Thursday, March 27, 2008

Some of my best gardening mistakes

One of the big mysteries in my life is why I keep on gardening. I've made countless mistakes, some of them Big, Bold and Butch. Since I know many gardeners are struggling with starting the seeds I publish some of my mistakes as a way to cheer you up.

Let's have my own vegetable plot in the allotment garden as a prelude. Every year my parents gave me one square meter (nine square feet) to grow on, and every year the soil dried out, the weed moved in and the few carrots still living sadly waved their yellowing leaves. Boy, I hated that clay soil.

Mistake #1: Not having a clue.
When I moved in together with my hubby we lived in an appartement with a corner balcony. The rail was shaped like a net, and I thought it would work well as a trellis. Since I knew nasturtium is easy to grow I bought an envelope of seeds, some soil and some plastic boxes. I envisioned the balcony covered with light green leaves and yellow flowers. Then I poured the soil into the plastic boxes and planted the seeds directly into the soil.

What happened? Well, since it was a corner balcony it was a windy spot. The tiny nasturtiums looked over the side of the box, and was immediately blown back into it. Once back in the box they choked on a nasty mixture of soil and water, since I hadn't made any holes to drain excess water. All the summer through we could feast our eyes on this green and brown soup.
Most important lesson learned: Read up on what you are doing, and practice what you've learned.

Mistake #2 Water too little.
One of my chores when I lived at my parent's house was to water the houseplants. My mother, being pragmatic, only had plants of the kind with thick dark green leaves that can survive for ages without water. I killed most of them. Our windowsills were dryer than Sahara.

Only after seeing a friend giving a cup of water to each of her plants I realised how real watering should be done. I had moved to an appartement of my own, which meant I could buy some plants that I liked. Instead of jade plants I could have rose geranium (in swedish; rosengeranium) and both I and the plants shrived.

We shrived to the point that when my mother was to visit me and my hubby in our new appartement, she looked at our windows from the outside and exclaimed
"She can't live there. There are plants in the windows!"
Most important lesson learned: Give plants enough water and they'll grow!

Mistake #3 Water too much
My parents have really seen the worst of my gardening efforts. This was another thing that happened when I lived with them.

Since it was clear I couldn't keep plants alive I was given an aloe to care for. I thought it was an aloe vera (it wasn't), and decided to make an effort. Since my knowledge about plants stopped at the fact that they needed water I gave it water. Often.

Hace you ever seen those ornamental pots some people put their houseplants in to cover up the uggly terracotta container? My aloe had a beautiful one made of white china, and as usual it didn't have a drainage hole. It didn't occur to me to look inside to see if there was any excess water inside. Not untill something started to smell funny in my room. I gently touched the aloe to see inside the pot, and the plant exploded, spreading rotten parts around. What made it worse; I had my bed under the window, covered with a chrochet throw handmade by grandma...
Most important lesson learned: Water the plant to its needs. And avoid ornamental pots.

As you can tell from the photo I'm still making mistakes. Those strawberries should have been planted instead of being left in the bag from the shop, and that rose definately needs to be replanted. Still, behind them stands a cherry tree that have survived more than two years on the balcony. It's planted in a terracotta pot with a water container and drainage holes.

So, I started with drowning nasturtium and now I have a living cherry tree. The way to great success is paved with mistakes.


jeff-nhn said...

Perseverance pays off. If the truth were known, I believe we all have had our little battles keeping our plants well hydrated and healthy. I must say even though as a child I was assigned chores like watering house plants, it really never sunk into my brain in why and what are the consequences of not paying attention to my task. Thanks for sharing, it brought a grin to my face an made a couple of memories surface.

jodi said...

To make garden mistakes is human; all part of the growing process. I just call them garden experiments and laugh. But seriously, this is a wise and honest post, and will be useful to others too.

Rosengeranium said...

Jeff-nhn: Indeed it does. I have a theory that kids are occupied by more important things than the "whys" of chores, and that's why so little knowledge is passed on this way.

Jodi: I do hope so. I've seen too many give up gardening because of one withered seedling.

N. & J. said...

Thanks for sharing. it can be intimidating to read about everyone's successes and look at the beautiful pictures and then look outside the window and see dirt. My fiance and I planted seeds for the first time this year and while it hasn't been a huge success we have some seedlings so we are excited.

Rosengeranium said...

n&j: Garden books, sites and blogs often makes it look like it's so easy and everything grow so fast. I thought there was need for some counterbalance.

Great to hear about the seedlings; you've levelled up as gardeners :)