Promises, Promises: My Gardening Resolutions for 2009
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 28, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
1. I will make an effort to actually use the herbs that I grow.
This could be a fairly ambitious endeavor, since I do grow a lot of herbs both as landscape and seasonal container plants: lavender, rosemary, lemon grass, lemon balm, plus various types of oregano, thyme, mint and basil, and on and on.
And while I occasionally cut off a branch from one of my rosemary bushes to rub on a baking chicken or snip off some fresh mint for a tasty Mojito, my efforts at culinary herb use have been minimal at best.
My intentions were good this past summer when I bought an ice cube tray for the specific intent of making and storing pesto ice cubes. It's now December and I still haven't made them, although my beautiful variegated Basil ‘Pesto Perpetual' is safely snuggled in my sunroom and could still see the chopping block before the end of the year.
Also, I keep reading about gardeners making tinctures, salves and other cool herbal concoctions from what they've grown. The closest I've gotten to doing something like that was when I picked off and chewed on a peppermint mint leaf to see if it would cure my tummy ache. (It didn't, but let's not blame the mint.)
2. I will take better care of my tools.
This is a big one, and a resolution I seem to make every year without following through.
My favorite shovels often get put away muddy. My pruners invariably get dull and rusty. Sometimes it seems easier to just buy new ones, you know?
But, with the economy and environment being in such sorry states, treating tools as disposable items isn't practical or eco-friendly. For less than $20, I can invest in a good mill file and whetstone, some machine oil and steel wool pads, and I'll be set.
A lot of gardeners also swear by this method: fill a bucket with sand and a quart of motor oil. Once clean, store the tool by plunging it blade-side down into the oily sand to prevent rusting. If only I had room in my garage for such a setup, but alas, now we're getting into my non-gardening list of resolutions...
3. I will make more of an effort to do not-so-fun maintenance-type chores, such as deadheading.
I have tons of beautiful perennials that would perform so much better if I just paid a little attention to them. Unfortunately, when it gets to be July and August here in Texas, I'd rather be lounging in the swimming pool than posing as mosquito food in the sweltering heat.
However, deadheading is a relatively easy, quick task and I would really be doing my plants a favor by refreshing them in this manner. I often stroll through my gardens just to see how things are looking. It wouldn't take a lot of effort to bring along some garden scissors and do a little snipping as I walk.
4. I will take better care of my remaining orchids.
And by "remaining" I mean: those I haven't killed yet. I used to have around 15 orchids. Now I have maybe five.
My problem is that I simply ignore them. I water them about once every other month. If they're lucky, they get put outside before a predicted rainfall. I never fertilize them. As a result...well, they look pretty bad, and they certainly haven't flowered for awhile.
When I had 15 or so, I'd dutifully haul them into the bathtub every month for a good soaking and a dose of special orchid fertilizer. They were also doused regularly with water collected from my rain barrel. But that got old fast, and several died despite my pampering, so I became frustrated and started to ignore them. The result: more died.
Maybe I'm not fit to grow orchids, I don't know. I do like them...but they don't seem to like me.
5. I will be more involved in caring for my two community garden plots.
Thank goodness for my wonderful fellow community gardeners who regularly visit our local site and take care of whatever needs done - including watering, spraying Bt or pulling up dead plants in my two plots because I haven't been there in weeks. It's always nice to know somebody's got your back.
But I've really slacked off on doing my part - both in my own plots and in the public areas of the garden -- and that's inexcusable. We have work days once a month throughout the year, and I will make a real effort to attend most of them. I will also take better care of my own two plots.
6. I will start more flowers from seed.
For some reason, I'd always been under the impression that starting flowers from seed was difficult. Growing vegetables from seed never scared me, but flowers? Eek.
However, I predict this will be an easy resolution to fulfill, because I was extremely pleased with the results of the few flowers I started from seed this past year.
Part of my success should be attributed to my finding a great source for healthy, unusual seeds in Select Seeds. Witnessing such beautiful plants as Scabiosa ‘Dark Knight' and Coreopsis ‘Mardi Gras' thrive throughout the season has given me renewed confidence in growing more and a greater variety of flowers from seed. (It's a lot cheaper too!)
7. I will find a better way to organize and store my seeds.
Currently, I keep my vegetable seed packets in a shoebox, with index cards separating them alphabetically by type: Cabbage, Carrot, Cucumber, etc.
Unfortunately, though, the flower and herb seed packets are just jammed into the back, willy-nilly. This has worked ok in the past, but since I'm growing more flowers from seed now (see #6 above), better organization is called for. (Also, I worry that the seeds aren't staying as fresh as they could by this storage method, although I do tend to use all seed within two years of purchase. Most seeds will remain viable for at least that long.)
The most commonly recommended method involves storing seed packets in any type of airtight container - jars, plastic food tubs or zip-top baggies - and keeping them in a cool, dry location. So it looks like the "beer fridge" in our garage is about to expand its usefulness. I'm still not sure how I'm going to organize them, though. Suggestions are welcome!
8. I will not mourn the loss of the three Indian Hawthorn bushes that were moved to the side yard.
My landscaper warned me these lovely shrubs may not make the trip from the front yard to the side, and he was right. Within two weeks of being transplanted, my three mature, 3- by 3-foot bushes were toast.
What can you do? If a plant doesn't make it, don't beat yourself up about it. Learn from your mistake (if you even made one) and move on.
9. I will try to tackle at least one of the "problem areas" of my yard.
I would post a picture of these so-called problem areas but it's just too embarrassing. I'm supposed to be a Master Gardener, for pity's sake.
There's the back corner of the east side yard where I've unceremoniously stuck a magnolia, vitex and sumac right next to each other, and they've each gotten huge. My collie loves to lurk back there and dig at the awful soil, pretending he's some kind of wild forest creature. It's a mess.
The area directly across from this corner used to host a nasty mulberry tree, but since it's been removed there are just roots, dead ferns, weeds and an old, cracked, extremely heavy concrete birdbath. Another big mess.
Wild strawberry and weeds run rampant under an old wooden arbor in the other side yard which also hosts a massive, uncontrolled wisteria vine. Adjacent to the arbor are the three now-dead Indian Hawthorns referenced in #8 above.
Directly behind the arbor and next to the garbage bins is a pile of dead leaves, branches, and weeds that I'm afraid to touch because, even worse than the inevitable unearthing of a large fire ant hill is the real possibility of discovering a snake. Some kind of weird tree is growing out of the pile now too. So far, I've just ignored it.
10. I will update my online garden journal more often.
I've kept an online gardening journal for several years, but I use the term "kept" loosely. I rarely update it these days. I'm not sure what's held me back from posting more regularly. I guess sometimes it's a little too laborious to take pictures, download and crop the pictures, upload the pictures to my website, write, edit and post an entry, etc. Also, I work professionally as a Web administrator, so computing while at home isn't high on my leisure list. It's fun to share gardening experiences, though, and I've met a lot of wonderful fellow gardeners through my blog.
I really admire the garden bloggers who find time to run a household and/or have a career AND maintain their gardens AND keep up a journal. That level of discipline has escaped me thusfar. But that's what resolutions are all about, right? There's always next year to try again...
Happy New Year and Good Gardening in 2009, everyone!