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Calling All Gardeners

An extension agent declares the "rights and responsbilities" of his fellow gardeners.

by Paul McKenzie

Ed. note: The following column, which appeared in The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC), was written by horticulture agent Paul McKenzie for his fellow gardeners. His advice seems to speak to gardeners everywhere:

We are all gardeners.

Yes, I can already hear the protests. "I'm not a gardener, everything I plant dies," and "Even my cactus died from lack of water." In fact, most people seem very hesitant to apply the term gardener to themselves.

The conventional wisdom is that a gardener can make any plant thrive. That's rarely the case. In fact, the best gardeners have killed way more plants than the mediocre ones. The difference is that they keep planting.

A garden is simply a collection of plants and the gardener is the person who tends them. As I have yet to find a house in Durham that didn't have plants in the yard, I can only come to the conclusion that, if you live in a house, you are a gardener.

I can think of one exception. Some folks live in houses surrounded by fabulous gardens. But writing checks to a landscape company does not a gardener make.

Granted, some of you are better gardeners than others. For some, the collection of plants consists mostly of wiregrass and poison ivy. And the tending occurs on a rather infrequent basis.

For others, the plant palette shifts to boxwoods and tall fescue (and not much else). In this case, the tending mostly takes place behind the controls of gas-powered engines. This has been shown to cause mental instability, as evidenced by the development of lawnmower racing.

Thus, we are all gardeners and I hereby confer that title upon you with all appertaining rights and responsibilities.

Your responsibilities:

  • To improve the appearance of your garden. This is not as hard as it sounds. It could mean simply trimming back the overgrown shrubbery, adding a flower bed or planting a tree.

  • To enhance plant diversity. Plant something unusual. Boxwoods, azaleas and liriope don't count.

  • To minimize harm to the environment. Fertilizers are to be applied in the right amount at the right time and kept off driveways and sidewalks.

  • Pesticides are to be applied only when needed and with great care. Soil shall not be allowed to erode.

  • To minimize the spread of invasive plants. These are the plants which, when loosed upon the natural world, wreak havoc by displacing natives and degrading wildlife habitat. Examples may be found at many nurseries, so gardeners beware.

    Your rights:

  • To kill lots of plants, as long as you learn from doing so. If you plant the same kind of plant five times in the same spot using the same method and it dies every time, then I would agree that you've learned very little. But if you plant a different kind of plant there and it dies, you've learned something new.

  • To make your garden as small or as large as you like.

  • To wonder if the seedlings that have sprouted in your garden are weeds or flowers.

  • To claim that your home-grown tomatoes are the best you've ever tasted. You may make this same claim with each new crop for the remainder of your life.

  • To celebrate the most menial events with immense delight. This includes the unfurling of a leaf, the flight of a hummingbird and the opening of the first daffodil blossom.

    --reprinted by permission of The Herald-Sun, Durham, NC

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