Rules, guidelines, and to-do lists

Elizabeth: You have to take me to shore! According to the Code of the Order of the Brethren…

Captain Barbossa: First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so I ‘must’ do nothing.

And secondly, you must be a pirate for the Pirate’s Code to apply, and you’re not.

And thirdly, the code is more what you call "guidelines" than actual rules.

Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner!

—  Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

There are ways, and then there are ways.

I’m always torn on this topic when it comes to pirate…I mean, gardening. How much I consider “rules” is minimal.  There are few absolutes.  Guidelines? Yes. Lots.

I know, absolutes and rules make decision-making easier and life simpler. Do this, now. Don’t do that, you’ll kill it.

Novices (at anything) especially appreciate rules.

As a not-so-seasoned beekeeper, the wildly diverse range of opinions and conflicting information on any one point is making me nuts.  Plus, all direction seem to come with the unspoken sentiment “…or they’ll DIE”.  March comes…”feed a 1:1 syrup to ensure a strong brood before nectar flow." Just as popular: “do NOT feed syrup in the spring, the bees have to exert too much effort to evaporate the water out and the hive will be too humid (and then you-know-what happens).  Aargh

To-do lists: great suggestions or fun-crushing obstacles to gardening enjoyment?

As the seasons change, you can’t pick up a gardening magazine or read a local paper column without some mention of Things You Would Be Doing In Your Garden Right Now If You Were Worth A Damn. Some lists even use the term "chores."  Chores are splitting wood and cleaning the toilet. Gardening, though requiring physical activity, is not a chore. Back to lists: a very fine regional gardening newsletter I just received had no fewer than 32 items on their March-April "To-Do List".  Thirty-two.

Three to-do directives I’ve seen in the last month and my judgement thereof:

“Browse plant and seed catalogs and get your orders in.”  Duh. Rule.

"Don’t prune Buddleia and other sub-shrubs until the buds are breaking. If you prune it in the fall, it will DIE."  Guideline.  I’ve done both, with no fatalities (has anyone actually killed a  butterfly bush by accident?).

“Wait until after last frost to set out tender annuals and warm-season vegetables.” I think our last frost was sometime back in February. Every man for himself on this one. I’m shooting for tomatoes in May.

Some lists skew more towards hard labor while others are not so time-consuming – such as “cut some daffodils and bring them inside to enjoy!” Marvelous! I may actually get around to that!  But wait – there’s a caveat – “because daffodil sap is ‘toxic’, don’t mix any other species of cut flowers in with them."

[or they’ll DIE]

15 thoughts on “Rules, guidelines, and to-do lists”

  1. But, but… aren’t rules made to be broken? Anyway, if you haven’t gotten your seed order in by now, you’ll be planting your tomato seeds when you should be setting out the transplants.
    I bought some tomatoes to put in the garden NOW, yes, almost a month before the traditional time to plant them and well ahead of my home grown seedlings. The soil temperature is 65 already so I’ll risk the gamble of having to cover them some nights. Tomatoes in May? Yum!!!

  2. Sometimes rules and guidelines are just bad advice by another name. When I was digging raised beds I was told I HAD to remove all the turf at the bottom.

    That was a lot of work!

    Then I decided life’s too short, and I’ve been breaking that rule ever since.

  3. Gardening ‘rule’: Green Side Up. Everything else I can think of has an exception somewhere or another. (even ‘remove the pot’)

  4. Thanks Holly for the entertaining post. I think we need to adopt ‘Keep calm and carry on’ as the official motto of the Garden Professors. For some reason, most (but not all) gardeners have a low tolerance for ambiguity. If it’s not set out in black and white, you can feel the circuitry start to overload…

  5. Sorry, Bert, but the Washington State version of the motto will have to be “Keep Clam and Carry On.” (Those of you who are Ivar’s fans will know what I mean. Those of you that don’t – you need to visit Seattle!)

  6. I have two rules: add organic matter whenever possible and water plants BEFORE they die. I have sandy soil necessitating the first rule. The second pretty much applies to everyone.

  7. As of yesterday I have a third rule: don’t hold the branch too close to the pruning saw. You can probably guess why I just instituted the third rule.

  8. I have to say that… “the wildly diverse range of opinions and conflicting information on any one point is making me nuts” applies to the world of gardening for me. I understand why the Garden Professors (generally) eschew anecdotal evidence but so many testimonials about the effectiveness of practices/products/materials are extremely compelling! You must be in this quagmire around the bee-keeping Holly. Who to bee-lieve?

  9. I’ve encountered expressions of surprise and dismay when telling clients that certain “rules” they held to be hard and fast were actually not so. It is perfectly reasonable that people believe whole-heartedly such things as factoids on plant hangers. I’ve found the internet, with all its self-proclaimed “experts” to be a useful tool in these situations: “See, on this website, the plant is listed as preferring full sun to partial shade. On this website, it is listed as partial shade to full shade. Those terms are not actually science-based… etc.”

  10. I often start my talks to novice vegetable gardeners with a big smile and something like this, “The only hard and fast rule in gardening is that you can’t grow tomatoes outdoors in Richmond in January. But don’t be surprised if somebody finds a way to do just that!” This past winter has almost made a liar out of me.

  11. Hi Holly,
    ha ha glad I found this blog. Yes to-do lists are useless most of the times. As a new gardener, it was easy for me to start feeling overwhelmed and guilty that my plants would die if I don’t listen to the pro gardeners and follow them presicely. Now I have relaxed and results are just great.

  12. Thanks for the swell comments, everyone! I winced as I hit “publish,” expecting arguments to the contrary. We will add Plantingoaks “green side up” as a valid rule. Deidre, sorry about the branch incident (ouch). Indeed – keep clam, er, calm and carry on!

  13. I live in central Il. weather has been like summer until a heavy frost came and destroyed my butterfly bushes, was wondering if they will come back this year.

  14. Sheila, I’m not sure but perhaps congratulations are in order…I’d just cut ’em back hard and see what happens. As I noted in the post, they are tough to kill (and that’s problematic for areas where they’re invasive).

Leave a Reply