Before I get to the garden lessons learned …
It’s early June, 1985 and I will be turning 13 years old in a few weeks. School has just let out for the day and a bunch of us prepubescent boys are gathered around the lockers, planning our afternoon activities. If I had to guess, I am wearing Jams shorts, a Gotcha t-shirt. and a killer coral necklace. Surfer wares for a non-surfer but damn if I don’t look good. It doesn’t matter that I had never set foot on a surfboard and still haven’t to this day. I was a fashion follower, not a leader.
The plan is to meet up at the middle school for yet another intense game of baseball. The fences are in close so we can all feel like Darryl Strawberry and hit a ton of home runs. It is even possible to hit the other school building across the street with a mammoth home run; that only adds to the excitement. If a window shatters we all run for our lives; always a good time when you are a pre-teen. Oh yeah, and anything hit to right field is a foul ball since we never have enough kids to cover the entire field. I hate that rule.
After collecting my books and heading out to my mom’s car in the parking lot, I inform her of my afternoon plans. Baseball is good clean fun, right? I won’t be staring blindly into the TV while playing Atari all afternoon. This is a no-brainer.
I can remember her response like it was yesterday.
“John, I don’t want you go. There is no supervision and anything can happen. Not today”
Are you f’n kidding me? (I didn’t say that to her). I’ve done this a dozen times before and nothing ever happened. I am not telling my friends that my mom said “no”. C’mon, do you want your oldest child to be the laughingstock of the 7th grade? I need this.
Needless to say, I talk my way into going and my mother regretfully drops me off … within walking distance of the school.
It is a great time. No broken windows, but still fun. It’s a close game and comes down to the last out of the game to decide the winner. My father and youngest sister wait for me along the left field fence and I shout “Just one more out.” I have to focus in left field and there is no way in hell I am leaving now.
What happens next changes my life forever. And I swear to you it is the absolute truth. Mom – can you leave a comment below to confirm this really happened as I remember it? I need to keep my credibility in check. Thank you.
Line drive is hit to left field. I am ready to make the last out and secure the win. I go down on one knee to make the catch and end it in style. Everyone will jump on me with excitement and even my family will witness my greatness.
The ball completely misses my glove and drills me above the left eye. The field is dead quiet. While I guess it hurts like hell, I feel no pain. None at all. I immediately flash back to my mother’s warning and become furious. I even blame it on her as my dad ushers me to the car.
Lesson learned – Mom is always friggin right and you cannot do anything about it. Even though the black eye brought me much desired attention in school the next day, I was never the same playing on a baseball diamond again. And it all could have been avoided if I listened to the wise one.
So about those garden “lessons learned” …
To begin, I realize you’ve had your fill of these already. You’ve read about them on other sites, on other blogs and even on TV shows (that last one is an intentional joke, there are no garden TV shows anymore.) By now, we know them all. So I apologize in advance if you’ve had your fill.
But my lessons learned are killer. They’re better than all of the others combined. I’m talking life changing. Go get a notepad and pen and jot these down and keep them in a place where they can be seen daily so they reinforce how you go about your gardening ventures in the future.
I will preface my 5 lessons learned with this: I did very little in the garden this year. There were a few reasons for that and here is how it breaks out:
40% time constraints – kids, family, job
25% pipeline shock – no need to discuss this further
25% intentional – I’ll go into this one in a bit but I wisely took a break when nature called for it
10% laziness – I’m not ashamed to admit it.
Yes, every winter/spring I allege that this will be the year I transform my garden into a mini Longwood Gardens. If you are a regular reader, you know how that has turned out. But this was the first year I took a more realistic approach.
No long term goals.
Just do what I can when the time allows.
And you know what? I feel like it paid off in spades.
Garden lessons learned #1 – Patience
It’s amazing what happens when you just let your garden develop on its own. No tweaking or moving plants around every other day. The plants establish themselves and those empty and bare areas fill in quickly. It’s like giving the garden a chance to breathe and stretch its legs.
Like I mentioned before, I did a lot more sitting back and enjoying this gardening season. I think I grew a little bit tired of constantly changing things up and playing plant musical chairs.
The area of the garden below has been a continuous project over the years. Last year I added perennials that I knew would establish themselves quickly. I didn’t do a thing this year and I’m thrilled with the results.
Other areas have benefited from my absence as well.
Garden lessons learned #2 – Smaller plant palette
I know by now what plants work well with my conditions. Anything that the deer ignore and anything that is OK with consistently wet soil. This includes ornamental grasses, deer resistant shrubs like Clethra and Boxwood and perennials like Bee Balm, Joe Pye Weed and Lobelia.
This is what I have been handed on this property and I am going to embrace it. No more attempts to try and force in plants that will never thrive here. There is enough variety within these plant choices and I will just continue to explore that avenue.
Here are some examples of my, dare I say, smart plant choices.
Clethra and Joe Pye Weed.
Bee Balm and Joe Pye Weed.
Clethra, Joe Pye Weed and ornamental grass.
Bee Balm and ornamental grass.
Garden lessons learned #3 – Repetition
This ties into the previous one and is an age old tenet of most garden designers. Repetition of plants, shape, color, etc. is pleasing to the eye. It is what separates a garden from a collection of plants. Repetition leads the visitor through the garden and enhances the visit.
By limiting my choices of plants, I’ve somewhat inadvertently (I’ll take just a smidge of credit) created repetition throughout my garden.
Garden lessons learned #4 – No planting in the heat of summer
Yes, another well known “not-to-do” among gardeners all over the world. Planting in the heat of the summer with the extreme temperatures and lack of rain is a recipe for disaster. But I’ve always been defiant and figured I could plant whatever I want, whenever I want.
This really hit home for me one day this past summer. I was updating my plant list/spreadsheet and referenced recently purchased plants through various online plant sellers.
I kid you not, half of the plants I had ordered over the past two years had died. Most of them I had forgotten I had ever purchased. That is not good. That is what you get when you stick a small and vulnerable plant in the ground and forget about it … during the wrong time of year.
Just plain dumb.
Garden lessons learned #5 – Start small plants in containers rather than in the ground.
I’m still not sure if scientifically, this is the right way to go but it has been working so I ain’t stopping. Too often I’ve witnessed small plants purchased online not make it through the year. They easily get lost in the shuffle with all of their larger brethren. That means not enough water and potentially not enough sun if overshadowed by other plants.
My solution has been to “raise” these plants in containers so I can carefully watch them and give them a good head start. Since they stare me in the face at all times, I know to keep them watered.
Case in point is this Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’.
This was no bigger than 5-6 inches when I purchased it this spring and now it looks fabulous. I am debating when to introduce it to the wild and may keep it in the container for one more year.
So there you go, please fire away with your thoughts and comments.