It isn’t always fun and blooms

A strange feeling overtakes me when I get a lot of props from the readers of this blog. The more you say “beautiful photo John” or “your gardens are gorgeous” or “you may be the coolest individual alive John” I get an overwhelming feeling of guilt. While I appreciate all the great feedback, I feel the need to offset the great photos with some of the not so great looking ones. It’s a sort of cosmic balance that serves as a reminder that for every beautiful blooming perennial, there is another one that didn’t survive the winter or fried in the heat of summer or slowly succumbed to powdery mildew.

A lot of beginning gardeners I talk to who read gardening blogs or read gardening magazines get very frustrated when they cannot successfully grow plants and make them look like they do in print. They immediately call themselves a “brown thumb” and give up. Well I’m here today to tell you it’s OK. I’ve been an obsessed gardener for close to fifteen years now and I still suck at it. Seriously, I still make the same mistakes or ignore the same good advice year after year. The reality is that the idea of “low maintenance” doesn’t really exist. You have to be willing to put in some time and effort. It takes time, patience and a lot of trial and error. But that is what makes it so enjoyable. You will never be an expert and have your entire lifetime to learn.

Taking photos and putting them in a blog is a great way to fool an audience. At the right angle, your blooms can look just right and you can crop out the dying branches or weeds. It’s easy as hell to make yourself believe you are a kick ass gardener. Today, I’ll first show you the “nice” photo of a plant and then follow it up with a “reality check” photo. And it’s all because I am such a caring and empathetic individual:

Wonderful blooms on a Geranium ‘Brookside’:

What it looks like after the blooms quickly fade:

What it can look like if you’re not lazy like me and cut it back immediately after bloom:

Nepeta (Catmint) blooms are a thing of beauty and draw in so many bees and butterflies:

Just realize you need to cut it back at some point or else they will look all ratty and crap as they do now because I ignored my own advice:   

Phlox ‘David’ is an all time fave for me:

And without fail, the foliage declines at the same time the blooms appear and I want to throw the f’er to the curb:  

Astilbes are a great combo of blooms and foliage in shade:

Just remember it loves and needs consistent water or it will quickly fry: 

Daylilly blooms are always phenomenal:

Just get ready to deadleaf the foliage on a daily basis or it will completely detract from the blooms: 

Northern Sea Oats are reliable as can be and the seedheads add an incredible level of interest summer into fall and even into winter:

Oh yeah, they also reseed like crazy and can take over a garden bed in the spring. Glad I remembered to cut off the seedheads before the winter set in:   

That initial flush of bloom on Daylily ‘Happy Returns’ is impressive:

Speaking of impressive, how impressive is this ugliness, post bloom?:  
Ahhh, I feel much better now. The secret is out of the bag and I can go about my business without any additional guilt. 
Have a great weekend and garden your ass off without fear!

26 thoughts on “It isn’t always fun and blooms

  1. rachel

    What a great post! We all like to share the good stuff in our gardens ~ thanks for being honest & showing the “bad”! lol I have at least 3 of the examples you showed in my flower beds NOW!!
    Have a great weekend!

  2. Robin

    Great post and oh so true!! I still think that you should teach your children to deadhead and remove the dead foliage….just sayin 🙂

    Have a nice weekend and try to stay cool!

  3. Darla

    I have posted the good the bad and the ugly too. Hey, it’s all part of ‘real’ gardening..You still rock as a gardener and Dad John!

  4. Ginny

    I agree – all those gorgeous pictures can be discouraging to the new gardener. Regular posts on the good and the bad are helpful to everyone. I am always encouraged to read that someone else’s plant died 🙂

  5. Olive Cooper

    You are a good sport. Plants die all the time and perform badly. I let my day lilies go and be all burned up looking because I am lazy that way. I post close ups on my blog of all the pretty flowers and I guess that does make it look like I have no failures but I have many!

  6. Dee

    Well, you get a bookmark! Glad I found your blog. I like to use the portrait setting on my camera when taking garden shots — you can zoom in real close to a beautiful bloom, while all the weeds and crap in the background are out of focus.

  7. HolleyGarden

    Yes, I love being able to zoom in to a pretty bloom, not showing the dead plant right behind it! 🙂 I’ve often thought about showing my failures, but I like to deceive myself! BTW, you may be the coolest individual alive!

  8. The Musical Gardener

    Great post! Thanks for your honesty. Yes we bloggers do tend to crop out the ugliness and show only the good stuff. Actually I’ve been planning a Plant Fail blog in the near future, just haven’t quite got enough ‘real’ photos collected.

  9. Zoey

    Love your honesty! I have done this same type of post before. Whenever I see a blog with all macro shots of flowers, I know the garden as a whole does not look very good. LOL.

  10. scottweberpdx

    Hahahaha….i think we’re ALL together on this one! It’s easy to show only the good, but it takes a brave man to show the bad. I just cut a beautiful Clematis to the ground due to a Powdery Mildew infection…you can bet I am keeping an eye on the Monarda now!

  11. Shirley @ The Gardening LIfe

    John, a little reality check never hurt anyone! I like that you mentioned that there is really no such thing as a low maintenance garden. Especially not a no maintenance garden unless you hire a gardener and let them do all the work! Gardening takes time and effort, both of which I love to do, so I don’t mind the finnicky plant, or the extra attention my hydrangea may need. That’s what I love about the garden. It’s a verb, to garden, not only a noun, for me.

  12. Tracy @ Garden Obsession

    Isn’t this the truth…. We’re all so guilty of this! Thanks for the crappy pictures – loved em. My phlox are looking like f’ing curbside material right about now. You’ve inspired us garden-expert-wanna-be’s to post ‘real’ pics of our gardens. You are without a doubt the coollest garden blogger on the planet!!!

  13. Stacey

    I think you took some of those pictures in my yard. Each year about this time, I start thinking I don’t really like day lilies any more. We have sea oats coming up all over creation. 🙂 Don’t even get me started on the poor Japanese Maple I planted right before the thermometer decided to stick above 100!

    I tell my husband that it all looks good if you look at it on the squint. Took him awhile to understand that I meant don’t look too closely.

  14. Gatsbys Gardens

    John, this is true gardening! I get rid of plants or modify their growing habits when they make me look bad. I gave up on Brookside years ago for the reasons you state, put in Rozanne instead, also moved the nepeta to my alley garden, too messy. I cut it back once in a while and it looks more natural out there. As for daylilies I cut them back totally when they are done and nice new green leaves come up.

    You are right, perennials are a lot of work unless we want our gardens to look like a hodgepodge.


  15. Sue

    Yes! Wonderful! I hate when new gardeners “quit” because they can’t get the results seen in magazines. If they only knew the dirty truth…………..

  16. Kyna

    You are the coolest individual alive, John. I don’t know what I ever would have done if I hadn’t met you. I bet you eat sunbeams and crap rainbows. I love you more than I love my own mother. You’re the reason I get up in the morning. You….

    Wait, is that too much, or shall I go on?

  17. allanbecker-gardenguru

    Everything you wrote is true with some reservations:-

    If one plants perennials far enough away from intense gaze, i.e. near the deck, patio, or pathways, some of the bad stuff is harder to see. If one places perennials in combination with others, rather than as specimen plantings, the eye is diverted away from a plant’s shortcomings.

    I never paid attention to the foliage of Phlox. I simply avoid those varieties that are prone to mildew, making sure that all get plenty of air circulation, and keeping the sprinkler jets at a distance.

  18. Diana

    Wonderful post John, so very true. I would like to add one thing however, I have found that there are just certain plants that I don’t do well with! Weather it’s me or where I live, I give a plant a few tries and if it keeps dieing I’ll give up and try something else.
    I’ve been pretty lucky so far but I do write down the ones that I give up on! Love Di ♥

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