Gardening for the non-greenthumb

Hints for making people think you're a better gardener than you really are.

I’ve done some gardening this year. I know; I’m as shocked as you are. I probably should have given the neighbours a heads up, so that no one got injured doing a double-take when they saw what I was up to.

I admire a lovely garden as much as anyone; but while many people genuinely enjoy spending hours in their garden, I’m not one of them. This is possibly because while planting flowers or vegetables is a one-time thing, keeping them healthy and looking their best is an ongoing process. Watering and dead-heading isn’t bad early in the season; but come August, when it’s so hot my eyeballs feel as if they’re perspiring, I wonder what possessed me to embark on the process, way back in May.

And don’t talk to me about weeding. I firmly believe that, like planting, weeding should only have to be done once in a season, but those tenacious weeds simply will keep coming back. That said, I rather admire them for their plucky ability to thrive with absolutely no help from me, because if there’s one thing I like in a plant it’s independence. That’s why, when something strange starts sprouting in my garden, I give it the benefit of the doubt and let it show me what it’s got. As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple once noted, weeds are simply flowers that grow where you don’t want them to. If dandelions were sold in trays of six at Desert Hills, instead of erupting all over the lawn, people would be using them to edge gardens faster than you can say potting soil.

Now, the fact that I used the word “dead-heading” may lead some of you to think I’m a more serious gardener than I am. The truth is, I’ve learned enough to be able to fake it for a short period of time when I’m speaking with a real gardener. For those of you who aren’t gardeners, here are a few handy tips:

Marigolds, snapdragons, and petunias are lovely, but common. Research more exotic flowers—preferably with Latin names—and sprinkle those into your conversation. “I was going to use some calibrachoa in my hanging baskets this year, but decided on sutera cordata instead. The white flowers contrast so beautifully with the other plants, don’t you think?”

If you work in an office with a coffee machine, loudly announce in May that you’d like the used coffee grounds for your garden; then put an ice cream bucket on the counter and make a show of taking it away every few days. If you have a real gardener in the office who will actually use the grounds, ask everyone for newspapers instead, so you can put them in your garden when you’re planting. Don’t forget to recycle the papers after not using them.

If anyone asks if you planted vegetables this year, shake your head sadly and say that you simply couldn’t find the heirloom vegetables you wanted. It helps to know what heirloom vegetables are, and the names of a couple (try “Bull Nosed Large Bell Peppers”—Thomas Jefferson liked them!—and “Pruden’s Purple Tomatoes”).

And now I have to go. Those osteospermums aren’t going to dead-head themselves. . . .

Barbara Roden

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