One thing I love about gardening is that there’s always the opportunity to learn something new. The natural world is so full of wonders that every day fresh information, connections, and ways of being are reveled to those who take notice. Beautiful, improved plants are introduced every year and the latest research gives us the chance to be better gardeners.
Gardens also pull us out of our ruts…although sometimes we leave these foxholes kicking and screaming. The furrows of our habits and beliefs might be limiting, but they sure are comfortable! Growth, on the other hand, might be exhilarating and expansive, but it’s often kind of scary.
When I began researching garden myths in the early 21st century I felt all these emotions. I was intrigued and delighted, of course, but I was also uncertain. Could it be that the information I’d taken as fact, and repeatedly passed on to others, isn’t really true? My mind flashed back to the title of the Firesign Theatre’s album from the 1970’s: Everything You Know is Wrong.
Despite my uncertainty I plunged ahead, searching for the truth behind all the landscape lore that most gardeners have been told for decades. Here are just a few things I discovered as I did the research for my book, Coffee For Roses.
- Contrary to what I’ve believed and told others for years, calcium has nothing to do with blossom end rot on tomatoes. Those ugly scabs on the bottom of your fruit are the result of stress on young tomato plants. Infrequent watering, tilling that cuts the roots, high winds and other environmental conditions cause early season fruit to be so marred. If we water deeply less often, mulch around plants, and otherwise keep our veggie gardens on an even keel we’re less likely to have blackened fruit, and most plants grow out of any problems anyway.
- Sometimes we gardeners get way too fussy about how plants are cared for. For example, there is the old belief that roses should be deadheaded by pruning to above a set of five leaves. This is time consuming and has reduced rose maintenance to something resembling an episode of Sesame Street. “1-2-3, 1-2-3,”” we count as we stand over the roses with our pruners. Finally, victoriously, we call “1-2-3-4-5!” and make the cut. It turns out that we don’t need to spend time counting rose leaflets. Chopping off the spent flowers, even randomly with hedge clippers, is as good, or even better than the laborious tallying of plant parts.
- Many of our current beliefs about plants and gardening seem to have been propagated in the mid-twentieth century. When I looked for the roots of these myths in gardening books and newspaper articles published in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, I seldom found them. Most of the advice about gardens and plants at that time was good, common sense information. The garden communicators of that era stressed adding organic matter and hard working, get-into-the-garden-with-hand-tools advice. It seems that the attraction to quirky quick fixes blossomed in the mid-twentieth century.
It’s not surprising that we humans like the unusual or speedy remedies. If people were always content with the same-old-same-old we never would have tasted oysters, or thought to cook an artichoke. Being interested in the strange and peculiar has probably kept our species alive when the usual food sources disappeared. There are times, however, when that attraction to weird and instant solutions doesn’t serve us well.
So…does chewing gum really cure groundhogs? Is frost more likely on a full moon? Should we really be putting a layer of rocks or shards in the bottom of pots “for drainage?”
When you read Coffee for Roses I think that you’ll find the answers to these questions as entertaining as the myths themselves.
Guest Blogger Bio
C.L. Fornari is the author six books and numerous articles about gardening.
She hosts GardenLine, a live two-hour call-in radio show that’s streamed online at www.95WXTK.com. C.L. speaks to a variety of audiences and she has gardened in southern California, Wisconsin, and upstate New York; now she grows all manner of plants at Poison Ivy Acres on Cape Cod.