Time to ‘fess up about 2018’s garden foibles and failures. I’ve had ‘em.
Some garden experts opine that it’s best to always be positive. But as much as I’d like to gloss over how gardening isn’t always rosy, I’d rather maintain credibility with folks who know better. So here are some highlights of the low points.
This past year I did see incredible gardens all over the world, learned much at top-notch garden shows, and met some great people – including right here in our own backyards. I helped honor the passing of the Gardens Clubs of Mississippi’s delightful longtime wildflower champion Hall Jo Ellis by sharing wildflower seeds with hundreds of other admirers. I remain the host of the most laid-back, longest-running garden party in the country every week on NPR’s Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
Oh, and your truly unique hometown newspaper started running my garden columns. Being from a bustling Delta village where pomp is less important than politeness, I’m grateful to be put in touch with real gardeners who write to share anecdotes and offer corrections when I flub something.
And I’m cheekily proud of my newest bottle tree, tallest in the state. When workers carved up an old cedar that was tangling my power lines, I got them to stub back the limbs and drill foot-long metal rods into each, onto which I stuck colorful bottles and topped it all with a bowling ball. Want to see it lit up for the holidays? Check it out on my blog.
But I failed at some stuff, too. My hostas withered, and a treasured new camellia died from being planted in a low, wet spot. I had to bite the bullet, replacing a huge new crape myrtle with another flowering tree to head off dealing with the inevitable infestation of incurable bark scale.
I never got around to moving my great-grandmother’s bulbs, which are being shaded out by maturing trees. Grasshoppers ate the tops out of half my broccoli, and when a dear friend offered to make homemade soup, she discovered that I’d rather hide my kale to preserve its garden beauty than help chop it into a cookpot.
But I added more this fall by building a small raised bed, only a couple of feet wide but wrapped halfway around a new fig tree. I figure the fig will take a year or two to start filling in and shading the area, so why not temporarily put the compost-rich dirt I dug around it to good use? After adding a facer board on top of the box to make it look neat, I painted it teal and lined the outer edge with wine bottles because, why not?
And it has produced the most amazing mesclun salads, a steady bounty of red, green, flat and frilly lettuces plus mustard, kale and a couple of broccoli and cabbage plants - with little watering and no spraying. And because it’s homegrown, I know whether or not whoever picks it washed their hands first (I didn’t).
Next month I’ll cut the new fig tree back to a foot or so, to make it branch out with low, sturdy trunks, and every winter after that I’ll cut all the new growth back to a couple of feet so the bush will stay compact and fruitful, and picking will be easier for the rest of my life.
If I could indulge in personal garden wishes, it’d be for more success with tomatoes, less fuss with weeds. But in case I only have one, here’s hoping we all have a great new gardening year.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.