When You Kill Your Garden Plants (a Cautionary Tale)

Have you ever heard the old joke about putting in a garden?  The first year you install a garden, and the second year you install it again minus all your disastrous mistakes. Well, gardening is definitely one of those pursuits you learn by doing. 

If you spent the first part of May outdoors with adorable seedlings and a big bag of potting soil only to realize last weekend that some of those delightfully petite plants have just given up in a green puddle on the ground, don't throw in the trowel -- yet.  Gardening is like algebra. You have to get through the basic stuff (and master it), before you get to the really good stuff.  If you've ever held a perfect calla lily or rose bud raised to delicate perfection by your own hand, you know a few reassuring things novice gardeners don't, like:

You hardly ever get it right the first time out.

Every once in a while great things still manage to grow -- even when you screw-up big time.

You don't really know a plant until you've killed at least a couple of its brothers (cousins, sisters).  One failure won't make for a barren garden -- unless you give up trying.

If gardening were easy like, say, eating ice cream or watching reruns of Friends, everyone would do it.

Sometimes you can do everything right and still fail.  This is one of the hardest lessons of gardening (and maybe of life in general).  A successful garden, flowerbed or potted plant is a wonder of synchronicity -- things coming together in the right way at the right time. This year you may be trying to produce a huge pumpkin in the middle of a squash bug epidemic overflowing from your neighbor's zucchini patch.  Some things are just unpredictable.

After a few seasons, you learn to be a good guesser.  Don't underestimate the power of guessing well.  It's probably a better talent than being able to sing on key (karaoke notwithstanding).  It's like learning to do a complicated crossword puzzle -- the right solution just occurs to you. It isn't magic, though; you do have to work for it.  It goes something like this: 'Yikes, I don't want to put a dill plant over by the driveway. The afternoon breeze coming off the easement will knock it over. That's what happened last year. Hmm, this new plant looks like it may get top heavy and maybe a bit spindly.  The bed next to the driveway probably isn't a good spot for this little guy, either.'  Pretty soon you're making great guesses all over the place.  Call it experience.  Call it creative problem solving.  Call it intuition.  Whatever name you give it, guided guessing is great fun and makes gardening a lot easier.

In a new garden, even when things don't turn out the way you expect, your efforts aren't wasted.  You'll be working the soil, encouraging worms and other beneficial insects to put your property on their to-do list for next year; and you'll be formulating a strategy that will turn a future summer garden into something worthy of all your toil -- and then some.


  1. Hah. The first attempt at a garden in the house I currently live in resulted in a bed of mostly weeds with some herbs mixed in there SOMEWHERE. The next year my mom and I made sure not to allow my step-father to water anything XD

  2. Deborah Roper9:38:00 PM

    I really enjoyed this because it's so laughably true! I've gardened just long enough to be able to laugh after losing a plant, including the money and time spent on it. You DO learn as you go. You move plants around to where you NOW know they'll grow better. And you end up with a beautiful garden that reflects you. I'm taking photos. Some actually look like those I see in magazines! I've come far in so few years. I can't wait to try more new things with what I have- herbs, veggies and native plants to feed the wonderful little lives who share this bit of Earth with me. It's the best way of life, being a gardener 8^)

  3. I enjoyed this because it's so true! To be able to laugh after losing a plant, the money and time spent on it, is definitely an aquired skill. But the results are well worth the cost. My garden photos now look like those in magazines. And the creatures sharing this piece of Earth with me seem truly pleased, enjoying the food and comforts of their home. They also help with digging, moving and planting seeds too. With good results! Yeah, gardening is the best way of life 8^)

  4. I agree. It's pretty darned great. Thanks for sharing. Both of you.

  5. My biggest problem is identifying the problem - too much or not enough! Whether it be water or fertiliser. Pot not big enough? suitable soil? ho hum :)

  6. It’s true that you cannot always perfect gardening especially on your first time. On the bright side, the effort exerted in gardening is never wasted. Working on the soil, the seedlings, and all the other elements needed to create an excellent garden is a complex and intricate process. But like the author said, there’s always something beautiful to come out in the process.

    Katelin Mccaig

  7. totally agree! first year had a great veg garden, the next year, taken over by weeds. 3 (Third is a charm, I'm hoping) This year will also be third year in a row of planting raspberries, the past 2 years they fell victim to my husband and the weed-eater!!!!

    1. Nessah,

      What is it with men and weed whackers? They always seem to get carried away.



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