Friday, July 2, 2010

12 relationship rules for gardeners

“99% of the world’s lovers are not with their first choice. That’s what makes the jukebox play." ~ Willie Nelson, The Tao of Willie

I’m having a lot more success with my landscape now that I’ve started thinking of gardening as a relationship rather than a hobby.

When I was younger, I used to date a LOT. The reason that I dated so much was because I wasn’t very great at making relationships last. I chose men just for their looks or their popularity, when we obviously had nothing in common. And I expected the relationships to just click, without any real effort on my part. Several hundred men later (okay, I’m probably exaggerating there) I realized that just wasn’t how things worked.

For a long time, I was the same way with my gardens. I’d walk through a garden center and pick out whatever looked good, and take it home, give it a drink and feed it once or twice and then I’d ignore it until I got bored and wanted it to entertain me again. Usually by then, it would be long gone. So I’d head back to the garden center and try again. Several thousand plants later (and I may not be exaggerating there) I’ve started to learn a few things.

The number of failed marriages in our country is about 50%. There are no similar statistics for the number of failed gardens, but since gardening is a 36 billion dollar industry in our country, I would say that a lot of that is money spent by people trying over and over again to make their relationship with their garden work.

So in order to help save you some heartache and some money, over the next few weeks, I would like to share some of the knowledge I have acquired about relationships and gardening. Here are some of the most important things I have learned.

1) Get to know your site - Get to know what you have to offer before you jump into a relationship. In life, if you don’t really know who you are or what you have to offer, you’ll have a heck of a time finding someone that is right for you. In gardening, if you don’t get to know your garden site and what it has to offer, you will have a hard time finding plants that will be happy there.

2) Plan your landscape – Proper planning and design are essential for creating a healthy relationship with your landscape. What do you expect from the relationship? Is being surrounded by beauty enough for you or do you want something that will provide food (fruit and veggies) and shelter?

3) Get tested and get healthyAs is, your property might not be ready for a good relationship. Get the soil tested and take steps necessary to get it to its optimum health. Amend the soil, remove weeds and invasive plants.

4) Get to know the plants - All of those good looking, sweet young things that you pick up around town weren’t just put on this earth for your pleasure. They have wants and needs of their own. If you want any kind of long term relationship with them, you need to learn about their needs before you bring them home. Speed dating isn’t good for relationships and impulse buying isn’t great for gardening.

5) Choose plants compatible with your site conditions - If you want to be in a relationship with sweet things that you aren’t really compatible with just because they are beautiful, it might work but it is going to require a lot of effort. Probably neither one of you will ever be completely happy. Which leads me to number 6.

6) Caring for incompatible plants can harm the environment - Some relationships require so much effort that they are just toxic to you. In the garden, certain plants will require so much water and so much fertilizer and pesticides that they are going to hurt the environment. Also, if they aren’t really happy there, they may start running around on you.

7) Choose natives over exotics - Exotic, high cost beauties are often very high maintenance. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you may find yourself spending half your paycheck on things to help make them happy. Natives are rarely so restless.

8) Set some boundaries – Your plants might be very happy if you let them act unruly, run all over the place and do whatever they want. It’s up to you to nip things in the bud when you need to.

9) Devote time to your relationship - Good gardening takes time and effort. If you want to have a good relationship with people or with plants, you have to make an effort and put some work into it. Spend some time with them. Keep checking in. See if they are getting everything they need.

10) But don’t overdo it – There is sometimes a fine line between keeping your plants happy and spoiling them. If you have chosen plants that are compatible with your site conditions, they should be pretty happy without a lot of extras.

11) If you run into problems, seek advice – Relationships are challenging. Consult experts if needed.

12) Don’t be afraid to call it quits - And, if after all your best efforts, things just don’t seem to be working out, don’t be afraid to dump your current garden and start over. Relationships are supposed to be happy and fulfilling for both of you.

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