Successful gardeners grow lovely flowers or provide themselves and their families with delicious fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables to enjoy.
I am not so much of a successful gardener as I am a gardening wannabe.
I appreciate lovely flowers. They add color to your yard and smell nice.
I adore fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Not only do they taste way better than anything I can buy in the store, but they can really reduce your grocery bill.
For the last seven years, we’ve planted something in our yard or on our patio each year. In most years, it’s been money down the drain. While we’ve had some success with basil, mint, and cilantro, we’ve also done a good job of feeding our local deer population and invested a fair amount in plants that shriveled up over vacations or never sprouted in the first place.
Nevertheless, we persist. This year, we purchased a bunch of seeds from the dollar store along with $35 worth of potting soil and plants from Home Depot. In late April, Little Bit and I dragged our various planters onto the patio and kicked off our planting season.
Two months later, we seem to be having some success. And at the urging of Revanche of A Gai Shan Life on our May State of the Blog update, I decided to do some periodic updates on our gardening efforts. Done well, gardening is a hobby that saves you money. Done as I’ve done it, maybe not.
My Gardening Resume
When I was a kid, both my parents had gardens, and my brother and I were encouraged to help out.
Dad’s vegetable garden was huge and rocky. I remember that he had some successes and failures, but don’t remember being enthused about much other than the wild blackberries that grew on the border. After a couple of years, he gave up gardening and used his time on other pursuits.
Mom’s garden was a much longer term project. She planted flowers in numerous beds and had a vegetable garden in the back. She also had a huge fig tree in the back, which provided fruit for preserves for her and a jungle gym for me. Mom composted before composting was cool. On my last visit with her, I remember Little Bit wandering through tall stalks of sweet corn and raspberry brambles, a gorgeous butternut squash plant flourishing out of her compost bin, and the sweet smells of lavender and basil drifting in from her herb garden.
Although I helped out at times, gardening didn’t hold my interest as a kid. I didn’t learn much from my experiences. But as I moved into my own house (and a real kitchen), I decided that having some fresh herbs around would be nice. I bought some planters and some herbs and decorated the back porch. And I thought about planting other things, but mostly realized that my highly shaded yard wasn’t conducive to most plants.
We Buy Our House
My gardening efforts went on hold when I moved into Jon’s townhouse in 2007. We had no yard, and our deck was even shadier than my house. When Little Bit was born in 2010, though, we moved into our current house. Now we had a sunny backyard and plenty of room. We were thrilled when my father-in-law gave us a couple of tomato plants to enjoy…right up to the moment that the deer ate them to the ground. Each time they’d recover a bit, the deer would come back.
The deer have been a consistent nuisance. They ate blueberry bushes, grape vines, and even apple trees. The only plants that survived lived in pots on the patio.
Of those, some thrived and some didn’t. And we learned some lessons along the way:
- Cute planter sets from Big Lots were a Big Bust. They were cheap, but the plants never sprouted.
- Seeds are cheaper than plants, but way iffier.
- The potatoes Jon dumped in a pot on impulse made lovely plants, even if he planted them too close together to create much in the way of food.
- Half-hearted composting does wonders for reducing the amount of trash in your trash cans, not so much for creating useful soil.
- Gardening books don’t help your gardening efforts unless you actually read them.
- Ditto having a father-in-law who is a retired plant physiologist. For the sake of my garden (not to mention peaceful coexistence), I should probably to talk to him about plants instead of just arguing over politics.
Successful Gardening is Not a Just-Wing-It Activity
I’m a Just Wing It type of person on a lot of things, particularly on hobbies. For the most part, it’s worked for me.
Cooking soup? Just wing it mostly works, if you understand a few basics. Baking, on the other hand, not so much. Get the measurements wrong, or even the humidity too high, and you end up with a cake disaster. Baking mostly requires strict adherence to recipes, if not Betty Crocker.
Other times, just winging it really hurt my ability to succeed. I started this blog with no clue and only a little research into what I was getting into. I was several months in before I found any traction, and even close to two years later, I could benefit from more structure and better strategizing.
Successful gardening is not a just-wing-it activity, and that’s probably why I’ve been stuck in Gardening Wannabe status. Even if plants grow in the wild with no help from humans, it doesn’t mean growing the plants you want
Even if plants grow in the wild with no help from humans, it doesn’t mean that growing the plants you want is easy or intuitive. It takes preparation, planning, and knowledge, and I’ve applied none of these to my gardening efforts. Mostly, I’ve had success through luck rather than skill, and that’s shown in my results.
Now I’m trying to change a few things. I’ve read a gardening book, rather than just skimming or looked at the pretty pictures. And I learned some things I’ve been doing that probably weren’t helping. I plan to at least read through a couple more before planning next year’s garden, and maybe what I read can pay off with this year’s plants.
I’ve been better about paying attention this year as well. Zucchini has been really great for reminding me that it and all of my other plants need to be watered more regularly. The slightest lack and its leaves begin to curl. It’s so big, it’s hard to ignore.
Our Current Garden
This year, I bought a mint plant and two tomato plants. I paid about $5 per plant. The mint has really flourished, and we’ve enjoyed it already. One of the tomato plants has three little green tomatoes, and the other has one.
Jon and Little Bit spent about $3.50 on seeds at the dollar store at 25 cents a pack. Four of the packs went to Little Bit’s classroom garden. Meanwhile, we planted basil, parsley, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, and four varieties of peppers.
The basil is thriving, but something has definitely nibbled on the leaves. Whatever likes the basil likes at least one variety of peppers, too. So I’ve tried to split up the plants, hoping to confuse the critters. Maybe that way some of the plants will survive less scathed.
One of the pepper plants didn’t sprout, but the others look healthy. I may replace the lazy plant with some more mint. The green onions have struggled, too. Maybe I overwatered them? At least the carrots and parsley look good.
Unfortunately, I planted zucchini and cucumbers together. Not surprisingly to anyone who actually reads the gardening books they buy, the zucchini has overwhelmed the cucumbers, but the squash blossoms are gorgeous!
We also have a blueberry bush we bought a few years ago. Little Bit and I picked maybe 7 blueberries off it this year before the birds got to them. Oh well. At least we know it produces.
Pretty Plants, But a Good Value?
I still think it’s a bit early to say whether the $40 I spent on plants, seed, and soil this year will pay off when all I’ve used so far are some mint and basil leaves.While buying fresh herbs at the grocery store gets expensive, I wouldn’t necessarily buy them if I didn’t grow them.
On the other hand, I do enjoy having fresh herbs. Having lush green plants on the patio makes it look, feel, and smell a lot cozier than bare concrete. As a means of decorating, my garden is a heck of a lot cheaper than new patio furniture or even cushions.
We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the taste of mojitos, the scent of fresh basil, and the sight of zucchini blossoms.
Are you a gardener or a gardening wannabe? What’s your best gardening reference? What plants have you had success with, and what plants do you struggle to grow?