Last weekend I was teaching a fall planting class for some of the gardeners at The Peterson Garden Project. And although enthusiastic and excited about fall planting, there was a lot of talk (and sadness) about “mistakes” and “if-onlys” from their summer gardens.
I had to smile and say that gardens are NEVER perfect. Every year brings challenges and dumb mistakes… And if perfection is part of your DNA then gardening might drive you stark raving mad… but America’s father of home gardening, Thomas Jefferson, put it more eloquently in his famous quote: “Although I am a old man, I am but a young gardener.”
So to make my “grewbies” (growing newbies) feel better, I thought I would catalog some of my stupidity for 2010 in the hope that they (and you) will laugh and maybe learn from my mistakes… and that sometimes mistakes can be classified as experiments and sometimes mistakes turn into genius… (not in my case but I’m sure it happens somewhere…)
Make sure that the marker you use for your thirty four varieties of precious heirloom tomatoes, numerous eggplants, peppers, herbs, melons, squash and other heirloom treasures (that you have obsessed about, made excessive lists of and coddled in your garage for months) is fade proof. Enough said.
In your enthusiasm to clean up the spring garden, let the things that have come back over winter stay put awhile. In a Tazmanian Devil-like frenzy I pulled most of these “scallions” that had over wintered. I missed a few which then turned into big fat bulb onions. It wouldn’t have hurt to let them stay awhile longer and after surviving a Chicago winter they probably deserved it… and I would have gotten more bulb onions.
No matter how excited you are about something new that a gardening friend brings to your house one warm spring day, when that someone tells you that cane fruits (raspberry, blackberry, etc.) grow out of control, believe them. Put the shovel down and set the plant aside until you can do some research as to where they will grow best (and not kill your rhubarb).
Dumb Mistake #4
When trying a new variety for the first time, such as my current favorite, Trombetta il Begno from Renee’s Garden Seeds, follow the package instructions. In this case: eat when young.
A bonus dumb mistake in this category: when growing a new type of squash, one plant might be a good start vs. four.
Now here’s where a dumb mistake can be repeated and become “wisdom” the following garden season… Trombetta has amazing and plentiful blossoms. If you’re into stuffed squash blossoms, this is the plant for you! And it also seems to resist powdery mildew…
Dumb Mistake #4a (judgement call)
Again with the Trombetta… while intensive planting is great for small space urban gardening, the spring frenzy can sometimes make you plant things too close. And when you don’t know the growing habits of new plants, it can cause “issues”. This is the judgement call… tomatillos are normally monster space hogs in our garden and one is definitely enough (Top 5 Dumb Gardening Mistakes of 2008). We planted the four Trombetta and the tomatillos in the same bed. In this picture you can see the results of the Trombetta/ Tomatillo grudge match… Trombetta won. Over planting: maybe – tomatillo control: definitely.
Dumb Mistake #5
In the dead of winter while laying in bed with garden porn (seed catalogs) looking for everything with your favorite color (in my case purple) in a seed name, consider that if you grow those seeds you should have a plan for them once mature.
In the case of this lovely, and intimidating, purple okra:
- Do I know how to cook it?
- Do I know anyone else who knows how to cook it?
- Do I know anyone I can give it to?
- Can I feel guilt free forgetting to harvest the uncookable okra pods?
Thankfully, P. Allen Smith came to my rescue when he was filming at The Peterson Garden Project for his PBS show “Garden Home“. When I shyly revealed my yankee secret (“okra scares me”) he kindly suggested that dried, they make lovely fall decorations… thank you.
And, finally a bonus piece of advice… when a potential “mistake” turns out well you can call it “breaking the rules”. In this case Peter, hubby and Yarden-tender extraordinaire, gets the credit.
We have this nasty strip of land that I normally plant nasturtiums in (see my failed attempt at participating in the Seed Grow project – sorry Mr. Brown Thumb – for more details on this hell strip.) Peter suggested planting tomatoes there. I said an emphatic NO (bad soil, no water, neighbors will eat). As he sometimes does (and probably why we’re happily married) he ignored my suggestions and planted tomatoes anyway (when I was out of town). And, well, the picture says it all.
So, in conclusion, one more quote:
There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder. ~Alfred Austin
Gardening isn’t perfect. Just like people aren’t perfect but, luckily, there’s always another season to hope for the best…