This year's garden was a flop? 2 Take Aways for new gardeners

Sep 10, 2023
homestead cottage permaculture garden

The humbling experience of gardening never ceases to demean my ego. That might be my very argument for doing it--perhaps the urgency behind my recommendation that EVERYONE do it. Yes, even the faint of heart. 

Gardening diminishes me, it belittles me, it excites and then also deflates me. Probably the same could be said of every homesteady-esque, hands on, skills required endeavor I've ever taken on.

And then it doesn't. A few days of rain, a change in the weather, a shift in the daylight, a chance placement of one pot or stone or other plant or sprinkler and the tides turn, and suddenly my garden has billowed my sails and I commit to my wavering title of 'gardener extraordinaire' forgetting promptly the shame I felt when insta-scrolling through the social media fodder of any other person's garden just a few days/hours before. 

Like the spring turns to summer, and summer to fall, so my garden has gone from a season of slim-pickin's and well-wishes gone wrong to a delight from both near and far, in and out. No squinting necessary--my vision is as complete as I've ever seen outside my mind's eye. 

(picture of garden from my window (note the screen))

It all happened last week when I peered out my window perch and suddenly realized (as seen in the picture), having had it freshly mown & edged by Drew, it's what I want! Yes, it's hot. Yes, NC will continue to torment us with on again-off again fall like weather intermittent with torrents of rain and the gale force winds of hurricanes edging past us through October, but I have these glimpses of what I want to sustain me. This new found proof that if you plant it, if you weed it, if you incessantly pour your soul into it--it can become. 

2 words of advice for those who have succumb to this obsession: 

1. Use a lot of images. Sometimes, in the middle of planting new things in the garden I have almost no idea what I'm doing. Things don't move logically, I'm not well mapped or planned when it comes to height of plants, placement or even companions that make sense. BUT, somewhere in the depths of my mind there is a very specific image of what I want--perhaps it's more of a feeling than a picture, but the pictures in my mind evoke the feeling I want to create. Yes, I want my garden to be full to the brim of perfectly practical flora, BUT, I want it to envelop you as if it were holding you. I want it to embrace, not to simply function. I want it to interact with it's visitors. 

Let me clarify--my garden is not a docu-series worthy garden--it will likely always be the humble cottage-esque garden that's large enough for just one middle-aged/old-lady to maintain. I don't want to misrepresent its grandeur. But, it feels very representative of me--and that feels good to see. In a spinning world like ours I have often wondered who exactly that is. I'm sure most do. I didn't mean to make this little article quite so introspective, but the draw of the garden is the therapy it offers, and the pull that keeps me there in spite of all that impatience. I've been a mess no-one could make sense of, a bit of a wasteland that seemed lovely enough, but not quite fully actualized. Perhaps this is why anyone gardens--those urges are surely in all of us--and to participate in the digging out, coercing of beauty and usefulness and purpose, it's the ultimate permission to embrace our own incompletenesses. No garden is ever complete--that is such a relief.

2. Let it unfold. Having not mapped out any super meticulous plan, I'm an avid garden book collector and have also been adding to 'My Romantic Garden' pinterest collection for years. I have, once or twice, mapped out the area just to help my helpers understand my vision (some of whom are slightly more linear thinkers than I). My garden rambles and the paths meander. It is not mower friendly and a great deal of it would be easier had I leaned more into convention. With more foresight and better strategizing I may have come more quickly to this season of satisfaction. I could have better prepped the soil with cover crops and additives. I could have lain more cardboard to prevent the onslaught of weeds where I intended wildflowers. I might have maximized for better harvests and bigger crops, more consistency and perhaps even considered what might offer opportunities for profit. Maybe all of those things could be true. Or, maybe they couldn't. Like Gandalf, maybe I arrived precisely when I was meant to. All I know is that in spite of my impatience through almost ALL the other seasons (both culturally recognized and of my own experience), I'm currently proud of what has come. But in the most un-egotistical of ways. 

People have told me they don't have a green thumb. I've killed more plants than I've grown. A tragedy of added up losses that I choose to not crunch numbers on. We can't have evolved or been created simultaneously as these plants and not also be green. We just are, we just might need to be willing to embrace the fullness of both our power and lack of it. How those 2 things rely on each other is perhaps the ultimate lesson of the gardening type. The most repetitive  of meditations. We have complete control and utterly none in complete equality

Some more images of my garden if you're interested to see what marvels & moves me:

I call this crimson zinnia, and I'm especially proud because although not as prolific as I'd hoped, it is a descendant of last year's crimson zinnia from which I saved seed.

The loofah has finally decided to start booming. Planted months ago, I'd given up expectation for restocking our supply of kitchen scrubbers. And, it does make me happy this is also from saved Schoolhouse seed.

A basket of various herbs & edibles for our recent bone broth workshop. Purple basil, tulsi, oregano, thyme, nasturtium, garlic chives, peppers, lemon balm, chives & more. Most of these are perennials which are one of my priorities. I try to spend less time worrying about annuals--they can fill in once all these perennials have taken hold, but the pay off of healthy perennials is just to big to get too distracted on a once-and-done crop.

Except, I put a lot of time into floral annuals bc they bring me so much joy. The goal is to save seeds and have more year to year. But this is my first ever pincushion flower (scabiosa), and it's punier than I'd like it to be ( I have a variety of colors growing), but unlike most great gardeners, I'm not great at fertilizing heavily, so my plants sometimes take long to establish and often don't catch up. However, I learn what does thrive in minimalist gardening conditions, and lean more into those. (ie. perennials & even self-seeders).  *note: I'm always open to tips and suggestions if you have favorites in these categories! Please share!!

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