“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail.”
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
Henry David Thoreau learned from his time living in a cabin near Walden Pond the value of living an uncomplicated life. We dwellers in the twenty-first century can learn a lot from these wise words from Mr. Thoreau.
It’s also a lesson that is worthwhile to us gardeners as well. A huge backyard garden teaming with ten varieties of tomatoes, a plethora of beans, ten other kinds of vegetables and herbs, and an entrance framed by a trellis overgrown with roses is a beautiful sight to behold. But many of us don’t have the space to plant such a garden, nor the time to take care of it.
Gardens do not exist only in large spaces and they do not all team with twelve different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. It is possible to simplify our vegetable gardens. You can grow a small raised bed just off your patio and fill it with lettuce, a few pepper plants, and a cucumber on a trellis. This is a garden. A few tomato plants in containers on your patio – this is also a garden. Some greens in bottles on the balcony of an apartment in the city? This too is a garden. Some tomatillos in a small raised bed? This is a garden; no ifs, ands, or buts about it. At a motel I once stayed, out in the back, I saw some used tires filled with soil which had vegetables plants growing in them. Yes, this is indeed a garden. So if you desire to have a garden, but think that the lack of a big back yard is hindering you, take heart. You don’t need a big backyard. You can grow a garden almost anywhere. Do what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t. Take a lesson from Henry David Thoreau and simplify, simplify, simplify. Even better, take a lesson from Ralph Waldo Emmerson, who told Thoreau that one simplify would have sufficed.
Whenever I talk to people and mention that I’m a gardener and a garden coach, I often hear, “Oh I wish I could grow a garden, but I kill every plant I touch. I have a black thumb.” Well, that may be true today, but I’m here to tell you that a black thumb is not a permanent condition with no cure. It is possible to turn a nighttime thumb into a greentime thumb.
Well, for starters, have you considered that maybe you’ve been going about it the wrong way? Perhaps you’ve been growing the wrong kind of plants for your particular garden. For example, do your tomatoes always succumb to diseases like verticillium wilt or late blight? Then perhaps instead of growing an open-pollinated cultivar of tomato, you should instead grow a hybrid tomato that has been bred to resist those diseases. Or maybe you should grow something other than tomatoes which is not susceptible to any of those aforementioned diseases.
Have you been trying to start seeds in your house using soil from your garden and placing the pots, seed starters, or whatever you use near a sunny window? Bzzzzzz! Wrong techniques! Seeds should never be started in soil from your garden, because garden soil can be hard, blocky, and full of weed seeds and disease organisms that can kill developing seedlings. Start your seeds in a good starter mix instead. Oh yes, and that sunny window? Not sunny enough. The glass will absorb ninety percent of the sun’s foot-candle power leaving you with only ten percent of the light energy that the plant needs to grow. And seedlings that receive insufficient light will grow thin, weak, and leggy, and be less able to withstand outside conditions when transplanted into your garden. Instead, grow your seedlings under a good grow light. Keep the light close to the seedlings when they are small, and move it up as they get bigger. This will give you strong and stocky plants that withstand outside conditions and grow vigorously and productively.
There are many ways to go wrong when attempting to grow a garden, but there is a solution to every problem. Your thumb does not have to stay black forever. With a little detective work, a little research, and a willingness to try new things, even the blackest thumb can be turned to the brightest green. And if you find that you need the help of a coach to solve your garden woes, I know just the person – hint, hint!