Gardening Mishaps

Garden Life
From Sarah's garden to yours
A good gardener learns from their mistakes, and to be honest, I have made a lot of mistakes over the years. A smart gardener learns from the mistakes of others, and in doing so, avoids making them in their garden, speeding up the learning process without the heartbreak. To save you from repeating my gardening faux pas, I will share my top gaffes and add some tips on how to do better than I did!

Less is more

Most of my mistakes happened in my early days when I had enough information to feel confident, but not enough experience to be wise. I prepared a small patch of ground - about 50cm x 50cm in size - for my lettuce and removed all trace of weed. I sowed my seed generously by sprinkling it over the land – the whole packet!

I wouldn’t advise you to do that. There are 1000 seeds in the average lettuce seed packet, and no one wants 1000 lettuces to come ready at once (not that they would). The space was big enough for about 4 lettuce plants. If you sow that many lettuces that thickly you end up with a slimy mess.

If allocated the proper space, plants can grow to their full potential. So do read the instructions on the packet and follow the advice. For an iceberg lettuce the recommended spacing is 30 – 40cm apart for each plant.
lettuce in the garden

Not all tips are good advice

The internet is abound with gardening ideas that will make things easy, or quicker with “hacks”. Gardening doesn’t need hacking; it is a slow and mindful pastime filled with moments of hard work and perhaps unpleasant tasks, but it is all part of the process and should be embraced. I don’t often fall for tips from the internet, but from time to time, an idea seems like a good one. I heard that if you mix radish seeds in with your carrot seeds, it will help you to get a more even row of carrots, and you can avoid thinning them as the radish will be long gone by the time the carrot needs the space.

This was not a good idea. Radishes are a vegetable with a piquant flavour, and you won’t necessarily need an over-abundant supply. That year, I was giving away radish to anyone who came over by the carrier bag. On top of that, the carrots still needed thinning because I had sowed just as many as I normally would, alongside far too many radish seeds.

I should have done the right thing with my carrots, and not tried to cut corners. I don’t enjoy thinning carrots because it seems like such a waste. But that is why there are so many carrot seeds in the packet. With a slow and steady hand, gently sprinkle a sparse covering of seeds into the row. Once they begin growing, remove excess seedlings to leave a gap of 2cm. After a month, go back and remove more seedlings to give a gap of 5cm. The ones removed can be eaten as baby carrots and the remaining ones will go on to grow into good-sized carrots that you will surely be proud of.
radish in the garden

Know what you are growing

It is always good to try new things, and there are so many varieties of seed available now that you can stretch your gardening repertoire well beyond the commonly known vegetables. I always work with a ‘try everything once and the fun things twice’ philosophy, and so I’m prepared to grow something my family has never heard of before. Many become one season wonders never to be grown again, and others become firm favourites. One season, I tried two similar sprouting broccoli varieties with great excitement.

After much anticipation, I found I liked one much better than the other; the problem was, I didn’t label them, so I didn’t know which was which – I thought I’d remember which seems naively optimistic in hindsight. All I knew was one had yellow flowers and one had white flowers. The following season, I grew them again but paid close attention to labelling. Unfortunately, I lost concentration between taking them out of their plant pots and putting them in the garden and got them muddled up. I stopped trying after this and so to this day, I still don’t know which was which.

Labelling is so important in the garden, especially since so many plants look the same as seedlings. Mild mannered capsicum can easily be mistaken for chillies or you could end up with a garden full of brussels sprouts when all you wanted was a couple of cauliflower, some broccoli, and a single brussels sprout plant. Labels can come in all shapes and styles. You can buy ready-made ones, cut up an old milk bottle or get creative and make beautiful ones. Just make sure the marker doesn’t fade over time, making it illegible. You can never have too many labels in the garden.
seedling labels

Serial killers

Death comes often in the garden. Sometimes the culprit is pest or disease, other times, the reason is an apparent mystery. Either way, it is always a good idea to investigate a death to ensure your next plants don’t suffer the same fate. In my old garden, the soil was often damp as it was once a swamp. Many plants grew well as they relished the moist, fertile soil. However, I just couldn’t seem to grow citrus. I started out with one of each – a lime, a lemon, an orange, a mandarin, and a grapefruit. They all died before even bursting into flower, let alone giving fruit. I tried again, this time with just a lemon, a lime, and a mandarin. Eventually I just tried a couple more lemons. They all died.

If I hadn’t been so persistent, and had just accepted that plants just die sometimes, I may have more readily looked at the root cause. I would have discovered a lot sooner that citrus don’t like wet feet and the swamp soil was causing root rot and killing the plants. Once the penny dropped, I popped a lemon and a lime into large attractive containers on the deck and finally had success.

However green your fingers are, some plants just won’t grow in the garden you have.  It might be too warm, too cold, too wet, or too shady. To ensure success, before bringing plants home, take some time to find out the ideal conditions they prefer and save yourself a lot of heartbreak mourning a needless plant loss.