Tuesday’s Tips — Learning to See

“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.”  H. Fred Dale

Of all the great quotes I’ve read about gardening, this one might be the best. There’s a lot of hard-earned truth, and no doubt a few dead plants, behind these words. Above all else it tells us that gardening is about being observant — it’s about learning from our successes and our failures.

As Mary Beth and I have talked about gardening and what to write about in our posts over the past couple of years, we come back to this truth over and over again: our plants and gardens will show us what they need if we just look at what’s going on from their point of view.

Ignore the ads blaring from the TV set telling you to drench your living soil with systemic chemicals that will kill all that’s bugging you in your garden. What it will kill is your soil’s ability to support healthy plants. Do it and you’ll be hooked into an endless cycle of applying chemical cocktail after chemical cocktail to solve the problems you created with that first application. (Never mind what havoc they might wreak on your health and that of your kids, your pets and every other creature that calls your garden home.) These ads horrify us!

Better is to use what nature provides to improve our soil’s tilth and our plants’ health. Natural manure from cows, horses, chickens, etc. is far superior to chemicals. Natural pesticides are better than synthetics if you really need them.

Your plants will tell you if they’re getting what they need. If they are stressed they are more likely to be attacked by insects; or lacking enough sun or nourishment, they’ll fail to thrive. Or maybe a particular plant is just not right for your microclimate so it doesn’t perform up to its potential. On the other hand, you might have had success with a plant that the experts say isn’t appropriate for your area. You be the judge. Take advice, but apply it with caution until you can see that it will work for your garden. (And keep a journal so you don’t have to repeat those lessons next year.)

I was reminded of the importance of being observant this morning when I watched a video of Tom Trantham of Happy Cows Creamery. Tom was on the brink of losing everything when his cows showed him the way to fix his mistakes. His story is nothing short of a miracle, but it took Tom’s willingness to really see and learn from what was happening. Even though his story is about his dairy farm, its basic principles apply to our gardens as well.

So as we embark on another season in our gardens, let’s all take the time to see what’s really happening and to learn from it. Whether you succeed or fail, ultimately you will learn from what you’ve done and your green thumb will prevail.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday’s Tips — Learning to See

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  1. Hi Barbara, just a sad note on the demise of a Stewartia tree given to us fall of 09. .it stands about 5-1/2 feet high. . . spring of ’10 came around, the young tree leafed out nicely then: Bam, a late frost!. . noted to happen in June as we live in what’s known as a ‘frost bottom’ here on Martha’s Vineyard. The majority of leaves froze and fell, new buds came and a second foliage ensued for last summer. We felt the tree was stressed big time.
    Winter has come & gone.
    This spring the poor tree made very few early buds that haven’t developed as yet but are still soft and alive. I understand this species sheds it’s bark but this poor tree has some serious roll backs and I wonder if it’s dying a slow death.

    1. Oh, that would be a shame, Aaron. Stewartia is such a lovely tree. Does it come from the Polly Hill Arboretum? They apparently have quite a collection of Stewartias. Assuming it is a Stewartia pseudocamellia, it should be ok with the cold. It probably is stressed, but may make a comeback. I’ve read that they can be difficult to establish; they need acid, well-draining soil rich in organic matter, a good amount of moisture (like lots of rain), and sun to partial shade. They don’t like wind and drought. I bet the folks at the arboretum could help. Here’s a link to an article about the collection. Don’t give up on it!

      MB and I discovered that our Dad had planted one of these trees on Block Island. A couple of years after he passed, we noticed a little tree – more of a shrub really – with the most beautiful flowers, but didn’t know what it was. MB used Leafsnap (fantastic app!) to id it a couple of weeks ago. So far so good on BI.

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