This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
I first penned this piece in 2001 and 15 years later it still feels relevant. It’s encouraging to know that the true attributes of a “real gardener” haven’t changed. Enjoy!
“Next year I promise not to buy any more plants until I have planted all the ones that are currently stored in the garage because I didn’t get around to planting them this year.”
No real gardener would ever put these kinds of constraints on themselves. After all, compulsive plant buying is a sign of a healthy, well-adjusted gardener.
Just think of those plants as a portable test garden. If the plant can’t survive at least two seasons of being moved in and out of the garage, then it probably isn’t worthy of being planted.
I usually manage to kill at least 30% of them every year by forgetting to water or letting the slugs decimate them or shoving them so close together that they suffocate each other before they ever get a chance to be planted.
By the time I do get around to finding a home for them, they are tough as nails.
“My tool shed is going to be perfectly organized next year so I can always find what I need when I need it.”
Oh right, a place for everything and everything in its place. Show me a gardener that is that organized and I’ll bet money they suffer from constipation.
Dodging rakes and falling shovels helps us stay alert, it sharpens our reflexes and keeps our muscles toned. And as for tool maintenance, don’t get me started.
Oiling tools and cleaning the lawn mower at the end of the season only delays the excitement of shopping for replacements. Real gardeners long for the opportunity to acquire new and exotic gardening tools.
“Next year, I won’t plant things too close together. I might even read the plant tags before planting.”
Now this is a novel concept, actually reading all those descriptive tags that nursery professionals provide for us. Real gardeners would never lower themselves to the level of reading tags. That’s for the amateur.
We buy plants because they are “cool” and because we have to have them. We design by impulse, buying a plant and then finding a place for it. As for planting too close together? Impossible! We all know that there is strength in numbers.
Crowded plants hold each other up and they choke out weeds. We don’t have to spend money or take the time to stake things up.
Opulence, exuberance, and immoderation are the hallmark of a real gardener. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
“This year I’m going to stake my perennials before they bloom and pinch my mums so they aren’t eight feet tall by September.”
These are classic examples of timely chores that real gardeners can’t be bothered with. I have these wonderful “grow through rings” for my peonies somewhere in the gardening shed that are designed to be put over the peonies while they are still small (before they set their flower buds). Haven’t got them on once in five years. But that’s why they make “link stakes”, bamboo stakes and stretch ties.
Regarding fall blooming perennials like asters and mums that need pinching in June to keep them compact and bushy, I do manage to accomplish that task, but only because I own a gas powered hedge trimmer with a 30” bar that allows me to “pinch” them in about 30 seconds. Real gardeners love power tools.
Happy New Year from the Whistling Gardener
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at email@example.com.
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