Saturday, April 11, 2009

Failure IS an Option!

Several weeks ago, fellow blogger Liz, reigning Queen of Eternal Lizdom, excitedly announced the onset of her family's first-ever gardening project. I was also very excited; not only was there going to be once less patch of useless grass kept alive, but two children were going to get down and dirty with their food.

Of course, I offered Liz any help I could long-distance, and she promised to bombard me with questions (still waiting, but I hear it's still pretty wintry in other parts of the land). At the same time, she--and several commenters--mentioned their ineptness with growing things. "I kill everything" seemed a pretty common refrain. "No, no!" I wanted to say, "you just gave up one season too early!"

In the meantime, I keep posting all these lovely pictures of our garden and flowers, where everything grows strong and green, and nary a weed can be seen. And I, too, get those "I can't grow a thing" comments.

You do realize the power of editing, right?

Well, for Liz and all those who are down on themselves about their botanical abilities, I present to you, our own personal Gallery of Failure.

Exhibit A is actually the first picture up top. If you scroll back up, you'll notice at least 15 empty little pods. (Go ahead, I'll wait here for you.) Oh, yes, we planted stuff in them. It just didn't come up. And what you don't see is the five or ten that started growing an alarmingly vigorous mold just when the seeds sprouted. Those got tossed immediately. But these others...hey, maybe we can reuse them.

Exhibit B:

This is our raised bed where we planted the spinach. I count about 5 sprouts. For some reason, we just haven't had real good luck with spinach. But Miss Chef had some Swiss chard that needed somewhere to go, so this is one failure we've turned into an opportunity. (The chard is in the darker spots; I just put them in there today.)

Sometimes, the failure really is our fault...Exhibit C:

This was once a lovely little azalea bush that we simply didn't water enough while it was waiting to go in the ground. We also waited far, far too long to get the bed ready. I thereafter instituted a rule that no plants were to be bought until a bed was prepared for them. So I guess this failure ended in a lesson learned.

Exhibit D:

Last year we had two extra tomato plants that didn't fit in the garden. We thought we'd just raise them in containers on the patio. But container tomatoes need LOTS of watering. Neither one did well, and the fact we never did anything to support them pretty much signed their death warrants. Granted, they'd be dead by now anyway...but notice we failed to clean out the pot, or even pull that great big thistle out??

This failure? Pure laziness. We might even end up doing it again this year.

Exhibit E:

Snapdragons. Did well in the ground. Not so well here. This failure is, I believe, an example of "right plant, wrong place." Even failed experiments yield some kind of result. Maybe we'll plant a shade-loving herb in here this year.

Oh, and there's so much more I could show you (if only I had pictures; what kind of nut goes around taking pictures of their own failures??). There was our first garden, which was planted waaaay to densely, ending up in a solid patch of tomatoes and squash that shaded everything else. There were the 33" tomato cages that were too small for the plants. The dried-out houseplant still sitting in its pot in our bedroom (vurry bad feng shui, I'm sure). The potted sago palm I've had for five years that just...won't...grow.

I recently pulled out a book Miss Chef had picked up off a sale rack for $1.99, about growing herbs & vegetables in North Carolina*. It's a great book, well-organized and full of information. I wanted to share this part of the introduction with all you timid or despairing gardeners:

"Gardening success can be summarized in just 3 rules:

1. Know your plants.
2. Know your site.
3. Even if you ignore the first 2 rules, plant anyway!"

Now, maybe that only applies to North Carolina...but I doubt it. Look, I guarantee that some of the stuff you plant won't make it. Or it'll just sit there and look sickly and never really amount to much. And you'll probably kill something, by overwatering, or underwatering, or stepping on it by mistake when you get all excited about the peas coming up. But plants are pretty good at what they do. They've got all the instructions they need. Sure, study up; buy lots of books and magazines; they can surely help.

But if you get overwhelmed by pH measures, fertilizer balances, pesticides and fox urine...just go back to the basics: dirt. sun. water.

The plants know what to do.

And every once in a while, you'll get a hopeful little sign to keep plugging. Miss Chef put in these gerbera daisies two years ago. They did dreadfully that year--again, we didn't keep them watered--but lo and behold, they're perennials now! Thanks, little daisy!

*The North Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Book, by Walter Reeves & Felder Rushing. (2002) Cool Springs Press, Nashville TN.


  1. Darn comment option wasn't cooperating with me...


    Funny you mention failure because we had our first!! We've got our starters going- Jeff's been doing all his research and got things going. The cucumbers took off like mad. Soon needed to be transplanted to a larger thingee. So Jeff handled that, too.

    We think the lesson learned is that you shouldn't untangle the tangled roots. Because they didn't survive the move. At all. It's really sad. He thought the tangling was a bad thing (the directions on the seed packet said to plant 3 seeds per spot) and gently undid them... but now we think the tangling roots needed each other.

    Ah, well.

  2. I have some cockscomb seeds that I got from a cut flower last year. Do I have to do the indoor seedling thing, or can I just plant the seeds in the ground once it gets warmer???

  3. I love how you ended your post with the hopeful photo of the bright red/orange daisy! Very cool!!

    Nancy in Atlanta

  4. can't wait to see all the growing plants soon.

  5. Good post and thank you for sharing your less than robust plants. I feel better about the fact that someone else has planted something that didn't come up or didn't make it once it did other than me. I am so disappointed, I planted 12 birdhouse gourds (2 seeds per pellet) and only 4 came up! Everyone told me the luffas would be the hardest to grow, that they don't germinate well and are really finicky until they get started. Every single one of them has come up, go figure!

  6. I once planted something in plain white sand with water an above it... it grew for a while but died soon after someone left a towel over it for a few days thus eliminating any chance of living. I have yet to recreate this bizarre success in growing plants since... and really don't try.

    Haha you fail at growing plants because you tried to do something! (oh burn?) No that sounded cruel even though it was meant to be lame.

    On the bright side: you've done such a marvellous job at growing a thistle! It's a lovely weed to say the least.

    Aren't you glad you get to share your failures in gardening to everyone in the world through the internet? I am. It's amusing to read.

    Have fun with your gerbera daisies :)

  7. Well, thanks for stopping by with your planting advice. What I was really hoping was that you'd tell me you'd just come up here and do the work for me... Okay, I'll do it your way! ;-P


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