Fussy Eaters, or, The Plants in My Garden

You know how some people are fussy eaters? The ones you hesitate to invite to your table because you’ll end up making three dinners instead of one?

Well, I’m learning that plants are worse, much worse. At least some are. Very picky. Very.

As a neophyte gardener, for that is essentially how I must describe myself, various small container gardens and deer-bespoiled yards not withstanding, I’m perched on uncertain ground, my sand-rich tabula rasa spread out before me like a field of dreams.

I’ve begun the long process of transformation. In the words of ancient seers, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.”*

In one case, that of a certain begonia, well, His Majesty requires 3-6 hours of a.m. sun, and then part shade in the afternoon. And please, no water until the top 1 inch of soil is dry. And then, specifically, I must add fertilizer once a month.

Another, Miss Rose of Sharon, could care less about that. She’s happy facing the back wall, angling her face toward the afternoon sun, catching rays and the occasional drop of water. But even she needs fertilizer about every six weeks, and it must be the type that’s slow release.

I’m beginning to worry. And with good reason.

What do you do when you have hundreds of plants under your care, lolling in your garden????  Now, I must clarify something. My garden is not there yet. As it is now, it could stand in for a sandlot baseball diamond or try out for a part in a lowdown B beach movie. Sand is indeed the word. I’ll be shifting and sifting it like cake flour from one side, near the fence, to the dip in the middle for some time to come.

In the early morning, a fine time to contemplate the future of this rather barren landscape, I turn to the work of Irish landscape designer Mary Reynolds.  Most likely I will not include a mini Stonehenge or Carnac stones in my Florida garden. But a plastic flamingo, perhaps. But most likely not.

Plastic Flamingos (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Ms. Reynolds’s most recent book – The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves (2016) – fits right into the slot that is my little spot of earth. Her guidance should bring me to a more comfortable state of mind.

Yet, I fret. I ask myself, when happens when most of this sand lies under thriving – hopefully –  dwarf mondo grass?  Should I create a database just to keep track of the dietary requirements of each type of plant I lower into the earth? Every single plant that I buy at the nursery comes with feeding instructions.

In dreaming of a lush garden, I never dreamed I’d be – for all practical purposes – a nursemaid.

That leads me to a  new new realization of what it is to be a gardener.  To be a gardener, it seems to me, is not unlike being a cook. It is a calling that nourishes in much the same way. To be a gardener, or a cook, is to be a sort of steward.  For, as Mary Reynolds says far better could I, “”We are only guardians of these portions of land we call our gardens. We do not and cannot truly own them. Our bodies are made of the Earth and return to it eventually, but the land will always remain alive.” (p. 19, The Garden Awakening)

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings House, Cross Creek, FL, native plants garden (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

* Isaiah 35:1

© 2017 C. Bertelsen

10 thoughts on “Fussy Eaters, or, The Plants in My Garden

  1. I talk to my plants, the edibles mainly, to thank them. If they don’t perform the way they should, and linger wasting water, off with their heads. Obviously, I am not a compassionate gardener.

  2. Merril, I used to be rather inured to gardening, though my father was, and my youngest brother and sister are, avid gardeners, so perhaps by osmosis something trickled into my brain! Oh yes, my father’s father was a whiz-bang gardener as well.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. Laurel,

    Is this the venue where you get your gorgeous up-close shots of insects and other wild life? Thank you for sharing your experience. I will definitely look into t doing this. Our yard – back and front – are perfect candidates for it.


  4. Catherine,

    Thank you for your comments. I was a bit taken aback by the idea of that much mulch, but since Laurel says the same thing, it’s something I definitely am going to investigate.

    Happy to see yu here!


  5. Hi Cynthia. What an exciting adventure you are on. I am a certified organic garden consultant and permaculturist and would agree 100% with the comment left by Laurel. 12 to 15 inches of mulch sounds like a lot, but it will decay pretty rapidly in your hot climate. I believe the most successful gardens come by observing the land over time. Often we rush in to ‘decorate’ with plants that are not really suitable in the end. Having worked many years in the retail garden trade I can say that you will find two things at your local nursery. Very accomplished and knowledgable staff who know their stuff, and 1000’s of plants that are probably not quite right for you, but being marketed fairly aggressively. Best of luck!

  6. Hi Cynthia, I have the same problem in Port St Lucie, lots of sand and little organic matter . I called around and found a tree company that delivers dump truck loads of hardwood mulch. I spread cardboard boxes on dampened earth where I wanted my beds and wet the cardboard before piling the mulch 12-15 inches deep. I planted by poking a hole with my shovel. After 3 years and 5 truckloads I’ve got some happy plants.
    Vegetable gardens may need beneficial nematodes to correct the soil.
    Happy gardening!

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