By Annette McLoughlin
Your gardening skills are between you and the worms, and they’re excellent at keeping secrets.
Full disclosure before you read on: I have no business writing an article in a respectable publication (or any publication, really) about gardening. I’m a self-taught, impulsive, bargain-biased gardener on my best day. That’s not to say I don’t feel passionate about gardening, however, because what I lack in formal education, I make up for (sort of) with fearless enthusiasm. I know what I like and I’m generally not afraid of making mistakes. And in that haphazard way, I have managed to cultivate some good-enough landscapes.
“Good enough” is the operative phrase here because that’s the thing about gardening, it’s relatively easy to teach yourself enough to make a good go at it, if you just put even a little time into it. It’s a very forgiving endeavor because you’re perennially given a fresh start and a new opportunity to create. And with that creating, you of course sometimes fail, but like anything, in the process, you learn. And about those mistakes? Gardening is nothing if not flexible, as you can always pull out your poor judgments and replace them with something else. No one needs to know; it’s between you and the worms. And they’re excellent at keeping secrets.
And here’s another thing, I firmly believe that a healthy garden rarely looks bad, no matter who’s putting it together. Flowers, by nature (blanket apology for all atrocious puns) cannot be made ugly. It’s impossible, and it’s one of the best reasons why anyone who has a yearning to garden, should garden starting with easy flowers for beginners — and with abandon — regardless of experience or lack thereof.
You only need to get a handle on three simple things: sun, climate zone, and water. If you can discern how much sun you get in a day, any good garden center is going to sell plants with labels to guide you from sun lovers to shade dwellers. Shopping for our climate, of course is important (we are 6 on the climate scale of 1-13) but it’s almost impossible to get that wrong if you shop locally as garden centers generally only sell what grows here. And if you water new plants often, and mature plants when weather dictates, they’ll reward you.
Another in the list of great reasons to garden is something most gardeners will tell you, that the act of gardening is amazingly therapeutic. It’s like a sedative for the soul; an instant Zen; a mentally clarifying way to begin or end your day; and, of course, a great way to connect with nature. I don’t know whether, biochemically, any endorphins are released when I garden, but I swear that I get similar emotional results from gardening as I do from a good run or a satisfying yoga class.
I also love the evolving (and forgiving) potential of gardens and the fact that you can build on them from year to year, adding what works and moving what doesn’t. The front landscape of my own house is a botanic cacophony and the result of several years of impulse purchases, potted transplants, other people’s orphans, and a lot of end-of-season clearance bargains. And while any landscape architect worth their weight in mulch could probably list 47 things I’m doing wrong, I believe that to the average person strolling by, my garden is vibrant, lush, and lovely.
This year my plan is to try to tie all my random acts of floral kindness together with ground cover. I think it’s the unsung hero of landscapes and I’ve always loved the variety of lush textures and tiny leaves of these miniature mud-huggers. In fact, my earliest olfactory memory is of my grandmother’s driveway, which was covered in chamomile. When you walked on it, that scent walked with you. It was heavenly.
It’s such a great way to green-up the ground and I am planning to forgo the ubiquitous mulch in lieu of mosses, herbs, and succulents. Like all my efforts, I will buy a few different varieties and see what works. Next year, I’ll build on the successes, forget my failures, and likely re-buy some of them too (I never said I was a quick learner.) But I hope that in a few years, I will have a canvas of green under my chaotic landscape.