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The Right Way To Garden

A Gardening Life – January 27

My friend John Sullivan made this video for Plant Something Massachusetts. Set to a very hummable song written by Andy Rapo, the purpose of the project is to promote plants and gardening. A noble goal, wouldn’t you agree?

When John recently posted a link to the video in a Facebook group one member commented that what bothered her was the shot of overhead watering of a geranium. Most people who have grown geraniums know that they don’t like to have their leaves splashed with water. This leads to black spot and yellowed foliage…if repeated frequently, overhead watering could even kill the plant.

I had conflicting responses to that comment. On the one hand she is absolutely correct about geraniums and watering. On the other hand, I think that experienced gardeners, garden writers and other experts in the field are far too quick to jump in with our opinions on the right way to garden. In our zeal to give people the information that they need to be successful, we often make plants and gardening into a minefield of do’s and don’ts.

We give the general public mixed messages: “Have fun! Plant something!” we say, while following that up with “But don’t plant too deeply, don’t water that way, be sure not to underfeed but don’t overfeed either, don’t use this, this, and this but be sure to do that, that, and that,” and on and on.

The longer I help people with their plants and gardening, the more I see that there isn’t one right way to garden. Sure, there are tips for success (don’t overhead water your geraniums) but for each of these we can find examples of someone who did everything wrong but was still successful. Sometimes (dare I say often?) plants succeed against all odds.

To me, the message of the Plant Something! campaign is that people shouldn’t be afraid that they might not do it right. Being outdoors doing something real and fun with your family is reason enough. Experiencing the life-affirming involvement with nature is reason enough. Learning though trial and error is reason enough.

The only wrong way to garden is not to garden at all.

If there was such a thing as a Gardening Quick-Start Guide, gardening experts might be tempted to make it just a little too confusing and complicated. A true Quick-Start could be two words: Plant Something

18 comments to The Right Way To Garden

  • jim

    Perfectly put C.L.

  • Joyce

    Fun video! Love the pooch cheering everybody on! Our doodle loves keeping us company when we are out there gardening. It’s a fun game, stealing our garden gloves if we set them down…so we all get MORE exercise!

  • Marcia

    Agreed. I’m hoping I share with gardeners, both new & experienced, that rules are made to be broken, that the gospel we recited for years (rocks in the bottom of pots for drainage, no swimming for an hour after lunch) were based on incorrect or dated information.

  • Sue

    Well said. Now I’ll be humming that song for the rest of the day but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  • admin

    “Hallelujah! Spring is here…” and can’t come fast enough!

  • Fantastic C.L. Spring is on its way.

    Have a wonderful day,

  • Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!

  • admin

    Love your spirit, Don!

  • Terry

    I’ve always wondered, where geraniums are native, is there little or no rain to water them from above? Same with other plants like that – African violets, cyclamen – do they all live where they are watered from below?

  • admin

    Our garden geraniums, Pelargoniums really, are native to South Africa and grow in places where it doesn’t rain much…so although they don’t get bottom watered, they don’t get watered much at all! I don’t know about the native ranges of African violets (Africa, obviously) but imagine that they are similar.

  • Commended! First time visitor to your blog and will be in your audience in Allentown, PA. Thanks-Sandi

  • admin

    Thanks for stopping by, Sandi! I’m really looking forward to the workshop in PA – see you then.

  • What a great video. It is certainly worth spreading around. I am thankful for the perspective you bring to this. Haven’t most of us learned the little that we know (or think we do) from making mistakes and experimenting? If we pay attention, the plants will teach us. So the challenge is; teach people how to plant more successfully while still making it enjoyable and not to burdensome with do’s and dont’s.
    Videos like this surely help.

  • Just marvelous. Yayyyy!!! And today there are more than TEN (10) hours of Daylight!

  • admin

    Let there be light!

  • Nancy Tarshis


  • Should you write a negative article about gardening? Well, the only wrong way to write is not to write at all. You shouldn’t write such a well pointed article about what to not do unless you want lots of comments that tell you that you are correct. Well done. Did I write this right?

  • admin

    I agree, Sid, that the only wrong way to write is to not write at all. Not everyone thinks I am correct, however, and that’s OK too.