One of the most fun things about establishing a new garden is the opportunity to pore over plant catalogs and things to pick out various plants I’d like to experiment with. And, inevitably, it forces me to cast my mind back to various gardening failures of mine. Everyone’s had them, sometimes to fantastic degrees, and the object lessons I’ve taken away from those experiences have been immensely useful not just for gardening, but for life in general. (For example, I know who not to listen to when it comes to advice.)
You see it spilling out of planters, looking all charming and colour-saturated. It’s pretty and it looks so easy, surely it must be easy, because everyone’s growing it and it’s often growing in pretty harsh environments like along the sidewalk. Everyone assures me that growing lobelia is very easy, I’ve been told this time and time again. Foolproof. Anyone could grow it. It’s not fussy about soil or watering or light.
Au contraire, my smug friends. Lobelia? Is actually kind of picky, and every damn time I’ve tried to grow it, it has turned out a complete mess. It dies back. It gets leggy and desperate looking. It furtively droops over as soon as I turn around to work on something else. It does not spread to create a nice, colorful groundcover. It does not do anything. It sits in the soil for a while, and then it dies. And then I walk downtown and the lobelia flourishing in everyone’s planters mocks me.
Succulents are also famously considered easy keepers, so simple the most novice of gardeners could grow them. Which I guess explains why every Christmas cactus I bring into the house promptly yellows, drops all its leaves, and then falls over and dies. Why yes, I have tried positioning them in different places around the house. I’ve tried a full range of temperatures, sun exposures, and watering schedules. Nothing works. The little fuckers always die, and never, ever produce flowers. Meanwhile, my father has a monstrous one by his door that always looks flawless, like one of those obnoxious people who rolls out of bed looking perfect and shits rainbows.
People mock me for this, but here it is: Spiderplants die in my house. Yes, yes, I know, your grandma has one that she, like, never waters and it’s just fine, and your friend stuck one in the freezer by accident and it recovered. And yes, I’m sure you have tons of spiderbabies and you’d be happy to give me one if I want to try again, because, gosh, your plant just keeps growing and growing, it’s out of control! It’s really super easy to grow, you tell me.
If that’s the case, explain to me why spiderplants always, always die. It’s not because the cats try to eat them, since I put plants up high where cats cannot reach for precisely this reason. (Well, that and not wanting the cats to get sick as a result of eating something they should not.) It’s not because I water them too much or not enough, because the sun is too bright or the setting is too dim. It’s because, no matter where I go, dead spiderplants follow me.
Evidence? My father tried growing them for years and they never took off. Until I moved out, at which point every withered, dying, pathetic looking spiderplant he owned suddenly perked up and started producing babies like nobody’s business. He’s got one on top of his fridge that’s so large, I’m afraid it is actually going to eat the fridge.
Also, I am constantly assured, very easy. A terrific project for beginning gardeners. Oh yeah? REALLY. REALLY. You really want to go there? First, I tried growing carrots and the gophers ate them all, and it was very sad. Then, I tried growing some of those exotic rainbow carrots, and they were all like ‘hahaha yeah right’ and died. I went back to bog-standard carrots in reinforced planters and the bunnies ate them. I tried caging them so the bunnies couldn’t get them, and the gophers figured out how to get through the gardening wire.
I mean, maybe the problem here is that I can grow carrots and they are just so good that no small animal worth its salt can possibly resist them. This is a possibility. All I know is that my track record on carrots is abysmal, and meanwhile everyone I know with a garden is producing oodles of them and unloading them on me. (Really, there are only so many things one can do with carrots.) On the plus side, I can give up on trying to grow carrots, because everyone provides them for me.
This is sort of a halfway failure. Every time I plant crocuses, they come up the first year, and then never again. This is a source of extreme sadness to me, because I really like crocuses. I especially like great whopping fields of them, rolling gloriously towards the horizon under majestic trees. Alas, my dream of a crocus meadow will never be achieved because even my most modest crocus attempts blaze out in failure. Yes, I’ve tried protecting them from critters and all the logical things. I am just a crocus failure, and that’s how it is. Fortunately, daffodils know no shame, and therefore wherever I live and plant daffodils, they come up cheerily every spring like little yellow consolation prizes.
No really, I love daffodils. I swear.