Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
March, 2011
Regional Report

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Beautiful gardens and landscapes like this one develop over time with trial and error, but are well worth the effort.

Hope for a Brown Thumb

We garden writers paint quite a positive picture of magnificent gardens. We write about bountiful vegetable patches, abundant flowers, picture perfect landscapes or a few simple tips to make everything, well, "come up roses." Add to these articles the Eden-like photos that grace the cover of gardening magazine and television shows that visit spectacular gardens and interview the gardener who appears to have been born with a green thumb. Then there are the seed catalogs where everything is "the best variety you can imagine," with the photos prove it!

Inspired by dreams of such success many gardeners launch out each season to create their own Eden but often end up frustrated and discouraged by the results. This is especially true for people new to gardening, but almost all gardeners can relate. If you are one of these folks who have felt that for whatever reason you must just have a "brown thumb" and are tempted to throw in the trowel, let me offer some words of encouragement and advice.

Any gardener, even the pros if they are candid, will tell you that they have had their share of disappointing results. I still try new varieties and techniques from time to time that don't work. We gardeners are lifetime learners, and gardens grow better as the gardener grows!

Jimmy Turner, Senior Director of Gardens at the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden, put it this way, "The success of my garden is built on the compost of my failures!" That's worth contemplating.

If you saw some of my initial gardening attempts you would wonder what I'm doing writing about gardening! Knowledge and experience come with time, and with them our thumbs begin to change from brown to green. Gardeners are dreamers and experimenters. Many things we try don't work. We face challenges with disease, pestilence, and the vicissitudes of nature.

No two gardening years are exactly alike, but that is one of the great things about gardening. It is an ongoing learning process, and like few other areas in life,a mistakes made is easily wiped away and a new planting put in its place. You can't fail at gardening, unless you give up. A garden isn't a single thing you build, like a shed or a fence. It is an ongoing creation constantly changing from season to season, or even week to week.

I like to think of my landscape and garden areas as an Etch-a-Sketch. Remember those? You attempt to draw something, which was virtually impossible with the two knobs only moving horizontally and vertically. Then after deciding your artistic attempt was a lost cause you simply turned it upside down, shook it, and voila, a clean slate! If you are facing a pitiful planting of vegetables or flowers that you'd be embarrassed for you gardening friends to see, remember, "That's why God made rototillers and seed packets!"

So if you've been discouraged by less-than-hoped-for results with your first attempts to garden or are a bit intimidated to start a garden for the first time, take heart. Trust me, you do NOT have a brown thumb.

Your gardens will grow better each time you try. I think at least half of the fun in gardening is in learning and trying new things. Relax and enjoy the excitement and experience of building a garden over time. Learn everything you can by reading and by visiting with local gardeners. Contact your local Extension Service for free publications, classes, and advice.

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