Twelve Truths About Gardening

I’ve been a gardener for thirty-five years, during which I’ve learned a few things. These thoughts recur regularly as I work in the garden, so I decided to write them down, in case other gardeners may find them helpful.

One

When in doubt, clip the lawn edges. Nothing spruces up a garden (at least the lawn-plus-perennial-beds kind) faster than this. Even a “yard” with a lawn and a few sad shrubs can be made to look like a garden in the making by defining some edges and fluffing up bare soil. Spreading compost around is the finishing touch.

Back garden beds, freshly edged. (This was in 2010. Sadly it doesn’t look this good now.)

Two

Before stepping into a bed or planting, decide exactly where to put your feet. Those size 8s can snap and squash innocent plants. Pick spots where they’ll do the least damage, both to plants and your body, especially if you need to hold a position while tying, digging, or pruning. Balancing on one foot while twisting yourself into a pretzel shape is not recommended.

Three

In summer-dry places, delay watering as long as you can, to encourage plants to grow deep roots. Once you do start watering, make a schedule and water each area regularly, abiding by local watering restrictions. Keep a record of what area was watered and when.

Four

Learn how to deadhead the plants in your garden and do it regularly. Deadheading extends bloom time and prevents excessive self-seeding. It also forces you to pay attention to the forms and structures of your plants.

Results of a heavy deadheading session

Five

Learn how to propagate plants from seed, cuttings, and divisions. These are cheap ways to increase desirable plants, and doing this stuff is a great way to really know plants, way more than buying nursery-grown specimens.

tomato seedlings
Tomato seedlings

Six

Learn how to prune. It’s not brain surgery (since plants don’t have brains, and you do). If in doubt, cut less. You can always cut more, but once you’ve cut something, you can’t stick it back on. When in doubt, stop, look, and think.

Pruning tools

Seven

If a newly-acquired perennial or shrub shows suckering or vigorously spreading tendencies (I’m looking at you, Mahonia aquifolium!), decide right away if that’s okay with you. If not, either remove the plant and get rid of it, or make an effective management plan. Hoping the plant will change its ways isn’t an option.

Mahonia aquifolium “prunings,” up to 8 feet long!

Eight

Don’t try to change your garden into something it isn’t. You’re stuck with the fundamentals (climate, soil, topography), so you may as well live with them. If you’re determined to turn your sandy seaside garden into a mountain meadow, be prepared to labour endlessly. (Gardening involves enough labour as it is.)

Nine

Accept that the garden will change, no matter what you do, and not always as you intend. That 2010 picture at the beginning of the post is a good reminder of this truth. Some plants will die out and others will thrive. Not always the ones you want, of course.

The Path Behind the Pond

Ten

Don’t believe all the advice you read, even this post books and articles by writers you esteem. Every garden is different, and gardening is a hands-on business. Learn by doing. On the other hand, reading about other gardeners’ thoughts and experiences can be a comfort and a joy.

Eleven

Keep in mind that your garden is a place in which to engage in gardening (i.e., digging, planting, weeding, deadheading, edging, watering, and gazing in wonder). It’s not a status symbol, contest, or race. But your garden is also a home for various creatures — birds, squirrels, insects, etc. Think about that before making drastic changes, such as tree removal.

Surprisingly Elegant Arugula Flowers

Twelve

Cultivate the habit of noticing beauty, no matter what happens in your garden. Even in the bleakest, deadest, driest seasons, even after the windstorm, there’s something beautiful to be seen. You just have to find it and recognize it.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) and Lychnis coronaria foliage.
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46 comments

  1. Love your pond, Audrey! And excellent advice generally about gardening. Like pretty well everything else today there’s a million ‘experts’ out there eager to pressure you to doing things their way. Watch it, feel it, get to understand it and it will from a relationship with you and indicate to you what it needs. I really miss having a garden. I live now in a very nice block of flats, overlooking a lovely, small South London park – only drawback is there’s no balcony which I could have turned into a small garden. Going back a few years when I had a house and garden just outside London, I too had a pond which I constructed – if that’s the right word – myself. I bought fish for it, and frogs appeared from somewhere – like they happened to be passing one day and thought, ‘How about this, then? Looks OK. Let’s stay here.’ And they did. I loved it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for your comment! It’s wonderful that frogs appeared in your pond. I used to have goldfish in mine. They did quite well for a few years but eventually were caught by great blue herons (wonderful birds!) and possibly raccoons. I understand how you would miss having your own garden to do things in. A park may be lovely to look at, but you can’t garden in it (except surreptitiously).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nice idea! Maybe I’ll sneak out into the park in the night, plant a row of carrots and leave a note saying “The Surreptitious Gardner was here”. And going back to my pond – like yours, the fish eventually fell foul of a heron. I saw him – or her – a number of times, towering motionless over the water, waiting…..

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Very good advice Audrey.
    We shall take heart from ‘Eight’. At the ‘small’ back of our house, where vegetation grows the environment encourages a wild look and will not be told otherwise, even plants or bulbs place in large pots pick up on this….Thus, we try and work with Nature.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It’s worth doing, because eventually lavender plants get old and woody. I’ve found it helps to tear off a bit of new growth so you get a “heel” of the old wood at the bottom. Then you stick that cutting into damp sandy soil, or perlite, or a combination. They root quite readily in warm weather.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hostas are great plants, especially in woodsy situations. They look wonderful with ferns. And I agree that gardening is good exercise — all that bending and squatting, not to mention leaf-raking. I don’t use any power tools. Of course, my place is small enough that it’s practical; I even use a push mower for my bits of lawn.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I loved “accept that your garden will change.” Gardens change not only from what we do to them but also from many other factors such as rain, drought, insects, birds, soil quality and just plain old time!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Wonderful pictures and helpful advice. One of my favorite Jefferson quotes is
    Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, 20 Aug. 1811 [Quote]
    but tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Going out the front door or arriving home I often get side tracked dead heading and the same thing happens when I’m hanging out the washing in the back garden. I also get carried away with my phone and Instagram; amongst the disarray there will be little blooms hiding that make a good picture.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What a great blog!!! I just read the Twelve Truths About Gardening. Everything you pointed out is true. I’ve been gardening for at least 55 years and I’m still learning and trying different things. Thank you for starting my morning off with a great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for reading, Audrey. Your garden looks to be a delightful place. Am now in an apartment in Spain with a mostly tiled garden, but we have abundant, colourful bougainvillea, a massive palm tree and various pots Gardening is such a fulfilling, almost spiritual pastime. Enjoy! Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved the article, beautiful pictures and great tips. Spring isn’t far away. It makes my fingers itch to get dirty. I love your creativity. Your garden has a beautiful, relaxed look about it, peaceful.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. These are all excellent points of advice! My grandmother taught me everything she knew about gardening and after a few years I’m finally getting back to it. Thank you for these reminders. I’ve forgotten a few things, but it’s flooding back and I cannot wait to get back in the dirt.

    Liked by 1 person

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