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This gardening blog is written in Bathurst, NSW, Australia.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Garden Lessons Learned: Spring 2011

This post was writen for the Garden Lessons Learned meme hosted by Beth at  Plant Postings.

Because I have been gardening for so long I sometimes think I should never make any gardening mistakes or have any failures. The truth is that I still make mistakes and probably always will. But most of my garden failures are not accidental mistakes, but the result of bad habits that I keep repeating, despite twenty-five years of experience. Here are three bad habits that have caused problems for me this spring.  I am sharing them here in the hope that this will mean the end of them and that I will finally learn my lesson.

So, Bad Garden Habit #1: keeping plants too long in the hope that they’ll get better if I just give them time.

You see, I think about a plant or plants I really want to grow, I research them to see what conditions they like and where I should plant them, I buy them and put them into the ground with great hopes. Often they live up to my hopes, even do better than I expected, but not always.  Sometimes they just sit there, hardly growing, hardly flowering, for weeks and months and even years. A wiser gardener would get rid of them as soon as they realized things weren’t working out, but I find this almost impossible. I keep wanting to give them one more season, one more chance. In dealing with people who disappoint us, I think this is a perfectly justifiable attitude.  But these are only plants, after all. And so I let them linger on, spoiling the look of the garden, until they inevitably die, which can take a long time.

This is a purple Hebe, just planted in late October 2008.

Here is the same plant, from a different angle, in September 2011.  See the 3 years' growth?  Me neither. Off with its head. It shall not be here in next Spring's photographs.

Bad Garden Habit #2: buying plants that just won’t grow for me, in the hope that this time, they will.

My special weakness in this area is Hydrangeas. I’ve tried them in lots of places; I’ve amended the soil, I’ve kept them watered, and yet they die, usually within a few months of planting. But still, when I see a spot with morning sun that needs a fairly large, summer flowering shrub to fill it, I immediately think: “Hydrangea.”  And at least once a year, I succumb and buy one. Why do I do this to myself? Why can’t I just leave them alone? Maybe it’s the challenge. Maybe it's pride. After all, lots of other people can grow them.

The only one I can grow is the Oakleaf Hydrangea, and it's only a modified success.

Bad Garden Habit #3: buying plants before I have the spot prepared to put them in, meaning they stay in their pots for a while after I bring them home. 

It happens because buying plants is a lot more fun than weeding and digging. But it isn’t good for the plants, especially if I forget to water them, which sadly has been known to happen.  Sometimes I do things the right way round and restrain myself, but not always.  As I type this, there are five plants sitting in pots outside my back door.  They’ve been there for a week.  I know where I’m going to plant them, I knew before I bought them, yet there they sit, because the site isn’t prepared for them yet. Even if I remember to keep watering them, they will become more root bound and their growth will probably be set back even after they are planted out.  I know this, so why did I do it?  Again?

This is the planting site, around the new stump.

Here then are three garden lessons hopefully now learned:

#1  If a plant has been in the garden for a year and it isn’t growing strongly, I'll harden my heart and get rid of it.
#2  I will accept that there are plants that won’t ever grow well in my garden, and stop buying them.  I will instead be content with the plants that love me back.
#3  I will prepare the planting site before I buy the plants.  And then I will plant them out straight away.

Or write another blog post about it.


  1. Lyn, I can identify myself with bad gardening habit 1 and 3. I also have a very hard time to get rid of plants that don't perform well in my garden, always thinking they will come around. What makes it even harder to make a decision to discard a plant after one or two seasons is that the saying "first year they sleep, second year they creep and third year they leap" is sometimes true. I am also guilty of buying too many new plants without having the time or the space to plant them. Some of my plants live for three years in containers now, which is embarrassing. At least I can do this to my roses without killing them ;-)! But admittedly I have lost other plants this way, sigh...

  2. Oh life would be so dull if we weren't a little impatient, risky, daring & 'random'. And NOT buying plants withiut preparation first...shudder! Go for it! Enjoy whatever happens...then right another posting xx

  3. Hmmm…a wise man once said “You are not stretching yourself as a gardener if you are not occasionally killing plants.” That proverb is of great comfort to me at times! I often do gardening by trial and error and I am also guilty of leaving plants for too long, hoping they will thrive better next year, when they probably won’t. But I also have plants in my garden that aren’t supposed to even survive our winters, and if I had not dared trying, I would not have known they would thrive and grow well. You can read all the books, and do all the research, but the trial and error method isn’t that bad after all :-) Great post, Lyn!

  4. Nunber three made me laugh Lyn. I have an area full of those purchases waiting for a spot! Oh, well we could have worse hobbies. Thanks, Alison

  5. Oh Lyn, I so relate to #3! I buy and buy ... and then I have to plant and don't get to it fast enough. I now have a rule (that I don't always keep) that I HAVE to plant what I have before I am allowed to buy anything new. Right now have about ten plants waiting ... so no shopping for me.

  6. Lyn: I was laughing out loud because I have the very same bad habits. Especially the first one. It's just so difficult to dig up plants and destroy them! And as you say, we can write blog posts about our mistakes as well as our successes. ;-) Thanks for joining in the meme!

  7. You are in good company, I think we all buy far too many plants without thinking of where they are to go, and even if we know where they are going, they still don't get planted.I confess that I have loads waiting, no excuses really, just busy doing other things. Maybe my New Year's resolution will be to plant them all!

  8. Ho, ho - and I'm definitely adopting your resolutions!

    I'm a 2 and 3 gardener myself. Some things have even been in pots for years... I used to explain it away by telling myself I'd just moved, but that was over nine years ago. And as for the optimism? Hmmmmmm....

  9. Well, who knew you all had such bad habits? :)

    Christina - you had to tell me that saying, didn't you? But no, I am not listening, I have resolved to do better...

    Jane, Jane (Can you see me shaking my head?)- you are a bad influence, you know that, don't you? xx

    Helene - so I'm not being lazy and disorganised, I'm stretching myself. I can live with that. :)

    Alison - you're right, we could have worse hobbies. And I have now planted the five plants!

    Christine - I made that rule too! And I have stuck to it, but you can buy a LOT of plants in one visit, so I'm not sure it has decreased the total number waiting in their pots at any one time. Hence the new resolution.

    Beth - not you too? I am very disappointed in everyone. ;-)
    I am saving up the other meme posts to read over the Christmas break. Can't wait to see what everyone's been up to.

    Pauline - I'm starting to think this bad habit is in epidemic proportions. Maybe we should form a support group?

    Kate - definitely another for the support group (see comment to Pauline). And optimism is its own reward, so please leave me my illusions :)

  10. Oh, I make lots of gardening mistakes, too, but never really thought about them being a habit. That sounds bad! I do all three of these, and I'm going to try to learn them. #1 will be hard, #2 not so hard - I am finally learning!, but 3 - I'm not sure I'll ever learn #3!!!

  11. It's funny, gardening is always a learning experiment!! I have been gardening most of my life, and am always learning new things. I also like to experiment, and some of those experiments are epic failures! #1 and #3 are my hardest too, it's difficult to toss out a plant that's not dead… and it's fun to buy new ones when you find them! Although, the older I get, the easier it gets to abide by the rules! Especially as I start to run out of garden space.


  12. Holley - we can do it!

    Amy - experiments are great! I don't consider experimenting as a bad habit. But when I keep doing things that I really know don't work... although I have been encouraged to see how many other gardeners do the same things!

  13. I agree completely with your resolution #1 - not a problem for me. Instead of thinking you must harden your heart, why not try gifting the plant to a gardening friend?

    The gardening season is much too short to coddle a stubborn plant. "Grow or don't" is my motto and if the plant isn't pulling its weight, it's replaced.

    I do love the way you turn a phrase Lyn and enjoy your posts very much.

  14. Lyn, The first two of these lessons really resonated for me. I, too, find it very difficult to evict plants that aren't performing. And I have mooned over hydrangeas for years. Fortunately, before I got around to actually investing in one, someone pointed out that the name starts with "hydra," meaning water. Since calling my sandy soil "well drained" is an understatement, I had to face the fact that no amount of amendments or watering would make these beautiful plants thrive in my garden. -Jean

  15. I do #3 as well! In fact today I went to the garden centre to spend the vouchers I got for Christmas. I brought home about 9 punnets, some of which I did plant out, and some of which went into the tray outside the back door with the other 5 or so punnets I already have to find homes for. I do have a vague idea of where they might go, but putting them there will include a lot of weeding and digging and tidying, and it's a lot easier to imagine them there than to actually do it! Lucky I have this week off work though, and I'm aiming to have them all sorted out by the end of it.
    All the best for the New Year!

  16. When we moved here I was going to only grow plants that didn't need extra work. Wjere did these tree ferns come from?
    As to No3 I always seem to have a row of pots along the back wall.
    My other mistake is to leave thugs too long and they start to take over..All the best for 2012, Lyn.

  17. I am guilty of all three. I bought a plant before Christmas that I loved but had no idea where i would put it. I still have no idea, and it sits in its pot. Got to find a place soon!

  18. I have done all three of those! In fact, I buy plants without having sights prepared or even a possible place for them! What can I say.. my name is Indie, and I have a small addiction problem..

  19. SO funny that I identified with Bad Habit #1 and then looked at the photo - the same(ish) purple Hebe that I have been nurturing for years. In fact, I have several because the initial cuttings took well - they just failed to do anything beyond the initial spurt.

    I was wondering if you might add your garden to Folia the online gardening website (it's free).

    It's a great resource for gardeners and has helped me keep on top of my 800+ plantings with photo's, notes, journals, milestones etc. They have an extensive plant wiki and a seed stash section where people can also list seeds for swapping. Here's the link to my Folia page so you can see how it works:

  20. Debra - I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I know you're right and I'm trying to harden my heart.

    Jean - but they're pretty! I have the opposite soil to you, but in my case it's the alkalinity that means I can't grow them. I saw a flourishing oakleaf hydrangea in Canberra over Christmas that showed me just how pathetic mine is in comparison. I must stop buying them!

    Ruth - another kindred spirit! I hope you got your plants in during your week off. Mine are all in now and I am not buying any more until autumn. Really...

    Janet - ah yes, thugs - that makes bad habit number 4. I had forgotten. Hope your New Year is going well.

    Deb - it's so hard to delay buying plants, isn't it?

    Indie - you can join our support group too.

    Cally - thanks for commenting! So maybe it's all the fault of the purple Hebe and not ours at all. I always feel guilty when plants don't thrive. I'll check out Folia.


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