would be wrong, so wrong, if you imagined a gaggle of
garden gurus shuffling off to the potting shed,
whispering, trading reports of the trowel-and-error so
often committed by the unwitting, the innocent, the
ill-informed home gardener.
these gardening wizards ó the ones whose lifework is
making things grow, and grow beautifully ó they are
gentle folk (deep down, anyway), and theyíre
hard-pressed (OK, so maybe some are champing at the bit)
to cough up a litany of dumb stuff they see and hear
from the front lines of AmateurGrower Land, the
stumbling ground where plain folk like you and me toil
with our trimmers.
where your trusty garden scribe leaps in to do the dirty
work: Weíve cajoled a phalanx of in-the-know garden
intelligentsia and begged them to please divulge the
most egregious botanical blunders theyíve witnessed
out in the plots where the amateurs roam. The
dirt-stained sins committed over and over. The
horticultural high jinks that really should be outlawed.
a litany of homegrown screw-ups, and ways you might
right your wrongs:
looking for easy solutions. If there was one dumb idea
that made the pros crazy-mad, it was our infatuation
with the notion that you can shortcut your way to a
glorious grab-íní-go garden.
is no secret! No answer in a bottle!" Margaret
Roach, a longtime garden writer, A Way to Garden blogger
and podcaster, practically shouts from her 2.3-acre
Hudson Valley plot. Her mailbox, every year, is clogged
with hundreds of emails asking: "ĎWhatís your
secret for getting rid of weeds?í I write back and
say, ĎI knelt down, and I weeded.í
just like wrinkle cream," she froths on.
"Thereís this allure, this illusion of the
instant, no-work solution. Well, hereís the secret:
You have to go out and do it, and then you have to do it
again. One of the big ahas of gardening is there is no
Are you sure? Along the same lines, donít believe
everything that says "all-natural."
assume that "au naturel" equals safe ó for
you or the planet. This corollary, preached most
vociferously by Roach and echoed by a handful of others,
begs gardeners to read the fine print. If the
instructions insist you don safety goggles and hazmat
suit ó even if butterflies flutter across the label
ó chances are thereís "greenwashing" going
on, says Roach, explaining that itís a ploy to make
you think itís earth-friendly. This plays into our
"lust for the instant fix," says Roach.
"Itís not just a dumb mistake; itís a dangerous
madness: "There is no plant on earth, herbaceous or
otherwise, that has any genetic knowledge of how to live
amid an accumulation of wood," says plant grower,
garden designer and author Roy Diblik of Northwind
Perennial Farm in Burlington, Wis. "We are the only
nation on Earth that gardens with wood."
begins Diblikís diatribe against the overscattering of
wood chips, wherever weeds trespass. Diblik wants
gardeners to use mulch from their own plants ó
shredded leaves or compost from your garden, for
example. "Your goal, remember, is to let the plants
live in and with their own decaying leaves and stems,
never again removing them from the garden," he
writes in his book, "The Know Maintenance Perennial
Garden" (Timber Press).
adds Eric Larson, manager of the Marsh Botanical Garden
at Yale University: "Thereís a particular circle
of hell" for folks who "mulch a big old
volcano of wood chips up around their tree trunks."
fact, 2-3 inches of mulch should be spread evenly around
the tree instead. When itís piled against the bark, it
traps moisture and creates favorable conditions for
decay. A treeís bark needs to be exposed to the air.
trees enough growing space. The gardening experts we
talked to went berserk at the mention of young trees
being squished into pots, or planted hard up against the
house ó blatantly ignoring a treeís raison díetre:
the single thing I am forever contemplating having
printed onto little notes to keep on my dashboard, so I
can stick them in peopleís mailboxes whenever I drive
by," says Kristin Schleiter, associate vice
president for outdoor gardens at the New York Botanical
out how big your tree will someday be," she
instructs. "And donít plant it one foot from the
foundation. Sure, they look cute in those little pots at
your front door. But they will grow into mammoth,
plant in dribs and drabs. If thereís anything that
rankles the garden elite, itís the beginnerís
tendency to buy one of everything on the garden racks.
And to do so in a single binge.
buy 1,000 different plants. Buy a larger number of just
a few. Think of swoops and drifts and ribbons and
rivers," says landscape architect and author Julie
Moir Messervy. And donít succumb to one-stop shopping,
she warns. Resist the urge to march into the garden
store in, say, April, and buy enough blooms to fill
every square inch in your beds. Instead, go back once a
month for your whole first season, and buy whatís
blooming month-by-month. That way, youíll have sweeps
of bloom all season long, instead of a one-hit