It’s a new year, with a new gardening season on the way. That doesn’t just mean trying new plants; it means trying to remember all the things I vowed last summer I’d never do again.
When you’re dreaming up the garden inside a well-heated conservatory or cozy living room in January, it can be easy to forget the trials of May and October. Maybe that’s why I’ve made some of the same garden vows several years in a row. But here’s my 2017 list of what I’m going to try to remember NOT to do:
- Don’t start too many plants: Sure, it’s a good idea to start a couple of extra tomato plants, just in case—but not 20. I should know by now I won’t be able to bring myself to cull the surplus, and I’ll end up with a tangle of tomato seedlings growing in corkscrews as they compete for space and light. I hereby vow to start from seed only as many plants as can fit the available garden space.
- Skip the pricking. I will not try to save room under lights by sowing seeds in a flat and then “pricking out” the tiny sprouts to transplant them to larger pots. To save time, trouble and transplant shock, I hereby vow to go ahead and start them in 4-inch pots. I have the room; I don’t need that many plants. (See No. 1.)
- Don’t fall for plant sales. There’s a sad, stunted, chlorotic magnolia in my front yard that has been trying to grow in heavy clay soil and too much shade for three years. Why? Because I got swept away at a sale that offered a rich variety of unusual trees and shrubs, and I loved the idea of a yellow magnolia, even though I don’t have a place to plant a magnolia. I hereby vow to buy plants for the garden I have, not the imaginary garden that would suit a fascinating plant at a plant sale. And I vow to give the magnolia away to someone who has a sunny, well-drained site for it.
- Don’t move the mulch: Following the advice in old garden books, I used to fuss at my mulch, pulling it back from plants’ crowns in the springtime to let the soil warm up and then raking it back onto the beds to hold in moisture in the summer. Now I know enough about soil biology to realize that the microorganisms can’t do the work of breaking down the mulch to improve the soil if I keep interrupting them. I hereby vow to leave the mulch alone, and just top it up from time to time if it gets thin.
- Don’t buy too many bulbs. Yes, there’s a theme here. Along about the first week of December, as I scrabbled at thecold earth with near-frozen fingers trying to get the last of my daffodils, scilla, alliums, glory-of-the-snow and other bulbs into the ground, I vowed once again not to lose my head over bulb catalogs. I always shop with a fantasy of a crisp, clear, blue-sky October day, with colorful leaves rustling around me, when I can plant 400 or 500 bulbs in an afternoon. But one thing leads to another, that afternoon never comes, and pretty much every year, I’m still scrambling to plant bulbs before the ground freezes. I probably won’t remember this in July when the bulb catalogs arrive, but here goes: I vow not to buy too many bulbs. Or try, anyway.