Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from the Garden

Researchers say that continuing to learn new things helps to keep one young and may even help to prevent Alzheimers and dementia.  That's good news to me because I have always had a love of learning. I often take a class to learn a new skill, attend workshops and presentations on various topics, and read a lot.  But there's no better place to continually learn new things than in the garden.

I've come a long way since my early days of gardening--not so long ago--when I couldn't figure out why those pretty blue hydrangeas I bought had pink blooms the next year.  But the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.  Every year there are new lessons to be learned in the garden.  Here are just a few of the new things I learned this season:

1.Pay attention to the recommended spacing on plant tags. It's easy to ignore those guidelines when the plants are small, and you want the immediate gratification of a lush, full garden.  But after a couple of years of growth, the result can be a very crowded garden, especially when the plant-addicted gardener adds even more new acquisitions in every bare spot of soil.  I like the look of a sea of green, like this scene from my shade garden, but things have gotten out of hand.  The poor hydrangea had to fight for air amongst the hostas, ferns, and hellebores.  I tried to resist the urge to plant too closely together in my new arbor bed, but the rest of the gardens need some major division and moving of plants next year.

2. Spending a little more on sturdier tomato cages is worth the investment.  Those flimsy metal cages I'd used for several years were beginning to rust, and the ends were bent every which way.  Since I cut back on the number of tomatoes I planted this year, it didn't cost that much to buy some new cages for them.  This year the tomatoes were taller than ever before and stayed upright, not falling over in the first strong summer wind.  This also meant fewer tomatoes lying on the ground where they would be more likely to rot.  As my Dad always said, "You get what you pay for."

3. If you don't want your garden taken over by aggressive self-seeders, then deadhead when the blooms are spent or pull the seedlings in the spring.  Volunteers are nice, but you can have too much of a good thing.  The Susans that filled so much of the butterfly garden last season didn't have a chance this year, and the few that appeared had to fight for space with taller bullies like goldenrod and asters.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Obedient Plant has their backs.  All these vigorous self-seeders make for a nice fall showing, but I'd like a little more diversity year-round in this garden; too many of the other more delicate plants cowered in fear at these tall gang members and just gave up.  A big part of the problem here is that I don't recognize all the seedlings that come up in my garden.  I nearly pulled some seedlings in the lily bed until friend Beckie pointed out they were poppies.  I've nurtured an unusual plant only to discover when it was full grown and blooming that it was a noxious weed.  I do want some goldenrod, asters, and Obedient plant next year, but I'm going to deadhead them this fall before they spread any more.  And next spring I intend to learn more about the appearance of different seedlings so I can have more control over what is growing in my garden.

I have no excuse, though, when it comes to the cleome in the lily bed.  I had one large cleome at the back of this garden area last year and pulled it in September to make room for a new hydrangea 'Vanilla Strawberry.'  Apparently, though, it had already dropped its seeds, because I had dozens of cleome seedlings appear in late spring.  I do know what cleome seedlings look like, and I pulled quite a few, but thought I'd leave a few for late summer blooms.  But egads, I forgot how tall they can get!  Now instead of noticing the fading hydrangea blooms at the back of this garden or the yellow Knockout roses that are re-blooming, the first thing anyone notices here are these tall, gangly spider flowers. They're pretty, but they're out of place.  Next year their offspring are headed to the butterfly garden where they will fit in better.

4. Don't buy any new plants in the heat of summer unless you're going to give them some extra TLC.  You would have thought I had learned this lesson last year when I nearly killed a much-desired new hydrangea.  I planted it during the middle of a prolonged hot and dry spell and then forgot to water it for a few days.  I managed to revive it, and it did come back this year, but it's rather spindly and never did bloom.  This year I lost a new heuchera planted in the heat of July, again forgetting it needed some extra water.  A new Japanese Anemone also looks like a goner, even though I did give it frequent waterings.  I didn't want to show either of these pathetic mistakes, so the photo is of my lantana which loves heat. 

5. Keep your eyes open for possibilities.  This was not a lesson I learned in the garden, but I had to include it as my final point anyway because it is garden-related.  I was taking in some aluminum cans for recycling and had to wait my turn in line, when I noticed this old wrought iron chair sitting next to a dumpster. I asked about it, and after some checking, the recycling attendant said, sure, I could have it.  Another worker then said there was a second chair already in the dumpster and went to dig it out.  It was a missing an arm, but I didn't care.  They were destined for the metal crusher, but I picked up both of them for a few dollars each.  I can see them sitting under a tree with a colorful pot of annuals next year, can't you?

Over the years the garden has taught me patience, a respect for all the living creatures that inhabit the garden, and an appreciation for the simple pleasures that nature provides.  But every year the garden also gives me some specific valuable lessons to help me improve my gardening skills as well.

What about you?  What lessons have you learned from the garden this year?  If you like, you can join Plant Postings in sharing your experiences.  There is always something new to learn in the garden!


  1. Sounds like good lessons here that we can all take notice of Rose. I planted cleomes 10 years ago and have had them in the garden every year since. Even during this drought they are blooming. Amazing plants. I have learned so much from the garden I could write a book. Ha...Enjoy this cooler weather.

  2. All very worthwhile lessons. Gardening is so great to learn. I think I prefer the cleome blooms to a faded hydrangea bloom. lol

  3. These are exactly the lessons every gardener learns the hard way. My biggest lesson learned is to take the eventual size of a plant, especially a tree, into consideration and don't plant it two feet from a window if it will grow to be 45 feet tall and 20 feet wide. But I don't seem to learn that one, and have repeated the mistake over and over.

  4. I have also learned a lot from gardening. Patience is one thing I've learned --to wait for a plant's season.

    I also learned the hard way that it's difficult to garden with Black Walnut trees in your yard. I thought I had a pretty black thumb until I figured that one out :-)

  5. I so hear you on learning from the garden. Like you I learned to be careful on spacing. My rock garden exploded this year! I have also learned that like life when something changes in the garden it pushes you in a different direction. I guess that is what I look forward to the most in the spring. Kind of like your chairs...which I love by the way! Great gardens Rose!

  6. These are great lessons learned. I learned also that Hydrangeas love shade and water - and if you need to choose between partial sun and full shade, choose the shade for Hydrangeas.

  7. I really like your chairs you found at the recycling center...perfect for the garden. I wish more people saw the beauty in the old. And I have also mistakenly pulled a perennial seedling in the spring thinking it was a weed. Sometimes I have so many plants I don't know what's what. Great post!

  8. Hi Rose,

    Great post. My borders are overcrowded but it has one advantage here, the rabbits do not try and make new runs.
    I also like it because it does keep the weeds down.
    I try and divide plants every third year and that seems to keep everything under control.

    Some of my wildflowers have taken fact to be honest they are out of control, I must do something about it next year.

    What have I learnt from the garden this year.........not to take it too seriously. The odd weather has caused endless problems, and I have been trying to take control. It is not going to work, you cannot truly control nature....I have lost a huge tree, several perennials, and a couple of shrubs are looking sad.
    I am learning that the garden is in control and not me :) I am learning that the garden will change and I must accept that........even if it is not what I want.

  9. BTW Rose....I love that chair so much....what a find.

  10. Great lessons. I learned a valuable lesson about plant tags last year about plant tags while back grounding on one of my columns.
    You can't rely on them because incredulously there are not regional tags. The nursery companies like Monrovia sell all their varieties with one national tag.
    The only person you can rely on is your local nursery for accurate measurements.

  11. Thanks for the useful tips! I’ve made some spacing mistakes too. Also planting too close to a building’s foundation can be problematic. I the bit on possibilities – a good tip out of the garden too. Sorry to be so late to visit. I've been bogged down with work and start of school stuff.

  12. Rose: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughtful lessons and for joining in the meme! I, too, love the chairs and I can't wait to see how you use them in your garden!

  13. Good lessons to be sure! I have been trying to make sure I don't plant some of those vigorous reseeders.
    Funny you mentioned Vanilla Strawberry...I have been thinking about getting some as well. We have many similar plants.

    One more lesson-- use permatill at the first hint of vole activity.

  14. I do agree Rose. The garden does provide a wealth of learning. I have learned so much but there is a lot I don't know.
    Love that chair. I love to put articles of interest in the garden. I missed out on some metal bed springs that would have been good in the garden. They were the old kind.
    As the old saying goes "you snooze, you loose". lol

  15. Very good advice there, Rose.

    When I was first starting out as a gardener, I wish I had taken the advice of putting several plants of the same type together instead of buying lots of different things and throwing them together, which looks much more bitty.
    That is one of the pieces of advices I wished I'd listened to!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  16. Great find on the chairs! I keep telling myself I will plant further apart next time, but actually I always end up moving things around so much that I don't think it matters. That's what I am telling myself, anyway...

  17. I learned that I must stop planting sunflowers because I am so allergic to the pollen.
    I like the list of your lessons especially the one about re-purposing, one of my favorite topics.
    It's hard for me to throw things away now because I think there may be a second life for something.

  18. Hope you are resting after helping your daughter move. It seems like that happens a lot with older kids, I had no idea it would be like this!

  19. Yes, yes....I can see those old iron chairs covered with pots of colored blooms.

    I did a botantical garden walk with a friend and she "accidently" picked a seed pod from a cleome. She gave it to me and I put it in my pocket for safe-keeping. I'll plant the seeds in the spring and see what happens. Hopefully, the Garden didn't capture our actions on video.

    Your Lantana is scrumptious-looking. I watered my tonight because it was drooping. They're so forgiving, aren't they.

    I will always plant plants too close together. I can't be trained differently. lol

    FYI....nothing will grow in a Chicago Bears bucket. ha-ha


  20. Oh my goodness, look @ Donna! Very sassy, isn't she? She wishes she was a Bears fan!
    I wish I had the type of eye it takes to see a broken chair and realize it has worth. That is still a lesson I need to learn!

  21. Lisa, My cleomes are sure holding up in this drought, too. It looked like on the weather forecast that the rain we're getting was headed your way, too--hope you're getting some showers.

    Tina, I think you're right; it's the height difference that bothers me. But oh well, I'm glad to have something blooming at all:)

    Laurrie, Ha, you must be an experienced tree-mover:)

    Renee, I remember learning about black walnut trees in MG classes--there are a few plants that grow under them, but I don't remember what they are.

    Garden Diaries, I love, too, that every spring you get to start over and there are always some surprises. I had no idea, for example, an amsonia got so big!

    Humble, Some of the hydrangea paniculatas also do well in sun, but they do love their water!

    Sage, Oh, I wish I could identify every plant when it was still small. Half the time I don't know what's what until it blooms.

    Cheryl, I agree that one reason I like the crowded garden is that it makes it much harder for weeds to grow. I rarely have to pull weeds in my shade garden. So true about nature and accepting change--those are good lessons for us to learn as well.

  22. Aussie, Good point about plant tags. If I'm unfamiliar with the plant, I try to do some research on it for better info.

    Sarah, Too often I'm thinking about "now" instead of the future when planting. I understand about being busy; I've gotten behind here, too.

    PlantPostings, Thanks for hosting this--it's a great idea! I've got all winter to think about where I'm going to put those chairs.

    Janet, This is the first full season for 'Vanilla Strawberry' here. Its blooms didn't get as big as I had expected, but I'm hoping it will do better next year. It's in full sun, which might make a difference.

    Lola, I don't have an artistic eye for adding garden objects, but these chairs looked like good additions somewhere here.

    Maggie, I have the same problem. Drifts of one type of plant really look effective, but I like so many different plants I can't make myself stick to just a few.

    Janet, I couldn't believe these chairs had been thrown out, but then it's the old saw about "one man's treasure..." Next year I'm planning lots of moving here, too.

    Rosey, One of my sons probably thinks I'm becoming a hoarder, but I hate to throw out some things that can be used later, too. Yes, it seems my house has a revolving door:)

    Donna, Good luck with your cleome! Glad the seed police didn't spot you:) I picked up some compass plant seeds off the ground at a Botanic Garden last year, but they didn't grow for me at all. As for the buckets, ha! I do think ones with Bears logos would be fine, but I'm pretty sure anything grown in buckets with Chicago CUBS on them would never produce fruit:)

    Sissy, Ha! Yes, Donna is a bit sassy, but she was growing vegetables in buckets with Green Bay Packers logos on them--can you imagine?!:) Good thing I have the winter to decide what to do with those chairs.

  23. I just love your "new" chair, Rose. I can just see you sitting in it next summer sipping a tall glass of iced tea, while looking over your garden deciding what needs to go, be moved, or new bed construction plans being made. I think that gardening is all about learning new lessons, just as in life.

  24. Good lessons learned, dear Rose. I could go on and on but enough to say I have so enjoyed your zest for life watching you, as your garden, growing ... your lovely photos ... keen knowledge ...

    Your friendship is grand and treasured.

  25. Hi Rose,
    I enjoyed reading about things you've learned from gardening. I'm one of those who used to pay attention to the spacing on tags, but has gotten less careful.

    When I want to grow a plant that's aggressive, I've learned to plant them in a tub. I have always been afraid to plant gooseneck loosestrife, but decided to try some in a tub this year. It is doing well. I hope it makes it through the winter.

    I love your chair!

    Yes, I have lots of butterflies, and I'm seeing a hummingbird some days. Oh, and that's another thing I'm learning to do, sit and relax watching the butterflies and birds without having to jump up and go inside for my camera.

  26. Lovely photos, lovely chair and thank you for sharing your lessons learned - so different from what I learnt this season as a newbie. I do agree - thee more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know!! How true that is. I'm finding out just how little I know :)

  27. Love that chair too, Rose! Those are all good tips. I am guilty of not paying attention to most of them, especially the first and the one about buying plants in the heat of summer!

    Lovely pics as usual. Fall will be here soon and I hate putting the garden to bed. {{sigh}}

  28. Excellent tips....especially about the tomato trellis. I just stumbled upon your site from another blog. I look forward to reading your posts. Chris Las Aventuras

  29. All good lessons that we've all learned one way or another no matter how long we've been gardening. I've made all those mistakes and more and still do from time to time. ;) Love those chairs Rose, good eye spotting those and yep they'll look great with some potted annuals. Are you going to give them a paint job too?

  30. This was a good post full of reminders for us all. I staked my tomatoes this year, but not well enough, so that is one lesson I learned.

    Yes, you will need to be aggressive with those cleome seedlings next year! I'm still finding some new ones here and there in my garden and wonder whether they're from last year's mothers or this summer's!

    I rescued three miniature roses from a grocery store sale in mid-July and put them in a window box on the corner of my vegetable garden. They promptly dropped all of their buds and most of their leaves. They are just now coming back and may bloom later this week. So, point well taken about buying plants in the heat of the summer!

    Love the lantana, especially in those colors!

  31. Do you mean new lessons or lessons that I keep re-learning? lol I don't think that I will ever learn not to plant things too close together.

    One thing I have got to learn is to go with what does well in a particular place, rather than repeatedly trying something that doesn't work, which is the definition of insanity.

    I've got to get Hydrangea 'Vanilla Strawberry' just for the name, plus it's so beautiful.

  32. Rose girl
    That is why I am a gardener .. continual learning and experience .. no one knows it all by any means! .. yet the bit about spacing and where a plant is best situated .. well, that is a constant OOPS! but rectification follows and a small? mental note if not in my book .. all of your points are great and I want to keep them in mind .. I have been lucky to have a good imagination most of the time for future plant and garden art stance so I am happy that trait keeps me fresh too!
    Excellent post girl : )

  33. I am learning many of the same lessons. I always crowd my plants and then the more aggressive ones win out. I also provided my tomatoes with way to flimsy a support and many of them fell over.

  34. I have so much to learn about gardening. I feel a little downhearted at the moment as my ideas don't seem to work. But I have to keep on trying I suppose.

    I love the idea of using the old chairs. I saved some teapots doomed for the bin with the intention of putting something in them!

  35. Lots of great lessons here. I'm working on spacing. Planted many new plants this year and they seem so far apart now, it's easy to cram them in but I know I shouldn't do it. Self seeders too! goodness I'm swamped in malva this year because I couldn't bear to pull out any of the volunteer seedlings. Very true that there's always something to learn in the garden.

  36. Rose, I have enjoyed your garden even more this year, because I had to move and leave mine behind in July. I am hoping to control myself in regaurds to spacing in the coming year, but I often get trumped by the wifes wishes. Thank you for the wonderful garden views.

  37. I'm totally with ou--I could be the poster child for lifelong learning. One of the things I enjoy most about teaching and presenting is, I often learn something new from students! That's the great thing about gardening; everyone has something to share, and there is so much to learn.
    1) Totally!
    2) I had to re-learn that lesson a few times!
    3) and 4) Yep and yep!
    5) One of the reasons I like going on garden walks and reading gardening blogs is I often get new ideas for specific plants, or a new way to do something, or a new way to look at something.
    6) I would add "Don't be so hard on yourself!" because I think all gardeners are (I know I am).


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