By Renee Adam
Some say the best lessons are taught by our failures — and when it comes to gardening, I would have to agree. Season to season, I not only learn from the mistakes I make in my garden, but also share this knowledge with my three daughters so they won’t have to repeat them when they get old enough to start growing their own. Here are three of my most recent, ahem, learning opportunities:
The goof: I didn’t follow instructions.
Plant tags are crammed with important information like how far apart to space the plants and how much sunlight they need. Sure, I read the tags, but sometimes I end up deciding that I know better. Big mistake. Take, for example, my strawberry bed. I bought a whole bunch of pink begonias to go around the beds. The tag said to space them 24 inches apart, but I remember thinking that there was no way these tiny flowers would need that much space. Ha! Was I ever wrong (as you can see from the photo above). I ended up having to actually dig up some of the flowers and move them so the berries would have enough room to grow.
The lesson Trust the information on the tags.
The goof: I didn’t label my plants.
Early on in my gardening history, I would blithely toss the accompanying stick tag after planting each veggie and herb. I was convinced I would remember everything I needed to remember. Wrong again! As the plants grew, I forgot what many of the specific varieties were and had to keep going back to the Bonnie website to try to ID them. This was especially an issue with my tomatoes. Now I can tell the difference among a cherry, a Roma and beefsteak tomato, but I cannot tell the plants apart before before they begin show fruit, nor can I always remember which are determinate and which are indeterminate. I remember my first garden, in which my determinate tomato plants stopped producing midway through the summer (which is totally normal) and I thought something had gone horribly wrong. Live and learn, right?
The lesson Those stick tags belong in the garden with your plants.
The goof: I didn’t think ahead.
Several years ago, my husband and I planted a beautiful willow tree in honor of our grandparents. It was so small that I thought nothing of choosing a spot nearby for my raised beds. It never occurred to me that once the tree began to grow, it would eventually block out sunlight for much of the garden – including my solar-happy tomato plants. But that’s exactly what happened, and my plants no longer thrive like they used to. In fact, I’ve resigned myself to having to create a whole new set of raised beds – away from any trees!
The lesson When choosing a location for anything you want to plant, consider not only the position of nearby trees and other shade-providers (like your house), but also how much taller those trees might grow in coming years.
So next time you goof in the garden, don’t despair. It happens to everyone! My failures have made me a better, more productive gardener – and yours will do the same for you.