Friday, January 13, 2012

Wherein L'Orangerie Begins to Take Shape (in my mind)

I have come to the realization these days that the entire concept of gardening as a "hobby" is a total racket. Big garden stores (Lowes, Home Depot, Wal-Mart) hope that you'll want to do something outdoorsy when the weather turns nice and so you'll decide to do some planting. You'll come to their store and drop around $100 on soil, pretty plants, some new gloves since your old ones are lost or infested with roaches...and then you'll think about how nice it all looks. Maybe a little later you read an article on a pallet garden or a square foot garden and so you go out and buy everything you need for that (maybe another $100, more or less). But as life goes on and you get busy with the things that you have to do, you forget about your efforts except for sporadic watering and by the time winter comes around, everything is dead or overgrown and ugly. So you take it all out and bemoan your lack of gardening skills because "everything I try to grow dies!"

Pallet garden from Life on the Balcony

Maybe you even try to get MORE serious about it - you actually read the labels on the plants that say whether they grow in sun or shade, try to water more regularly, get some books on gardening. More money to major retailers and still more things wither and die. At one point, you get a red hair to self-sustain your family and grow a vegetable garden, but nothing much comes out of it- not even your raised beds! 

Here's my theory: this is a scam. The more I have gotten into gardening over the past two months, the more I have realized that: a) garden centers (even most local ones) are not your friend, and b) gardening is actually a science called horticulture. I went to my local garden center (read: non-chain!) and saw a HUGE display of beautiful hydrangeas.  I was thrilled, since I love them so much but had thought they could not grow into Zone 11. 

I asked one of their friendly knowledgeable salespeople if this was some new hybrid that could withstand the heat and thrive despite the cold snap hydrangeas usually need. "No," she said. I must've looked confused because she continued "we just sell 'em to people who want the color." My look deepened. "They won't last more than two weeks. Even in a pot." This was not the first nor the last incident that has put me on my guard! I have come to realize that garden centers do not sell what will grow in your zone or area; they don't care if you are buying plants that will die. They will mislabel and sell you plants that cannot grow where you are, but not tell you; so you'll probably blame yourself and come spend more money at their store. 

I am lucky in that my natural suspicious nature made me catch onto this fairly quickly...also I listen to my mother, who knows a lot about gardening in Florida (albeit in Zone 10, which makes a BIG difference!). So I decided I would do what any consummate academic would do and read some books on the subject before I made any big big purchases. Well...even as I'm reading the books about gardening in SW Florida, I'm finding them hard to understand. What is "pinching back" a plant? What does it mean to prune severely versus drastically? As I did more research, I realized that these terms are actually heavily-laden with a meaning and understanding that evades me, the novice gardener. Which is when it hit me: gardening is a science. No one would approach any other branch of science and expect to intuit the right answers as a side-hobby! But we assume that gardening should be something we can just figure out - nevermind soil pH, heat zone maps or those other pesky details! We should be able to shove something in the ground and make it grow! Hm. Not so much. 

A working farm by Louise Magno 

Turns out there's a reason why people used to starve to death back when we were a largely agricultural society - growing things is not necessarily easy. It takes planning and thought, and usually an outlay of money, especially if you live in Florida where the soil is more like sand. So although L'Orangerie is a ways away from where I want it to be, it's nice to be erecting the support of the garden. On Monday the tree crew comes to take down several problem trees (like the palm that is leaning on my house) and clear out some invasive potato vine. From there, I can hopefully start tilling and enriching the soil! Only then can I plant, but it'll be just in time for spring and I hope it'll start moving more quickly then. 

Happy feast day of St. Hilarious! 

1 comment:

  1. So, I know it's been a few days since you posted this, but it was oddly encouraging to me. :) Since getting married I have tried to garden several times. One year, the only thing that grew well were seeds that our local garden center *said* were green beans. They turned out to be lima (?) beans! One of these days I really, really want to have a successful garden, but as you said, I can't just treat it as a side hobby and expect to see great results.


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