Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Compleat (Bad) Gardener's Guide to Growing Things

I do not have a green thumb of any sort -- kelly, hunter, lime, pea, you name it, I don't have it. And this in spite of the fact that I come from a long line of talented gardeners, which doesn't seem fair. Of course, I also come from a long line of accomplished drinkers and brilliant cussers, so that kind of makes up for the fact that I can kill living plants with a casual glance, doesn't it?


Anyhoo, in spite of the fact that I am the grim reaper of garden centers everywhere, I really like flowers. And I do have a measure of success with hard-to-kill varieties of flora such as marigolds, petunias, geraniums and impatiens. I have some nice hostas growing around the house. And, you know, grass. But other than those things, I register a big, fat FAIL on the scale of People Who Sing to their Ferns.

So I wrote this handy little guide, not yet available in hardback, paperback, library binding or 99 cent e-book edition, to those who share this deficiency. Because there must be someone else. Someone. Anyone?

The Compleat (Bad) Gardener's Guide to Growing Things

1. Never trust yourself with plants you buy for full-price because you'll hate yourself when they die later. Ditto for anything bought at a plant nursery that looks healthy, robust and colorful. Limit yourself to plants purchased from, say, Lowe's. Or better yet, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is famous for buying huge amounts of annuals and then allowing them to languish, un-watered, until they're on the verge of expiring and marked down to half-price. THAT, my friends, is the time to buy your hanging baskets, your flats of pansies. See, if it's already mostly dead, you won't feel like a failure later if you forget to water it for a week or so: It's already accustomed to such mistreatment and won't hold a grudge.

2. While you're buying your plants, tuck a great big box of Miracle-Gro into your shopping cart. Miracle-Gro is one of those products that real gardeners scorn, preferring to use their own fertilizer from the compost bin in out in the yard. But for you and for me, Miracle-Gro is, well, a miracle. It can take a basket of vining petunias that are drooping limply over the edges of their container, trying to gasp out final instructions to their lawyers about the contents of their wills, and make them sit right back up and demand scrambled eggs and bourbon.

3. Come home and distribute your plants wherever you want them to go. Then find a pitcher and pour in some red wine (Shiraz works), half a cup of sugar, two sliced oranges, one sliced lime, one sliced lemon, a handful of grapes, a sliced apple. Throw in a liter of club soda or ginger ale and you've got yourself an amazing little sangria that will....wait. This was supposed to be about Miracle-Gro. GET A PITCHER, gallon-sized, fill it with water and one tablespoon of Miracle-Gro, and go douse your flowers with it. Be generous.

4. Pinch back any gangly, unsightly stems or stalks that are springing forth from the plant at strange angles; also remove, by using your thumbnail, any spent blossoms. Geraniums, in paticular, need this service offered to them because there is no flower that looks as ugly and unkempt as a gone-to-seed geranium. For other plants, like petunias, you can't just pull off the withered blossom, you also have to pinch off that little green part that the blossom sprang forth from. I learned this the hard way one summer, and made my mother double over with laughter as she observed my sad, sad baskets of flowers.

5. Check out the internet and make sure that flowers that are supposed to be in the sun are actually in it, and vice versa. Change plants all around, wishing you'd thought of doing this beforehand.

6. Water daily when it's super hot; continue to pinch back spent blooms. If you forget to water the plants for a few days, blame it on the sangria, not on me. Look, I was the one who told you right from the beginning that I was not to be trusted around flora, right?

7. When late fall arrives and the flowers die and look all shriveled and brown and loathsome, leave them out for a little while longer, like until Christmas, so that your place assumes a slightly squalid, if not downright haunted, air. It works well at Halloween. This will make the neighbors love you. LOVE you.

8. When it's finally time to throw out the hanging baskets, don't just pitch the soil and the dead plants, thinking that next year, you'll buy your annuals in flats and maybe purchase some lovely vinca and devise your own flower baskets that spill colorful blossoms recklessly over the sides in a sweet cascade that nearly reaches the porch floor. You and I know right now that it will never happen. You will end up storing five years' worth of plastic pots with those cheapo, coat-hanger hooks on them out in the shed or down in the basement, where they will eventually tumble over onto your husband, who will storm into the house or up the steps growling, "Please remind me WHY THE H*LL WE'RE SAVING THESE?"

You will not have an answer that will satisfy him. You see, he knows you. Probably the whole neighborhood does. Just... let the baskets go, along with your tender dreams of window-boxes and trellises and flowering shrubs. It isn't going to happen.

Just ask my husband.

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