Gardeners are quick to write and tell about their garden successes. It may be that less experienced gardeners read our blathering and conclude that we never make mistakes. I want to reassure everyone that the road to a beautiful garden is paved with failures. Certainly we have some successes along the way, but mistakes are sprinkled in here and there. Together they are the building blocks from which a growing and constantly changing garden emerges.
Gardening is like life. We learn as children to adopt behaviors and practices that are rewarding and to discard those that lead to pain or displeasure. As avid gardeners, we have over a period of years, planted hundreds of plants in our gardens. Some lived, some died, and some performed so poorly that we finally dug them up and relegated their remains to the compost pile. Most likely, we never wrote about the plants that struggled along or died. We forget about them, so the reader is left with the notion that all of our gardening experiences have been overwhelming successes.
So the reader comes to believe that we "gardening experts" do not make mistakes that "ordinary" gardeners make. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Because we spend more time in the garden than casual gardeners, our mistakes are multiplied. These mistakes build up on themselves and become what we call "experience." As a result of our experiences, we store up tidbits of knowledge in the back corners of our minds that hopefully, though not always, help us keep from repeating our mistakes.
On one occasion, a group asked me to talk about mistakes that I had made in the garden. After searching through my memory bank, I knew that my presentation could become lengthy. If experienced gardeners would come forward and confess, they could add to this story. Anyone who has ever turned a shovel or tended a garden is nodding in agreement as they read. Many will identify with the tales that follow.
Once many moons ago, I planted a tulip poplar in the backyard. It was four or five feet tall and had just put on a glorious set of young, tender leaves. As I was admiring the leaves, I noticed some unusually large caterpillars with large eyespots munching on them. I did what inexperienced among us do almost every time. I killed the offending insects and rescued the young tree.
A similar thing happened in the herb garden one year. Large, striped worms began eating my fennel. I pulled them off the leaves and stomped them into the ground posthaste. It was later that I learned that I had killed the larval form of the black and tiger swallowtail butterflies. I remember being filled with regret and dismay when I learned that the caterpillars were butterflies in the making. I was not eating the fennel at the time, and I know full well in hindsight that the tulip poplar would not have suffered irreparable damages by sharing some leaves with the caterpillars.
Oh, and I remember the time that I outright killed some of my prize azaleas. I read somewhere in some gardening literature that wood ashes were beneficial to plants. Thinking to give my azaleas a boost, I shoveled some around the base of several of them. The writer did not think to mention that the ashes were very alkaline, and that the acid-loving azaleas would not feel I had done them any favors. Sure enough, they bit the dust.
Amiable Spouse will attest to the fact that I been known to plant things in the wrong place. When plants are young, it is easy to misjudge their mature size. Many are the times when he had to remove plants from the foundation of the house, or prune them so severely that their form was ruined. He couldn't set up the ladder when the house needed to be painted, or when he had to replace some siding because constant dampness from shrubs and the sprinkler system caused the wood to rot.
Who knew that Foster's holly grew into a tree, or that the tiny pyramidal ‘Blue Ice' juniper, which was three feet tall when I purchased it, would grow taller than the house? Who would have thought that dwarf ‘Burford' holly and dwarf yaupon weren't small?
Did these mistakes keep me from gardening? No, but I learned from them. Butterflies abound in my garden now. Some springs I have to ask Amiable Spouse to get the chain saw to the hollies. They grow back well, but this is a job that we will always have to do unless we yank the hollies out and plant something that will not outgrow the space.
The simple fact is that the more we garden, the more we learn. People just trying their hand at gardening can rest assured that they are not the only ones who make mistakes. Maybe, by reading about some of the veteran gardeners' mistakes, beginners can avoid some costly errors. The lesson to learn is that whenever gardeners garden, mistakes will be made. It is best to acknowledge them, tuck the mistakes away as "experience," and to press forward with our gardening exploits. After all, gardening is, in the opinion of gardeners, the most pleasurable and rewarding recreation in which humans can engage.
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.