times annoying because they wake you up, but, apparently legal, if you don’t have a rooster. Now another neighbor has built an architect designed chicken coop in his back yard/garden/room/space. A very attractive structure. We all await the arrival of the chickens. I’m thinking this is a passing fad. Our media, as you hint, overplays just about everything. Sustainable eco-green LEED-certified mesic chicken bioscape?

    • James, I tend to agree about the faddish nature of urban chickens. I’m not saying there’s anything WRONG with the chickens, they’re cool and all, but I can’t see it lasting. Another one that annoys me is firepits. Now, I know that firepits can be really nice and people love them, but if I see another design show where the landscaper installs a firepit I think my head will explode. I predict that firepits will go the way of the basement bar from the 70’s — and eventually the backyard firepit will just date the house.

      Probably my issue is that i need to stop watching HGTV.

  24. You are probably right about urban fire pits. They might come in useful, however, if Dec. 21, 2012 does turn out to be armageddon and we need to cook those urban chickens when the power goes off.

  25. Pingback: The Landscape Urbanism BS Generator –

  26. Funny and entertaining, though I disagree with you on a few points such as scapes and space. And I personally love the phrase “eco-friendly”. It’s very descriptive. You can dish out the critic but can you dish out the advice? What would you suggest as replacements?

    • Kris, it’s so much easier to dish out the snark than the advice! Actually, it’s not so much the term “eco-friendly” I object to, but simply its overuse. When you hear it a dozen times a day, associated with everything from political candidates to potato chip bags, it begins to grate on the ear and — at least for me — completely lose its descriptive powers.

  27. The jargon and its overuse is a reflection that most North Americans speak English with conceptual sound bites. We’ve learned to do so from journalists in all media who use loaded words to deliver complex information efficiently. Where page space and broadcast time are precious, it is economical and effective to use the word “eco-friendy” rather than to use a descriptive sentence about one’s concern for, or impact on, the environment . Ditto for “lifestyle” and “sustainable” and all of the other overused and preposterous concepts mentioned in the blog above. Because each noun speaks volumes, its overuse has become a defining feature of contemporary culture. The shrunken tabloid-like headlines found at online newspapers, the immediacy of news anchors’ TV delivery, and the explosion in the number of talking heads on cable networks, who have an opinion on everything, are all contributing to the reinvention of the English language.

  28. Pingback: Garden Blogs of the Month: January 2012 « Jean's Garden

  29. That was hilarious, yes you’re totally right. The Eco-sustainable green scape movement has way too many crazy terms!! Every time I hear a new one, I think, oh my god, I have to learn about this new technique or whatever it is! But, it’s really just the same thing recycled a little bit differently over and over again.!!

  30. Every thing that comes out of P Allen Smith’s mouth could go on this list in my humble opinion. Can we please add the word “Whimsy” to the list!!

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