I propose the following New Year's deal: Tell me your secrets. Give me a hint. A tip. A solid, proven shortcut. An ingenious end run around the gardening conventions. I want it wrapped as a cut-along-the-dotted-line coupon, to clip and save in my back pocket until it disintegrates from overuse. I expect it to give me the delicious feeling of having gotten away with something.
Just to clarify: no, I do not want, either in print, on the web, or in person, a lengthy tour of someone's rose garden in the south of France, put together with only $200,000 and a world famous landscape architect. I do not want a dried flower wreath or a garlic braid. I will thank you politely for a T-shirt emblazoned with Wildflowers of the Rockies, but I will never wear it. All I ask is a hint.
Last year, a wonderful hint was dropped in my lap by one Les Knudsen of Bloomington, Minnesota. Mr. Knudsen has spent a good many of his 80 years trying and discarding hints. (For instance, this hint about 'Roma' tomato: Don't bother with it. Its walls are thick, its flesh is mushy, and you can make better marinara sauce with a regular old eating tomato.) Here's what he said to do:
1. About a month before your last expected frost date, transplant the tomato seedlings you started in the basement right after Christmas.
2. Upend a tomato cage on top of each seedling.
3. Slip an unfilled Wall O'Water over each cage.
4. Then fill each Wall O'Water chamber with water. For once in your life, you will not have to struggle with supporting the squishy plastic structure in an upright position, risk drowning your seedling, or fill your shoes with freezing spring mud.
5. When it's time to remove the Wall O'Water, just lift up the tomato cage, turn it right side up, and replace, for use as a tomato vine support.
Last summer, I followed the above steps and found them to be glitch-less. I told Mr. Knudsen. He replied with a tantalizing mention of a way to grow tomatoes upside down in a hanging drywall bucket, but I am still waiting for the particulars. While I wait, I will implement the theory of Hint Karma, which states that any proven hints broadcast with a generous spirit will be amply rewarded. In other words, for every hint you find useful, you should reciprocate with at least three, or risk an unpleasant time in the afterlife. What's in it for you?
The sum of my hands-on gardening knowledge
1. You can never own too many pairs of sharp clippers. The best ones are found at garage and estate sales. You have to sharpen them yourself, but it's worth it.
2. Start seedlings on an ironing board. You can adjust its height, it's just the right width, and you won't have to iron for at least four months.
3. Seed a nice patch of lawn under your child's trampoline, which will act as a shade cloth. Set up the sprinkler to water the new lawn and your child at the same time. Ready for the next new lawn? Move the trampoline.
4. Sections of clay chimney liner make excellent container gardens. Stuff the bottom foot of empty space with the Styrofoam doo-dads that stereo equipment is packed in. Then line the top half with a garbage bag, fill with soil, and plant.
5. It is much cheaper to buy one gorgeous tropical houseplant and slowly kill it over the course of a winter than to buy one bunch of cut flowers per week.
6. Bedding plants: Never buy one of each color. Always buy lots of white.
7. If you put off mowing your lawn long enough, it will stop growing at about 18 inches tall. Instant designer meadow!
8. Cool flowers grow by the railroad tracks, and no one will care if you dig them up.
9. Fiddling around with your compost pile is never a waste of time.
10. Save the plastic-clad metal tie bands that come with plastic bags. Keep some in all your pockets. They are very handy, not just in the garden, but in life.
There. Now you do your part. I'm waiting.
If you don't have a hint, don't sweat it. I could always use another pair of sharp clippers.
Robin Chotzinoff is the author of People with Dirty Hands (Harcourt Brace, 1997).
Article published on June 23, 2008.