Spring in the nursery is a happy time. The bedding plants are a riot of color and the eager young vegetables grow right before your eyes. Flushed with hope and fresh resolve, shoppers load their carts with more than they can use, for who can resist the tangerine zinnias, the deep blue delphiniums, the baby stalks of corn, the hundreds of heirloom tomatoes, each one promising something special. The is “The Year,” customers vow; they have learned from past efforts and this is the year they will have, at last, their dream garden.
Despite our cautions, many folks will plant too early, and one night while they are fast asleep a hard frost will steal into their gardens, blackening the basil and wilting the watermelon. They will return for replacements, these stubborn gardeners, will dig into their pockets a second time, albeit not quite so cheerfully.
For a while everything seems to be going well. Plants stream into the nursery like fresh troops and are cleared out the same day. Busy shoving more things into the earth, no one notices the tiny green aphids in the broccoli, the tunnels forming in the Swiss chard leaves, the strange white fungus creeping over the zucchini. Not until their gardens are out of hand do people perceive a problem. How they react is who they are. Some, blaming nature, will turn on it. They will buy the most lethal products they can get their hands on and they will turn their gardens into battle zones. Others, blaming us, will storm back into the nursery, brandishing their sickly specimens and demanding a refund. They will cite the return policies of the box stores and they will threaten to take their business to them.
And then there are those who blame themselves. They will come into the nursery shamefaced, holding plastic bags of evidence and asking us what went wrong, why are they such bad gardeners. While gardening is supposed to be a restorative pastime, I see more evidence to the contrary. People are intimidated by plants, intimidated and aggrieved. Their gardens get the better of them, and, disgusted, they give up. There are too many variables, they complain, too much they can’t control.
Which is exactly the point. Nature will not be controlled, not for long at any rate. The more you resist her efforts, the harder she’ll work to thwart yours. Eventually she will find a way to get around your weapons and give her varied progeny a toehold. Broccoli, aphids, roses, mildew—it’s all the same to her. Balance is what she’s after.
War is not the answer to your plant troubles. If you want to be a good gardener, start with forgiveness. Make peace with your garden. Understand that it cannot be perfect. Some things will thrive, others will not. Accept the losses and arm yourself with knowledge. Tend toward simplicity, a yard you can handle. Above all, dig gently.