Confessions of a Befuddled Beginning Gardener

Beginning Gardeners go into gardening without much of a plan on their side. We approach gardening with open arms, brand new garden gloves still stapled together at the cuff, price tag still on our trowels, and go “HI, THERE!”

We overwater and underthink.

This means whatever good happens is a happy problem, and whatever bad happens is a complete and utter mystery.

Flowers are not where the seeds are found

The seeds will eventually grow in pods at the end of the stems once the flowers are spent. The seeds are not the dark thingies found inside the flowers. Don’t ask why I did not know this.

Beginning Gardener Optimism is Contagious

In March, when I started gardening (practically by accident), I was completely wide-eyed and optimistic, with not a lot of fact to back me up. Of course I could grow a winter’s worth of vegetables in my dining room. Naturally I would be able to stock the neighborhood with yellow squash by July. Bugs will not take over my zucchini if I grow it indoors.

Beginning Gardener Mythology is Believable

Add to this the fact that the Beginning Gardener may not have a host of resources to fall back on, beyond old wives’ tales and gardening mythology:

Plant two orange-colored marigolds next to each beanstalk, under the full moon, on a Wednesday in  March, May or Movember, and any passing deer will avoid the four-way intersection near the grocery store.

And we Beginning Gardeners believe this stuff like Moses himself brought it down off the mount.

Beginning Gardener Faith is Unshakeable (until it isn’t)

We Beginning Gardeners just KNOW that if we plant something in dirt, something will grow. It says so on the package, on the seed pack, on the Internet (and you know everything is true on the Internet). My new acquaintance, Master Gardener Mia Myers at SmartSeeds, was so wonderfully polite yesterday on the phone when she did NOT laugh at me for trying to grow cardboard palms in my patio room.

But the Internetpeople SAID… and I saw PICTURES… and … and …

Beginning Gardener Hope is Unlimited

Later I’ll tell you about my Peruvian lilies venture. Maybe tomorrow. I’m still feeling pretty stupid about …Oh, what the heck. I’ll tell you now.

I decided to try my hand at harvesting some Peruvian lily seeds from the remains of the bouquet I bought a couple of weeks or so, “just because I can.” The thingies in the blossom looked just like the thingies in the seed pack I bought.

I very carefully removed each “seed” that I found in each blossom and very carefully stored about a hundred of various sizes and colors away in preparation for planting them.

I very carefully placed them in warm water to soak for a few days, per the instructions I found on the Interwebnetwww thing.

An hour later I peeked in on the hundred or more very carefully soaking “seeds,” and found that most of them had basically dissolved, leaving a thin yellow scum of what I think was pollen on the surface of the warm bath.

I’d harvested dozens of stamens full of Alstroemeria Ligtu pollen.

I can just hear Mia giggling with delight.

Bottom Line

As much fun as it may be to act all Gregor Mendel and pretend I know what I’m doing whilst dissecting decrepit wilted Peruvian lilies for seeds, from here on out, I’m going to buy my Peruvian Lily seeds from SmartSeeds – and I highly recommend that you do the same.

A note about SmartSeeds: Mia Myers is an internationally respected garden and landscape expert – a Master Gardener and Landscape Designer. SmartSeeds is not for the faint of heart. Don’t order and expect your seeds to come with operating instructions. You need to do the appropriate research, reading, Googling, Binging, studying, thinking. I’m in WAY over my head at the SmartSeeds site, but in a good way – I love getting lost and confused, and digging my way out if at all possible. If you’re the same, you’ll love SmartSeeds as well. I love her quote from the front page of the site:  “These are plants for experienced gardeners and they may try your patience. But if they were easy, they’d be in Home Depot.”

YARGH! Put THAT in your pipe and smoke ’em.

P.S. I Missed You

Yes, I missed you, too. I’m back, well into the middle of the third quarter of my freshman year of Seat Of The Pants Gardening 101. I am learning just how little I know about this magic called “gardening.” I’m still an incurable optimist, although the months of August and September kicked the slats out from under several of my closely held assumptions – and the Cardboard Palm Project is on its way to becoming something I can chuckle about.

Stay tuned. I may be too late to plant pumpkins (for this year), but I’ve still got my arms wide open, shouting “HI, THERE!”

Perfect Garden: Promise and Propaganda

Managing expectations of the perfect garden is one of the greatest challenges a new gardener faces. We sigh happily over lush green pictures in garden supply catalogs and upscale home design magazines.

Versailles Gardens

Looks a lot like the Versailles Gardens, no? That’s because it is.

Everywhere we turn, we see a picture perfect garden beset with koi ponds and white wrought iron tea tables and, of course, matching chairs and a full ice tea pitcher with glistening slices of home grown lemon.

Carefully weathered cedar gazebos, copper-patina wind chimes tinkling, surrounded by delicately twining vines of ivy, climbing rose, perfectly trimmed hedges, flagstone paths to make your soul weep. And it’s all green, Green, GREEN in the way that the newly watered perfect garden is supposed to be. Not a petal or grass blade out of place.

Not a weed in sight.

garden site

Before. See the perfect garden superimposed? No? Ok. That’s my head.

Seeing a Perfect Garden is Believing

We buy into this perfect garden mythology, we new gardeners, because we must. Nobody says to herself, “YES! I am going to go kneel in the ankle-deep mud and choke on the blowing sand while I dig out 80-pound boulders to make room for a 20-foot square garden which will yield two tomatoes, 47 huge tomato bugs, three heads of pre-wilted lettuce, and a squash that looks like a prune!”

Relying on Perfect Garden Mythology

We look at that empty 20 square feet of weeds, rocks, dead saplings and bird poop – and we see the Versailles Gardens superimposed in all their perfectly tended glory. We weed and dig and push and shovel and hoe the existing muck out of the way in the hope of revealing this perfect garden.

We need the promise of the perfect garden. It’s what keeps us digging and watering and hauling and shoveling and hoping.