New weekend feature: “what I learned from my garden”

While in Connecticut a few weeks ago I met Henry Young (a former horticulture extension agent), who did a guest post on the blog this past week about the important of “negative” results.  He also had another interesting idea for the blog that I’m going to initiate this weekend – the “What I learned from my garden” feature.

I did one of these back in July of 2010, when I worked water into a clay loam soil the same way you might work it into potting mix – with disastrous results.  So to kick off our new weekend feature, here’s another story from my “oops” collection:

Nearly every place we’ve lived we’ve had a wisteria vine – carefully trained and maintained so it wouldn’t get under the shingles and other places it wasn’t welcome.  In Buffalo, we had a second-story open porch off our bedroom with decorative iron fencework around the edge.  How lovely it would be if we planted a wisteria below and trained it along the fence, so that we’d have purple clusters dripping from the black ironwork in the spring!

We got the vine planted and it quickly reached the second story, twining its way around the fencework.  All we did was keep the wild hairs pruned off and waited eagerly for the floral show.

Well, it never bloomed in the four years we had left in that house.  But it did grow vigorously.  The slender vines thickened into bloated things that grasped and pulled at the fencework, pulling it off-kilter in its eagerness to take over the south side of our house.  The fence and the wisteria were becoming one.

Fortunately, we moved before I had to take an ax to the thing, and to this day I have no idea what the new owners did with that unholy alliance of metal and plant.

We learned – our current wisteria is restricted to a sturdy wooden trellis that laughs at its attempts of herbal domination.  But it still hasn’t bloomed…I assume it’s sulking.

Wisteria on the right, along with indestructible trellils

This feature will succeed if YOU contribute!  Send me your stories, with photos if possible, and I’ll post them on weekends.  We’ll all laugh and learn together.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

8 thoughts on “New weekend feature: “what I learned from my garden””

  1. This is a blunder that was caught before a disaster actually occured. The moral of this story is that you really want to double check your math before making an order.

    Shortly after we moved into our current house, I wanted to put a long raised flower bed in the front yard.

    I calculated that I needed 80 cubic feet of topsoil, so I called a local place that delivers topsoil and similar stuff, told them what I was doing, and ordered 27 cubic yards.

    There was a long silence on the other end of the line. “Are you sure about that?”

    It was then I remembered that there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard, no
    t three. I actually wanted just three cubic yards, which is still a sizable pile. I sometimes have a nightmare vision of 27 cubic yards of topsoil dumped in my front yard, which would have been enough to hide the first floor of our house.

  2. We used to have an old peach tree (a squirrel-planted volunteer, I always suspected) that produced nothing but loads of green golf ball-sized fruits. One year I decided to compost the lot of them by the easy trench method. You know, dig a trench in the garden, dump in the material to compost, cover it over. Easy, sure. But for the next five years, I was pulling baby peach trees from that spot!

  3. We lost a huge soft maple in a straight line wind and decided to built a big octagon raised bed over the area. After about 6 years the soil level had sunk so low because of the decomposing roots under it, I had to remove all the plants and fill it back up with soil and compost. That was 3 years ago and the sinking continues. Some time in the future I will have to do it again.

  4. One of the things I’ve learned is what a pain it is to convert a rock-covered area into a rock-free mulch area, especially once the plant roots that I don’t want to damage intermingle with the rocks that have sunk up to 3 inches into the soil. In other words, design your yard properly, but that’s often easier said than done.

  5. Weed fabric is a real pain in the butt. I’m speaking as a professional gardener, but this could apply to home gardeners, too. It seems like a decent idea at first. Years down the road, though, when that fabric has been penetrated by a falling limb or a shovel if you’ve forgotten about the fabric, you will find that it’s pretty difficult to remove a well-rooted weed or sapling because the fabric often promotes extensive lateral growth of the roots.

    On top of that, I think some folks don’t realize that humus happens. Even if there’s a layer of gravel on top of the fabric, debris filters down (even if it’s just pecan flowers), decomposes in the rain, and becomes a substrate between the gravel and the fabric, often sufficient for superficial weeds to get out of control.

    On a personal note, I have to admit I relied too heavily on one sort of plant in my own garden. After five years of letting seedlings of my original white coneflowers take over, I thought that I was finally going to have a lush garden. That was last year.

    Then, they got the aster yellows. Crazy little flowers starting emerging from the disk portions and other large flowers were green or partly so. I had to yank every one of them out of my garden last year.

    I would still recommend this plant to any client with sun, and I will use them again, too, but the moral I got (which I learned fifteen years ago–shame on me) is that you don’t rely on a monoculture.

  6. I’ll add to Shawn’s lessons on weed fabric. Further years down the road when you decide to turn that area back into lawn, the darn stuff is nearly impossible to remove. It comes up in pieces ranging from palm size to something around bushel basket top size. It took nearly a day to get most of it out of an area about 25′ in diameter. And one of the earliest lessons learned “by mistake” regards wild violets. They are beautiful and look really nice as a ground cover under shrubs, but will take over the adjoining shady yard unless the gardener is vigilant with weed killer.

  7. I guess I was partly lucky in the sense that I didn’t use weed fabric, only a rock layer. Still, like I said, even the rocks by themselves are a pain to remove, once they sink into the soil or new soil builds up over them.

  8. Take heart… many wisterias do, indeed, sulk. My neighbor’s took a whopping seven years while one of mine took five! The other, planted the same time just ten feet away in soil that tested the same bloomed the year after planting (both from seed). The one that bloomed first exhibits positively rampant growth! I call her Annabelle, the Reach-Out-And-Touch-Someone Plant… and being sited at the base of one of the redwood 10x10s that form the rise for our entrance arch (the other wisteria is her complement ascending the opposite riser), she needs the machete treatment every couple months so as not to strangle folk that stop to open the metal ranch gate below! Her sister on the other side that took her time reaching ‘puberty’ (grin) is nicely behaved, flowering much more profusely and produces the longest racemes I’ve seen on any wisteria! Take heart… perhaps yours will be more like my late bloomer!

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