Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Re-Garden Re-Grow?

From today's Times and News-Star

Home gardening for a guy is sort of like a woman is for a guy. You’re attracted to it, you’d like to participate, but starting out, you really don’t know what to do. Or what not to do.

But then you dive in and gain a little experience. And … you still don’t know what to do. Or what not to do.

Mistakes will be made.

A gardening friend shared this quote with me on her site this week, from the late gardening fanatic and writer Barbara Borland: “A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes.” Borland is now hopefully in a garden not built with human hands, amazed that the dog doesn’t bite and the bee doesn’t sting and her plants are perfectly spaced and fruitful, as far as the eye can see. But on earth, it’s a bit of a different ballgame.

Here, we deal with moody weather, red clay dirt and the arresting human element. Barbara knows. The only way to learn is to do, and in the doing comes the mistake-making. In gardening, batting .300 is unacceptable, but thinking you are going to get on base every time, much less score, is nothing less than a dream of Eden.

“I am a wayward, wilful, contrary gardener,” Borland once wrote, and aren’t we all. It’s a battle. Us against the world, the world being literally just that – earth, and Mother Nature.

It’s a jungle up in here.

After a long layoff, I am back in the gardening game nine months now. One of the lessons I’ve learned – and I hope this helps the rookie and reminds the veteran – is that it’s a game of give and take. You seldom get it just right the first time. “But remember,” a wise friend told me, during a sparring match I was having with shi shis and hydrangeas, “if things don’t work out, you can always dig it up and put it somewhere else.”

I read recently a long story about “My Worst Gardening Mistake.” Dumping seeds, unknowingly, into a rock garden, and watching it turn into dandelion garden with rocks in it. A shrub that was supposed to grow six feet wide eventually growing – well what do you know? – six feet wide, overtaking every other plant in its path. A lady overplanting turnips until her husband, exasperated, offered one night at supper a quote that will live in vegetable garden infamy: “Turnip crepes? Are you kidding me?”

Misery loves company.

My friend Jeremy Dirt, a pro in the garden arena, dropped by our estate the other day, at my request, in exchange for a world famous Scatterload sandwich from Dowling’s. Small price to pay for beauty.

I wanted to show him where I’d planted the Teddy Bear Magnolia, the coral bark Japanese maple, the Natchez crepe myrtle. I was so proud. And then he opened his mouth.

“Why,” he said, “did you do this before asking me?”

“I didn’t want to get on your nerves,” I said.

His look told me that I had not accomplished that.

The magnolia will grow into the edge of the roof. The Japanese maple, she’ll be too hot where she is. The crepe myrtles, too close together. And that is literally just the start of how my garden will grow.

The effort was there, but not the result. Jeremy’s top comment during the 20 minutes he was on The Property: “Well, that SHOULD be all right.” This after he’d stared in silence a full minute at two bottlebush and a bridal wreath and something called a loquat, all in a bed eight by five. “This should be all right…” Should be…Which means it very well might not be.

Why didn’t I call him?

It is not too late. I still have the month to “get stuff into the ground,” as gardeners say, these trees and perennials for which I have some degree of hope. But the lesson here is to ask. I’ve found both gardeners and computer people to be willing, even eager, to share what is hard-earned and hard-to-come-by knowledge in areas where the tiniest thing can make a big difference.  

So as we head into Spring Fever, ask. Talk amongst yourselves. Read, but ask A Real Person too, as North Louisiana gardeners know things about the land, from experience, that differ from the norm. Learn from their mistakes.

You haven’t really started writing until you’ve started rewriting. And you haven’t really started gardening until you’ve had the pleasure of digging up your best plans and plants and started re-gardening.