Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dear Cultivation

Dear Cultivation,

You are the brilliant process of creating beautiful gardens and healthy vegetable crops, but one that takes much effort, luck, and fine tuning.  As with everything in life, you summon a lot of hits and misses.

Gardening has become a yearly routine for me over the past few years. Since we moved to the burbs, we now actually have real yard space instead of a four by four patch of grass.  And now that the kids are older, I can actually redirect my motherly duties and extend services beyond my own offspring to that of species in the kingdom Plantae.  

Where we live, plants come alive beginning March (if we're lucky) and go into hibernation around October, after which is it just as bleak, wintry, and lifeless as can be.  That is perhaps why we take advantage of the warmer weather by diving into outdoor activities and focusing on cultivating our yards and gardens.

People who know me know that I strive to have a green thumb.  Last year, I received a gardening tote with tools as a gift.  This year, I received many types of ready-to-plant bulbs, young plants, and young flowering trees as gifts.  I also got a shiitake mushroom log that will grow mushrooms for 3 to 4 years.  And I even snagged a handsome handmade gardening box--on legs so I don't have to bend over--for vegetable gardening in my backyard as a gift (how awesome is that?).  Needless to say, now that it's May and warm, I'm ready to cultivate.

So it seems the rest of the world had the exact same idea as I did this past weekend: go to Home Depot.  I went there to buy all my Bonnie potted vegetables ready to go into the soil (because I'm not with it enough to start from seed early in the spring).  It is probably because it was the hottest day of the this entire month, and the heat prompted people to think about the beautiful plants and flowers that thrive in the summer.  Man, the store was so crowded.  I picked out my herbs, vegetable plants, annual flowers, and even a perennial bush while I perspired through my shirt and dripped sweat down my face.  Dear Daughter and Dear Son were ever so patient in the heat.  DD helped me pick out the prettier geranium color, and DS had only one request: he wanted to plant corn.  Since there was no Bonnie potted corn, we bought seeds.  All I can say is I wish myself luck with that.

Last month, I received a variety of bulbs, berry plants, jasmine, olive, and flowering potted trees in the mail as gifts.  I did the best that I could potting them into what I had available at home.  The dozen or so strawberry plants went into a large pot with enough potting soil for the time being until I could find a better home for them.  They immediately began to grow and sprouted beautiful green leaves, but I knew that they were spaced too close to each other and I needed to replant them, fast.  After some research, I bought a strawberry planter, and very gingerly dug the roots out and transplanted them into the strawberry pot.  (Picture a well-intentioned and gloved horticulture surgeon at work.)  A few days later, all the new sprouts wilted, one by one.  Imagine the horror and frustration for me.  I'd like to believe it when people tell me that the plants will regrow themselves as long as the roots are buried. But I'm so not hopeful that I bought another Bonnie potted strawberry plant just so that my strawberry planter won't be barren and make me feel guilty about all strawberry plants that I killed.

I also planted the bulbs that came in the mail according to the instructions, but none of them have grown the width of one hair.  They're just buried in the soil, dormant, or dead for all I know.  Thank goodness the rest of the plants that came in the mail are thriving well, or, at least, not dying.  To further illustrate my streak of bad luck, I had bought a beautiful potted hydrangea plant back in April and planted it in our yard on Earth Day.  Unexpectedly, the low temperature of the very next night was all of 28 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  Within a few days, all the blue and purple delicate flowers turned brown and the green leaves wilted.  It looked as sorry as neglected and decapitated dolls all sprawled on the wasting ground.  So much for celebrating Earth Day.

To watch a live bulb do nothing is disappointing.  To watch a live plant die leaf by leaf, flower by flower, plant by plant is devastating.  The amount of time I stooped down to seek new green sprouts on those strawberry plants and dead buried bulbs have been excessive, and I know that no amount of begging or pleading would make them decide to come alive.  As I wait, any hope I have become exponentially inversely proportional to the time that has passed. 

But it seems like my thumb cannot make up its mind what color to be.  I've had great success caring for my orchids.  I have the most beautiful rose bushes on my street because I take the time to prune them a few times a year.  I grew tomatoes and parsley in my backyard to supply ingredients in the salads we eat at home.  The tulip bulbs I planted last fall unearthed into the most gorgeous beauties, much beyond what I could have ever imagined.  And the annual flowers I plant each year flourish all throughout the summer.  So it's not like I don't have success with plants.  So.

The thing with cultivating a garden is that much of it depends on past experience, some luck, and a whole lotta trial and error.  I hauled home five large bags of potting soil for my garden box, and bought herbs, greens, string beans, and peppers, and I just did the best I could given what I know about spacing, placement, and sun requirements.  I've no idea how they will grow, and only time will tell.  Besides the herbs, I don't even know what the grown vegetable plants will look like, much less how they will bear fruit.  I could Google it, but finding out firsthand is one of the most fascinating things about cultivating the vegetable garden (of course, until I run into a problem of some sort).  Watching them 'do their thang' will be like watching my tulips sprout, bloom, and wilt earlier this spring; and like a little kid doing something for the first time, I was so excited.  And that will give me the knowledge of their life cycle for the next season and beyond.

Whatever does not work this year will get another try next year.  In fact, I already have grand(er) plans for next year.  I'm going to rip up some grassy area for more planting space.  I'm going to start from seeds early, right around spring break.  I'm going to have a better idea of what can go into the garden box and what should go into the ground.  And I'll know what variety of tomatoes will grow well.  For me, the most fascinating thing about caring for plants is that all they need are sunlight, water, and perhaps some plant food or good soil, and they will keep growing and bearing fruit all on their own.  Each day there is a change, a measurable growth.  Each growth adds to the cultivation of my mind about the natural stages of plant growth and knowledge required for successful gardening. 

Now that I know better, I write a note to self for future reference: do not plant in the ground until after Mother's Day, and never transplant anything with thin, fibrous roots.  And although I'm not holding my breath for new strawberry plant leaves, I do see brand new buds on my half-dead hydrangeas.  There is still hope left in them yet!

So, Cultivation, whether for a beautiful garden or a young mind, you're one in the same.  You require patience, work, prior knowledge, and a great deal of experimentation to get it right.  You present failures in order to meet success; you demand effort in order to bear fruit.  You are indeed an enigma: one that makes me want to get better results with each trial.  If nothing, won't you help me sprout a corn plant for DS?  We even have the perfect spot picked out for it already.  We just sowed the seeds yesterday, so will you work your magic for us, pretty please?



  1. Sandra, you are right, gardening involves many trails and errors, and the weather conditions can make a huge difference. I have learned so much in the 7 years I had my garden, and plants are now thriving. I built the soil with my compost, which I add twice a year on my veggie beds, and you wouldn't recognize the clay soil I started with. Healthy soil makes healthy plants

    You can transplant plants with bare roots, however the plants need to be left in the shade for a week at least to let the root adjust to the new soil (plants with a tap root might not make it). Better yet is to try to move plants with some soil around the root, you can even cut off some of the roots in order to preserve the root ball, more roots will grow. I had some bulbs rot, the soil was too wet. Some bulbs didn't come up until it was much warmer, I hope your bulbs will eventually come up.

    Are you planting companion plants in your veggie garden? I love calendulas, they are great for beneficial insects and also repel pests. Plus the look great with their orange color.

    Happy gardening!

    1. Oh, Laura, I should have asked you! I know you have a beautiful garden. I'm only starting out now, so I have quite a bit to learn. I dug up my bulbs, and the ones in one pot did have some rotting. The bulbs in the other pot seem fine, and there was even some roots growing. I reworked the soil and put them outside for some warmth. I'm hoping that will help. I still have a tiny bit of hope left for the strawberry plants. Thanks for the calendula tip; I will find some soon. All this is very new and exciting for me, so I will have lots of fun gardening this summer. Thanks for your encouragement, and I'll be coming to you for more advice!

    2. Ask and you will receive, advices I mean...

      You are in the right path with your passion and determination.

      What type of bulbs were? I planted some chocolate cosmo bulbs and they took a while to come up, I can't wait until they bloom, the color is stunning.

    3. Laura, one was called Fragrant Paperwhite Daffodils (the ones that still look fine), and the others were just named Paperwhite Flowers (with some rot and they're much bigger bulbs). I assumed that they are indoor potted plants, but like I said, I put the healthy one outside for some warmth to sprout.

      Do you know anything about corn? The last time I planted corn I was DD's age and the one stalk in my yard yielded me 2 ears of corn, each with a few kernels in them, haha! But I did get to see one grow as tall as I! Thanks, Laura!

    4. Yes, one plant yields only two or three ears. I think it takes at least a week for the plant to germinate, so don't fret. It needs lots of good soil and fertilizer as it is a fast growing plant. They can be planted pretty close I believe, and you can use the stalks to let pole bean climb, much like the Native Americans used to do. Squash can planted at their feet to shade the roots. We don't have enough sun to get a nice and sweet corn here, but they grow nonetheless. Your son will be so happy when he sees the little grass like first leaf emerging.

    5. Thanks again, Laura! Will let you know how it goes!

  2. I admire your ambition and patience! (Both in just going to Home Depot, and in actually planting plants). I do hope your plants perk up and take to their new home. You deserve to be rewarded in blooms for all your effort!

    My husband does all outdoor maintenance because I dislike gardening. I want nothing to do with it! I think it stems from my childhood punishment of pulling weeds, which I also detested.

    1. Janna, I wish you saw the picture of my bag of weeds I pulled last week. I think it weighed at least two pounds, which is quite a bit of weeds! But I did have this nifty tool for pulling them, which helped a lot! Gardening, for me, all started with my 6 rose bushes, which came with our house landscaping. After I learned how to care for them, then I moved on to annuals, then herbs and vegetables. I'm still fairly new at this, but it is a lot of fun to me. Thanks for your well wishes, and I hope to have good news about those plants soon!

  3. No, I do not have any particular insight to share with you about gardening. I was a trial and error - still am - gal myself. If not for the guidance of my husband who has more experience with planting and tilling, my plants would be a sorrier mess. To this day, I do not know how to properly space plants - I always underestimate how big they grow. I always desire to pack as many as I can in my plantable space - to the discomfort of the plants.

    As for the hydrangea, if you get one as a gift, harden it first. Take it out during the day, put it indoors at night. I guess this is true for most plants. DO not let it dry, but do not overwater either. And you can start it from a stem - put it on water. There's not even need for a rooting hormone. I started one of mine that way. And do not plant them in full sun- the sun burns their leaves. I know. I have a hydrangea with mostly burned leaves during the summer. :-)


    1. Well, that's me trying to keep my plants spaced well enough in that pic up there; that huge planter has all of 9 items in it. It looks kind of funny now, but I hope they'll grow into all that space. As for the hydrangea, there are lots of new buds now, so it looks very promising. It gets only a few hours of sun in the morning, so hopefully it's a good spot. Good luck with your heirloom tomato plant; I got a Better Boy and a cherry hybrid variety from Home Depot. They're still young yet, but are doing well after the planting. We shall see... Thanks for all your tips, Imelda!