When You Kill Your Garden Plants (a Cautionary Tale)
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.