A pandemic is conducive to gardening. You can spend hours outside and never run into a crowd. You can stretch and bend and lift heavy loads without going into a gym. You can limit your runs to the grocery store by picking produce in the back yard. Gardeners as a group were probably most able to endure the imposed solitude this year has demanded.
I’ve picked up gardening wisdom in three ways this year. First, the make-a-mistake method. It’s hard to forget your colossal mistakes like mulching over landscape fabric. When I planted a hedge of inkberry on the edges of my property, I dug the plants into a grassy area. Not wanting to go to the trouble of digging out the grass, I spread landscape fabric around the shrubs and pinned it down with staples. Then I spread mulch. The bed looked neatly planted at the time and the grass perished. A year went by and weeds popped up. They quickly made a tangled web in the fabric, impossible to pull out. Cardboard would have been a better choice. In my soggy landscape the grass would have been smothered and eventually composted and no knotty fabric mess. Putting landscape fabric between vegetable rows might work. That is the only good use I can think of. Maybe someone can tell me of other good uses.
Another learn by experience episode this year was the beware-of-a-neighbor- buying-cute-ducklings-for- Easter to entertain the children. While the children soon lose interest, the birds grow quickly to opinionated swaggerers who have no respect for property lines. Don’t put out little annuals on their side of the house. If they don’t nibble them to the ground they will sit on them. Wait for your neighbor to find a suitable home for the ganders; then put out the annuals.
Pruning was another learn-by-experience habit brought home this year. Fall flowering perennials thrive with aggressive pruning up until the Fourth of July. Asters, mums and Autumn Joy sedum don’t grow leggy and fall over if they’re nipped early in the season. Their flowers may be smaller, but they sure will be bushy, prolific bloomers.
The second way I picked up garden knowhow was from two of the many garden YouTube stars. P. Allen Smith shared his gorgeous Little Rock garden. He planted fragrant white Thalia narcissus intermixed with Leucojum (which, by the way I’d never heard of) and overplanted with reblooming daylily ‘Happy Returns’ for summer blooms. I copied him and am waiting impatiently for April. Another YouTube gardener is Linda Vater. She has a beautiful Oklahoma City garden that she generously shares. Her penchant for topiary is contagious and she taught me how to muck up pots. I found that cheap plastic pots can be covered with quick drying cement to look definitely pricy. It’s a messy project but with interesting results.
My third and most serious way of learning in 2020 was to take the Maryland Master Gardener Program. What an incredible system we have. Every state works to educate the population on environmental best practices through the Extension program at the land grant universities. Over the years they have let loose thousands of volunteers to spread the word. Their 600 page manual is too bulky for bedtime reading, but it has taught me how much I don’t know. I didn’t know the most abundant element in soil is oxygen. No wonder soggy soil is problematic. Who knew only ten percent of insects are pests. Probably more than ten percent of people are pests. Anyway, it is humbling to know that all the birds and bats, flowers and fungus, insects and earthworms could happily go on without us, but we could not survive without them. So much for “Masters of the Universe.” The good news is we know this and our world is full of knowledgeable people who are committed to helping all of us understand the” interrelationships between soil, air, water, plants, and animals.”
Happy Gardening in 2021!