Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement. -C.S. Lewis
When I talk to others about gardening I normally get one of two responses. The first is one of enthusiasm: “Oh I like gardening too. Right now I am growing (insert plant name here).” The other response is, “I just don’t have a green thumb.” I continually meet people who claim that they kill every plant they bring home and they are just too discouraged to make any further attempts.
Well I have news for you. I too have unwillingly killed plants. I didn’t know how to care for them properly and needed to do some research. For some odd reason, I decided a couple years ago to try again with tomato seedlings and a Rosemary Bush. After my first successful harvest, my husband mistakenly assumed that I felt passionate about growing things and that Christmas gave me a handful of photographically captivating books about gardening. The truth was, in the beginning I just wanted to grow tomatoes so that we could avoid a few extra trips to Wal-Mart during the week to feed our tomato addiction. I had the Rosemary bush because I knew that it grew well in poor soil with minimal care and it seemed like a good way to balance out my empty porch. I however was a complete softy for my new husband with his big dewy eyes and warm smile as he welled up with pride at the gift he had given me. Something happened to me too at that moment; I was proud of myself as well. I knew that for the first time I had done a good job caring for a plant and that plant in turn was producing fresh, organic food. I also realized that actually my husband wasn’t wrong about me–he just knew something about me before I saw it in myself.
The following January I filled my small sunny windowsill with seeds to get a jump start on my growing season. My new garden books were ever present by my spot on the couch and my bedside table. At the very onset of spring I perused the local nurseries in town. I filled my balcony with vegetables and herbs to the point that some of my plants couldn’t get enough sunlight due to the lack of space. It was that year that I also had my first encounters with plant diseases and pests. I became aware of the other things I had to learn but I didn’t mind that extra effort because the fruit that effort could bear was worth it. My husband also got me to invest in grow boxes that I use to this day and out of those grow boxes I harvested approximately 350 Habaneros, 100 Jalepenos, 20 bell peppers, and dozens of tomatoes (out of just two growboxes). My success that year was very encouraging in spite of a few plant losses.
The very first gardening books I owned and read from Brian were about container gardening since we lived in a second story apartment. One of the specialties of the books dealt with successfully combining plants in containers for looks and productivity (an example would be growing flowers with vegetables). Becoming increasingly familiar with combos and techniques, I have become bold with some of my experiments. You might remember my blog entry, “Odorous in a Good Way.” I combined three plants for a container to place at my front door.
Here’s how it looked then:
Here it is now:
There appeared to be something white and foamy on the plant that went brown. I think it may have been a fungus. I carefully cut away all the brown leaves and looked online for a way to create my own natural fungicide and sprayed that spot after scraping the top layer off carefully. In addition to washing my tools, I threw away the leaves instead of composting to avoid disease passing. The plants that remain have been returned to our front door. At least the citronella is still alive, I need it to repel mosquitoes.
My other failure comes in the form of seeds that haven’t germinated in almost two months.
Yes, it is sad losing these plants; but that does not diminish the joy I have on this porch:
Our patio is lined with flowers, tomato plants, tomatillo plants, pepper plants, herbs, and ornamental plants that are thriving. This would not have been achieved if I didn’t keep trying and remain willing to learn from failures. I can categorize all of my failures into a few simple tips that enable my current success:
Water correctly: Too little or too much? Know how to water and when to leave the plants alone. Watering near the roots in the morning prevents diseases and overwatering. Self-watering containers prevent under-watering a very thirsty plant. The rest just need good drainage.
Basic pest knowledge: If you know the most common pest for your area and take steps to prevent it from being a problem then you will ensure safety for most of the plants you have. Sometimes it’s as easy as planting a Marigold and a garlic clove with your tomato. Just do a little research and plan ahead. Most of the time when I do this, I no longer have to fuss over it for the rest of the season.
Fertilize once in a while: This is a lot like watering. Read the recommendation on the label and follow it. Sometimes with container gardening you only need to fertilize once and you’re done. Maybe do it again in 3 to 6 months. That’s it.
Place your plant in the right spot: Most plants like sun. Some like it a little. Others like it a lot. A few don’t like much sun at all. Find out which one your plant is and place it accordingly.
Get some easy plants: These are the plants that thrive naturally in your region. It’s nice to have a few that you don’t have to work at caring for whether you love digging in the garden or garden once a year (at best). Regional plants seldom need to be watered if ever and you don’t have to think about fertilizing. You’ll be able to guess which ones they are by looking around town; they are the ones you find the most of!
Lastly, remember that there is a season for everything: I can guarantee you that if I plant lettuce on my balcony today it will sprout quickly, become bitter, then die quickly. I can do everything else right but the truth is it is not it’s season. If I plant it when the temperatures drop in the fall to winter time however, it will be a super easy crop! If you’ve ever had a plant that was doing great for 6 months and all of the sudden failed, it may just be the season.
With a little practice all this knowledge can become automatic–especially with your favorite plants. If you have a desire to grow things, don’t be discouraged if a few attempts fail. Be willing to grow yourself. Take it from someone whose beige thumb turned green after all.