A Garden Rubric For You

Well, pretty soon Garden Open Days will be arriving all over the country.   Are you prepared?  I personally feel the Open Days are a little too friendly and casual.  I think we, the garden visitors, need to step it up a notch and that’s why I’ve prepared this powerful critiquing tool that you can bring with you to each garden. 

Putting together this Garden Rubric was a breeze thanks to my 14 years’ experience in Professional Education, where I spend hours each day picking apart the creative work of others!  Oh, but I must give a nod to P. Allen Smith, who supplied the categories I used for the rubric: Color, Abundance, Whimsy, Mystery, Enclosure, and Time (from his 12 Principles of Design).  Thanks, P. Allen!

So print out this rubric and bring it along on your next garden visit!  Along with a red pen and a judgmental  spirit, of course!



  1. “Magenta is only used ironically, if at all” HAHAHAHA! You are the BEST!

  2. Wickedly clever! I’m going to use your matrix for grading all my future design problems. Extra points for Mitt Romney topiaries . . .

    I’m so glad your blogging! When is your book, young lady?

    • Thomas, I’m not sure about the book but I realize after reading your comment that I haven’t been called “young lady” for a number of years. With my 41st birthday just a few months away, I have to say it sounds good. :o)

  3. This is wonderful. I’m putting this with attribution, of course, on my fb page. Our community is too serious!

  4. Hahahahaha…so awesome….I’ll print this out and take it with me. Drat…I lost so many points because of those orange Tiger Lilies!

    • My mother grows tiger lilies in a smallish bed in her front yard and I’ve been trying to help her find another plant that will complement them. Any suggestions?

      • Actually…I haven’t figured that out yet😉 My dad gave me the Tiger Lilies last fall and I just kinda did my best to site them somewhere with decent conditions. I have them at the top of a slope, behind Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Persicaria ‘Firetail’ and Panicum ‘Blood Brothers’…we’ll see how that looks🙂

  5. Uh, oh. My mom and I do privately rate the gardens once we are back in the car! Not so much to be critical though. We like different things and it is interesting to learn about what the other thought through the ranking system. This chart will be VERY helpful!

    • Hey, no shame there Heather. Heck, I silently rate landscaping all the time, especially when I’m walking the dog and especially when a homeowner has clearly spent a lot of money on professional landscaping. The more extravagent the garden, the more I start behaving like Simon Cowell.

  6. Love it! Though I have to admit I am a huge fan of magenta.

  7. I’m definity going to use this…can’t wait to see what garden rates the highest this season.

  8. Mary, Your writing is inspiring and at the same time I am intimidated! You have the greatest wit and possess the writing skills to present your thoughts in ways that keep us smiling. Thanks again.

  9. Priscilla Brennan says:

    You are so hilarious! I really think you should consider developing a Saturday Night Live skit and selling it to them or maybe get in touch with Tina Fey. I will cetainly share this with fellow gardeneing friends and family. A real hoot!

  10. So funny! I’m afraid my gardens only rate 1-3. I always have tiger lilies and copious watering hose.

    • Mine too, Cindy. Actually, Versailles would not score well on that rubric either. Never been there but from the pics it doesn’t look too whimsical or mysterious.

      • Last time I was there, a large branch from an big tree around one of the fountains suddenly cracked and fell, almost hitting a tourist. That was rather mysterious, but probably not in a high-scoring way.

        • Well, since it didn’t actually hit her, perhaps it could be considered “whimsical”? Or maybe the potential for near-death experiences in the garden deserves its own category?

  11. Bwahahaha! Dear Mary, you have to, to, to much time on your hands. I fear that the garden guests will take you seriously and tragic consequences might occur for manufactured sun dials and the color mauve.

  12. This just had me on the floor laughing. Box 3 under “mystery” was my favorite. I wish I could have half the wit of you!

  13. “Visitors aren’t sure whether that rusted pick-axe over there is whimsical, negligent, or just ominous”

    *sigh* Neither do I.

  14. Mary, what are we going to do with you!
    Thanks for cheering us up

  15. I was the intended victim of someone’s garden rubric (learned from a local “expert”, etc), one year our modest place was on 3 garden tours. Still laugh *at* her uppity provincialism and lack of plant knowledge, though I laugh *with* your posts and rubric! (especially the judgemental spirit + red pen part:-)

    • Thanks David. I can only imagine how nervous I’d be having my garden featured on a tour. I think I would do alright if I could rope off certain sections of it and only let visitors see some parts of the garden from certain angles.

  16. Mary, This is a rubric to make a teacher squirm — also devastatingly funny. I particularly loved the scoring of whimsy and mystery.

  17. Laughed out loud over the Burmese tiger pit. Thanks for the helpful rubric!

  18. Thanks Mary, I almost laugh-snorted tea all over my keyboard while reading your garden rubric. That’ll be a lesson for me: do not drink tea while reading blackwalnutdispatch (stop sneaking peeks at gardening blogs while at work? never).


  1. […] for Garden Open Days this spring, be sure to take along Black Walnut Dispatch’s very funny rubric for keeping […]

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