The last time I tried my hand at gardening I failed spectacularly. I left my healthy plants unattended for a weekend while I was on vacation and returned home to very dead plants.
Even if you don’t know anything about gardening, this result should not be surprising. If you don’t water your plants, they die. That’s just nature.
I had a potted vegetable garden on my patio and thought it was safe to leave them unwatered for two days … in the middle of July.
In hindsight, I could have moved the pots to my back lawn so that they would have at least been hit by the sprinklers, but obviously I wasn’t flexing any brain cells when planning this out.
My husband and I took a spontaneous trip down south to explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, and my garden paid the price. I didn’t bring back any charms or potions that would revive my plants, and I’m no Hermione Granger. The plants were dead, and they were going to stay that way.
My failure as a plant parent dissuaded me from trying a second vegetable garden the following spring. I was still haunted by my botanical blunder, and I didn’t have the heart to invest any money into plants if I was going to kill them all in the course of a weekend.
Columnist Samie Hartley tries to be good garden Mom. She even talks to her plants: "I tell them how proud I am of them for growing bigger and greener. As long as they don’t talk back, I think I’m OK."
However, coronavirus gave me the courage to try again. If I am going to be stuck at home, why not give gardening another try? I could learn from my mistakes and at least try to have a more fruitful (literally) experience.
I will admit my first garden was ambitious. I took on too much. I attended one workshop hosted by the Napa County Master Gardeners and was filled with a false sense of confidence. Rather than starting small, I went all out. I got plant starters for tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, herbs and a few other things I’d read grow well in summer. I probably had 20 plants that first year.
This time around I was going to be more conservative. Rather than trying to grow eight varieties of tomatoes, I was going to focus only on grape tomatoes. Instead of buying six bell pepper plants, I would only buy two. I would limit my herb garden to basil and chives instead of taking on rosemary, thyme, cilantro and parsley simultaneously.
I planted my new garden at the end of March, and the results have been much better the second time around. Yes, I killed the basil. I planted it too early. It wasn’t warm enough yet, and I’m not sure where I went wrong with the jalapenos, but that’s OK. I’m learning.
Oh, and one of the cucumber plants died, but not for lack of trying.
What I do have is one, very healthy cucumber plant, a small bush of chives, two hearty bell pepper plants and three tomato plants that are exploding with grape tomatoes.
It seems like I’ve been saying goodbye a lot this year. I’ve lost friends, coworkers, teachers and mentors — all gone too soon. I try to hold pieces of them with me in my heart, but my mind is so cluttered with the nothings of daily life, that I fear I will forget, and if you’ve been with me this long, you know how I feel about forgetting.
I still have a lot to learn, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. It’s nice to have something growing and thriving in my small corner of the world when it seems like everything else is on fire.
I enjoy going out in the morning and watering each plant and inspecting the leaves and hunting for pests. I talk to my plants, too. I tell them how good they’re looking and how proud I am of them. I know it’s silly, but I think it helps to offer encouragement. It certainly doesn’t hurt, anyway.
I made a salad the other day with cucumber, bell peppers and tomatoes that I grew myself. It was a small triumph, but it was a delicious victory.
It’s nice to know I can grow more than just vegetables and fruits.
Samie Hartley is the Napa Valley Register online editor. Simple & Sassy runs every other Sunday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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