I have a confession to make. I am not a gardener; I’m a landscaper. There is a world of difference.
I’ve successfully planted thousands of trees, shrubs, bulbs, ground covers, perennials, etc. I’ve pruned and planted. I’ve prepared beds for flowers, and know the names and characteristics of many, many plants. Still, I do not consider myself a gardener.
I fervently believe that to be a true gardener, one must work within his or her own garden or have access to a garden that one can treat as one’s own, such as a community garden.
Although I love plants and enjoyed my career as a landscaper, truth is, I never worked much in my own yard nor had my own garden there. It was a classic case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes. When I got home from a day of landscaping, the last thing I wanted to do was to work in the yard.
Well, that all changed last spring when I decided it was high time for me to become a gardener. I brought home annuals, perennials, herbs, potting soil and pots. I prepared beds (hard work) and planted anything that interested me, especially plants that I was not familiar with. (I know, I should have taken my own advice and done all of this the previous fall, but you know “when the spirit moves you, you need to get on with it.”)
I went into the garden yesterday to see how things were doing. There is an old adage, “You learn much more from your failures than your success.” In my case, I obviously learned a lot!
My fennel was under planted with sage. The feathery lavender foliage of the fennel worked nicely with the silver sage. However, I soon found the fennel needed a great deal more water than the sage, which really likes dry conditions. I was busy in September and missed watering for a few days. The fennel disappeared but the sage never looked better.
I discovered the Euphorbia and lavender do well in a pot if you water just right. Enough to keep them alive, but not too much. I watered too much and they looked bad but it stands to reason. These are Mediterranean plants and Euphorbia could almost be treated like a cactus. It likes to be dry and in soil that is well drained.
My rosemary seemed to thrive with neglect, which was good because I was constantly forgetting to water it. Some plants got too big for their space; some plants got shaded out by other plants and didn’t get quite enough sun.
Reflecting on my failures, I realized that gardening is as much about failure as it is about success and I believe that every good gardener knows this. If you’re not failing from time to time, then you are not trying and you are not learning. It’s called experience. The only way to really learn all the nuances and subtleties of gardening is to go out and work in the dirt – not just reading or talking about it. And yes, while I had my failures, I also had successes. My new banana trees were fabulous, my Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’ bloomed all summer. Ferns, sedums and toad lilies (Tricyrtis formosana) did just fine.
So, fall is here and I’m not ready to give up on gardening, even in the face of more hard work and failure. I’m making my plans – new shrubs, perennials, new beds to be prepared, maybe some bulbs and a few things from seed. There’s going to be a lot to do.
Failure in the garden seems to be a lot like failure in other parts of life. You can let it get you down and give up, or you can learn and move forward. I’m not giving up, but I won’t be planting fennel and sage together in the same spot this year.
My parting words of wisdom- it’s fall, folks, and the best time to plant so go out and get started. There are some great new plants available at your local independent garden center so take some time to look around for things that interest you and remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Walt Harrison is the owner of Habersham Gardens Landscape Services & Intown Garden Center, 2067 Manchester Street. For more visit, habershamgardens.com.