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My Brown Thumb

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For years, I dreamed of a patch of dirt to lovingly cultivate my own garden in. I exclaimed that was the reason I wanted to own a house. “Be careful what you wish for” doesn’t begin to sum up the torture I’ve endured for the sake of the dirt that accompanied the house I bought nine years ago. As I now dig in this soil, a parade of ghost plants taunts me and whispers “bad plant mommy.” My guilt piles up with the little plant bodies, tossed over the garden wall in a heap to decompose.


My brown thumb is well-earned. In springtime, like many, I have instant gratification needs to meet. I must plant every area in my garden so it looks great immediately. I would have had the same results digging a hole and burning the money I have spent on the plants I’ve killed with improper soil and light, insufficient water, and lack of compost or mulch. Those poor little pampered plants straight from the greenhouse, all hopped up on steroids, yanked from their pots yelling, “Hey … lady … not here. For the love of all things green, you’re not thinking of putting me here, are you?” They never have a choice, chance, or prayer. And being such an uber-caretaker, I’ve taken every little brown spindly plant death personally. I failed. I didn’t water it, feed it, sun it, mulch it, or talk to it enough. Bad, bad mommy.


Due to my now numerous years of Russian roulette gardening, I now also fear the Trojan horse plant. So innocuous in its little green plastic pot, it seems to say, “Take me home and I promise to be pretty and proper and make you proud of me.” That’s what they all say but this one fulfills its promised destiny and wages a coupe on the planting bed. But grab it by the stem and pull and the roots don’t come with it. Over the fall and spring, it has become the Hostile Takeover Plant. Artemisia, painter’s palette, and “obedient” plants all require garden discipline. Like the mint before them, I spare their lives but shame them in front of their peers and banish them to their own bed with a sunken wall or pot. Like kids, plants need boundaries.


I also suggest you avoid those people that make gardening look and sound easy. You know them. They have schedules for garden maintenance. They see gardens as multi-dimensional. The first dimension is soil and sun compatibility. The second is visual texture. And the third is the seasonal bloom times. I don’t have the patience to test the soil! Much less consider twelve months worth of possible color/texture combos. Hello, I’m impulse girl. So I watch as that beautiful foxglove dies a slow two-year death in front of my house. I know, shame on me for coveting a plant indigenous to gardens in England. Where it rains. All the time. Better to keep company with lesser gardeners than yourself. Ding dongs who take eight years to discover mulch doesn’t cost that much but should for how it actually does keep the weeds at bay.


About mid-July this past summer, when it was the hottest and about to be the driest, I got the jones to start transplanting but I resisted my compulsion to uproot and rearrange those doomed plants. I was a good parent. And now, with the weather breaking, you’d think I’d be relieved as I anticipate lowered water bills and more chair time. It’s time to pull the garden plan out and replant in anticipation of all the lovely rain and happier perennial plants. Except, I procrastinated making that plan. Last week, I was outside with graph paper to plot the ten beds correctly and my neighbor teased me. His wife is also a member of the “buy it ‘cause it’s pretty and plop it in the ground” club. I drew my plot but I still don’t get how to use it. Don’t tell him though.


No surprise that I am completely overwhelmed and yet I will be digging up and transplanting something, even if it’s wrong. How in the world do we ever know anything without a little try and see? Why do we expect to know everything immediately (all the time)? Why is it always so personal? So a couple dozen plants have died at my murderous hand. Oh well, these things take time. Wish me and my plants luck. Maybe fifteen years from now, you’ll see pictures of my garden published in one of those “Living” magazines. If bovines take to the air … Or if, free of charge, I have a crew of knowledgeable people work on my garden instead of me. A girl can dream, can’t she?

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