Gardening Strategy: Why it doesn’t work as well as plain old hope

Stupid pepper doesn't know it's dead. It's growing leaves like it owns the place

Stupid pepper doesn’t know it’s dead. It’s growing leaves like it owns the place.

Gardening strategy works great on paper. Just ask anyone who’s ever read an issue of Sunset Magazine. All we have to do is follow every instruction in the article on Page 29, and that jaw-dropping lush green back yard garden and water feature and gazebo will magically spring to life. Honest. With a koi pond that is ever-so-clear.


Not so much in real life gardening. Sure, people have gardens that grace the pages of Sunset and Better Homes & Gardens. And, sure, each page is accompanied by hand-drawn how-to-set-your-flagstone-path-in-a-perfect-curve detail.

And if we just follow what they did, EXACTLY, and have the funds to do so… then we, too…

*sigh* so not the truth, is it?

I’m giving up planning and plotting and drawing-out and scheming.

Well, not really. But I’m pretty sure that my home gardening operation is driven far more on plain old hope than on any formal plan I can possibly devise. And the more I talk with other new gardeners, the more I find that our plans end up in the compost heap more often than not. And here’s why (or so I’ve figured…), for humans who aren’t ranchers or farmers, Garden Strategy is a myth:

Gardening Strategy is not Farming Strategy

Gardening isn’t farming, where every hour is planned and charted, and every action adds up to a certain harvest on a certain schedule. Most of us gardeners don’t have a 30,000-acre property to plow and turn and furrow and plant and water and water and water and debug (literally) and then harvest, all the while tending to the constant flow of chores that comes with managing an operation the size of a small town.

While they plow, we shovel hesitantly — or scoop with our gloved hands. While they sow carefully chosen crops by the field-full, we fish a half-dozen seeds out of a packet, squint to read the directions that we cut in half when trying to open the package, and try to second-guess what the seed wants. If we’re lucky, we label the pots with what we planted – or if we’ve had enough weird surprises to teach us to do so.

A pack'a alpaca at my sister's spread.

Yep – just part of her ranch garden along the side of the big log cabin-style house

Gardening Strategy is not Ranching Strategy

Serious gardeners, like my sister who also raises alpaca and sheep, interlace gardening chores with the myriad daily duties that have to happen before she takes off for her full-time job as a teacher. Her garden is a serious mainstay of ranch life, and takes up serious space, too – all along one side of the house. She grows a good crop of what she feels will be needed during the season, so when she wants a head of lettuce for a salad, she has to start thinking about it months in advance.

My brain can’t think that far ahead, since my idea of gardening strategy is to push stuff into the dirt, then tap my foot impatiently until something grows. If it doesn’t (more often than not), I put lettuce on the shopping list. We’re less than a mile from a supermarket, and my dear husband does 99.9% of the shopping, so I’m spoiled rotten.

If I grow something to eat, I’m so shocked that I’m quite likely to goof it up in the cooking process.

Gardening Strategy 101 – aka Garden Over-Thinking and Garden #FAIL

Casual gardeners (like me – and possibly you) don’t necessarily garden because we must. We garden because we can. We garden, for the most part, because we want to – and if we want to bad enough, we may actually get stuff to grow for a while.

We plan and strategize because we don’t know how not to. We’re seduced into the belief that, if we just spend the time studying and planning hard enough, every seed we plant will grow, every vine we train will obediently trail up the trellis, every herb we coax out of the plastic herb garden will taste of Provence and Spain.

We read magazines and drool over backyard grottos and pristine rows of perfectly shaped pumpkins. We dream of bountiful harvests that fill our new orange trugs to overflowing…

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A pack ‘a alpaca at my sister’s spread

We come up with amazing drawings and efficient schemes, and plot plans that would take up the better half of an acre of land behind the house, dreaming up layouts of chives and corn and peas and carrots and onions and tomatoes and potatoes and lettuce and

… then we get to the back door and look out, and rediscover just how big a half acre is.

I can almost hear the thunk of shovels being dropped to one side as you think about that.

Lucky for us, Mother Nature has a wicked good sense of humor, and allows JUST enough seed to sprout, JUST enough flowers to bud, JUST enough new growth on the top of that herb garden, to keep us hooked with regular doses of “Gee-whiz, it grew!”

Maybe the next one doesn’t. Or maybe our strategy of planting enough chives pays off in a whole peat seedling pot full of flavorful reward. But we just KNOW we can make that next planting come up to our imaginations.

So, frenzied with hope and the best laid plans of mice and men and casual gardeners everywhere, we pick up our trowels, strap on our mismatched but still serviceable gloves, smack on our barely-frayed Tilley hats, and off we go with hope in our hearts and the faint future taste of freshly harvested broccoli in our mouths.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass