Struggles with plant growth are a clue to failure

“I have a brown thumb.” I expect whether we are gardeners or not, most have heard a similar statement. Being an avid gardener, writing about gardening, teaching classes and giving programs on gardening for many years, I have heard this or similar comments more times than I have complained about the wind, heat and lack of humidity.

I found that in most cases this is how someone who is not interested in gardening shapes their response to the subject. I’m not into birding, but I don’t know of any similar comments to make when it comes up. I have to say that it doesn’t interest me. But there are also times when a gardener will use this statement, usually a new gardener who is just learning.

Either way, the statement hints at failure. For gardeners, it’s normally the inability to reliably grow something successfully, having killed many plants, or feeling that their gardens aren’t up to par. As such, I should have used that expression years ago. But my attitude is best summed up by William Vaughn who, writing in the 16th century, said “The local man continues to experiment with new flowers every year and now has quite a long list of things he cannot grow” . Bingo. I am the local man.

I have always maintained that gardening is an art (the fine art world disagrees). The landscape is the canvas and soil, soil amendments, weather conditions, etc. are among the “tools” and variables to be considered by the artist when applying the plants (paint) to the canvas. Unlike a traditional painting, there is an uncontrollable factor: the weather. The impact of the weather is constantly changing, prompting the garden artist to try to consider and manage its potential impact on the beauty of the “painting” every day for the duration of their life. A difficult and ever-moving target.

In gardening, the simplest “paintings”, much like the finger paints many of us did in childhood, are not difficult. But getting to the different stages of more advanced gardening takes knowledge, practice, and the other things one needs to have to do anything at a more proficient level. Like exercise, golf, oil painting, or anything else, the desire must be there to progress.

For gardeners who want to become more proficient, there is a certain level of desire. I would remind these people that brown is also a color. Brown-eyed Susan is an example of this in a flower. In the gardening world, most think of brown in terms of death. I often refer to dead evergreen plants as “evergreen.” So think of your everbrowns and other gardening failures that end in the death of a plant, regardless of color, as a growth of knowledge. Also, think in terms of trying this new knowledge more than once to be sure it is the right knowledge.

“You never really know a plant until you kill it three times.” The old saying of the gardener.

Comments are closed.