Novice gardeners are often looking for the “rule book”. If only gardening were that simple – you follow the rules and you get the perfect results! But those who want to follow the rules in gardening miss the critical catch: Nature doesn’t follow rules. But please don’t misinterpret this to mean nature is capricious. That would be an inappropriate anthropomorphizing of nature. Nature is a complex force that is ever-changing. It has no human qualities – no sense of vengeance, no motherly tendencies, no good and no evil.
Throughout history, humans have anthropomorphized natural elements (and animals) to make them more comprehensible and more relatable. We put things into human form because we are egotistical and can only see things through our own lens. The ancient Greek gods are the perfect example. Remember Poseidon? The god of the sea, controlling the tides and the sea creatures, using tidal waves to exact vengeance on disobedient humans. And when we contemplate the possibility of life in outer space, we picture humanoid alien life forms. We have difficulty imagining that extra-terrestrials are more likely to look nothing like us. In our attempt to understand nature, we humanize it. Nature is not a mother, not a Green Man, not a god. Nature does not punish or reward us. Nature is a collection of the 4 elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the carbon based life forms that can choose to either fight those elements or work with them. And that is the most fundamental decision – to fight nature, or to work with it. Just remember one thing: Nature wins. Every time.
Novice gardeners want a set of rules, a calendar, a formula. When can I plant tomatoes? April 15? When can I install a warm season lawn? May 1st? Which chemical fertilizer works best? 10-10-10? They come to the experts and expect a set answer. Often we give them one because they are lost without one. But it is never as simple as we would like it to be.
When can I plant tomatoes? When the threat of frost has passed. When will that be in Raleigh? Well, the Farmer’s Almanac predicts April 4th for 2017. But that could change… Every year it is different. So we say April 15th because that is safe…not necessarily accurate, but safe. Because we know that if we say April 4th, we could get a later frost, and that client will come back and be angry with us because their tomatoes died. Nature doesn’t read the Farmer’s Almanac. The Farmer’s Almanac attempts to read nature. They are quite good at it, historically, but their writers understand the most important rule in gardening: Nature wins. Every time.
Click here to read the Farmers’ Almanac for Raleigh, NC. http://www.almanac.com/gardening/frostdates/NC/Raleigh
When will Emerald Zoysia be available? When it greens up. When will that be in Raleigh? At Super-Sod we say May 1st because, again, it is a safe bet. But we don’t know the exact date because we do not control nature, we work with it.
Which chemical fertilizer is best? That depends on your soil health and the plants you are growing. We strongly recommend that you do a soil test so that you apply the correct amount of fertilizer and, more importantly, so that you don’t over fertilize. Working with the pH you have is another aspect of a soil test.
The NC Department of Agriculture performs these tests for free most months (they do charge a small fee December through March when they are inundated with farmers’ samples).
So how does the novice gardener become a good gardener? By spending lots of time outdoors, paying attention to the air, the soil, the lake levels. By observing the plants – really looking at them. Grass leaves react to water shortages by folding their blades in half to minimize sun exposure. When your grass blades look skinnier and grayer, they are telling you they need water. Certain plants are known as “indicator plants”. When your hydrangea leaves droop, all your plants need water.
Ask lots of questions. Don’t just ask where you should plant a hosta, ask why you should plant it there. Dig a hole and get to know your soil. Smell it, squeeze it in your hand, and look for worms and insects in it. Poor soil will support very few life forms. Good soil should be brown and smell earthy. It should hold together when squeezed in your hand, but should not just be a lump of clay. Amend poor soil with compost.
Most importantly, let go of that need for control, and reconnect with nature. You will make mistakes and lots of them, and that’s OK. That’s how we learn. I’ve been a horticulture professional for over 20 years and I am still learning. It’s a process, not a destination. Learn to love the earth, because it is the only one we have. And don’t try to win because you cannot (and should not) defeat nature. Repeat after me: Nature wins. Every time.
With every garden space I create, one of my side goals is to invite more animal life into my garden. Butterflies, birds, bees, my dogs and my friends’ dogs, wandering cats, turtles, salamanders, and even squirrels and rabbits. I’m a sucker for a cute furry, flying or feathered face. I’ve always felt that since we have invaded their habitat, we should welcome them into ours.
Without meaning to (well, maybe, a little), I have brought that need to embrace all things animalia to my work world as well. My boss and my co-workers have been very supportive and understanding. I introduced two feral cats to our work environment. One is still here, but seen only on night camera footage. The other passed away weeks after her installation in my office. She was old and ill, and we gave her a wonderful place to convalesce. Maggie, the neighborhood dog, wanders in every other day or so, looking for affection and treats. Customers bring their dogs in pretty frequently, and they get balls or frisbees and treats. Always treats.
Word must have passed through the animal pipeline that this was a pretty cool place, because a month ago Mr. Feathers, an Indian Blue Peacock, came to stay. What did we offer that was so inviting? Well tended green space, some rough green areas as well, a small shaded pond, open site lines, shelter, and food. Of course. But there is something special about this place. Animals just show up – uninvited, but always welcome. Turtles have ambled into the store. Little frogs hop in on a regular basis. Crows dance on the tin roof and eat the figs off the tree by the pond. No one shoos them away. Someone usually finds them food and water. None of the animals seem to mind the tractor trailers, the forklifts, the comings and goings. They have found a haven that may not be perfect, but it meets their needs. They are welcomed without questions, fed, housed, loved. And along with the ordinary creatures, a rare bird has graced us with his presence. There’s a lesson here somewhere…