Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Fear of Dead Plants

I have a confession to make: I am a terrible gardener.  I may know my garden plants and my weeds -- hell, I only went to an Ivy League school for seven years to become a horticulturalist and weed ecologist -- but I generally end up killing most of what I plant each year.

This year Nick and I moved out of Lehigh Valley and into a new apartment in a northern suburb of Philadelphia.  Along with the brand spanking new open-concept apartment came a lovely, well established garden off the side of the property.  There are a number of hostas, a single rose "tree" (for its shape in no manner resembles a "bush"), a peony that seemed to disappear over the summer, and a tall mamosa tree.  I tried making my mark on the space this spring, tearing out a number of ground geraniums that multiply like Tribbles and planted some 4 O'Clocks, peas, and dahlias.  The established perennials, 4 O'Clocks 'Limelight', and black leafed 'Dark Angel' dahlias did well until this past week; the peas never made it.

"Well" might be an over statement.  Mind you the 4 O'Clocks did bloom but fried in the August heat.  The dahlias, without proper staking or training became more of a ground cover rather than tall and upright.  An the herb pots for mojitos and grilling -- dead.

Every year I start with good intentions but the three past years at the greenhouse have made me realize that perhaps my gardens will always be the shoemaker's children -- always happy but without any shoes/plants.  My past and current landlords must regret allowing the "flower girl" take the apartments with their largest garden areas.  I know I should pay more attention to the garden by watering more often, amending the soil in the early spring, planning out each season what I'm going to plant, etc.  However, even with my type-A personality, I kinda don't care that the garden fails every year.  You'd think that I would cry over spilled milk (only sometimes) or dead plants.  This seems to be the case with most American gardeners -- we can't stand the thought of killing a plant.  Americans seem to treat plants as we treat our pets, as members of our family, although not as close.  Plants are like an estranged relative -- Aunt Lucy, twice removed on your step grandmother's side.  You still feel horrible when you learn she died two years ago, guilty that you were mad she didn't send a Christmas card during that time.

Why is this?  Why do American gardeners cherish plants so much and yet have a hard time validating purchasing plants throughout the year to beautify our homes or apartments?  Cut flowers are seen only as for special occasions or for when someone died.  Why are we so quick to cut the landscaping budgets when money gets tight, but still make sure we have $5 a day for our soy lattes?  Why do we run away in fear whenever a politician brings up "preserving the environment"?

My friends and colleagues in Europe don't seem to share this thinking.  It's more a mentality of "Oh hey, the plant died?  No worries, mate!  We'll just get another one!  It was time for a change anyhow."  I can agree with this sentiment -- so what if the plant dies?  It just means it's time to try something new!  I think other Gen X/Yers are starting to share this same way of thinking, as it can be seen in the boom in edibles, seed starting, terrariums, and the succulent craze.  Do you know how many different heirloom vegetables there are to try?  How many succulents?  The lists seem endless.

So how do we harness this curiosity to encourage more gardening?
Post a Comment