The Garden Rules

I like this: “My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.”  ~H. Fred Dale

I came across these “Top 10 Gardening Mistakes” recently and thought it would be fun to see how we stacked up in our first year effort at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden?

Mistake 1: Planting a Garden in the Wrong Spot

There’s nothing wrong with our garden spot. In fact, the land was probably flooded many times before the levies were built, leaving soil rich in clay and silt which we added amendments to. While young trees will eventually lend more shade, the plants thrive here in the full sun.  I heard that The Memorial Garden was once known as the dumping spot for the property. No more! And besides…we’re surrounded by Golden Retrievers! There couldn’t be a better spot for a garden.

Mistake 2: Accidentally Pulling Up Flowers Instead of Weeds

Yup. The rule of thumb is: if it removes easily, it is probably not a weed. You usually know that right after it has been lifted! I also purposefully planted “weeds” to attract butterflies. See the previous post What Is A Weed on Milkweed and Monarch Butterflies.

Mistake 3: Not Preparing the Soil

Not guilty. Maybe overly ‘not guilty’. In removing waist-high weeds to uncover garden beds, we turned a lot of soil and added amendments. Ina, our resident Master Gardener, suggested a more measured approach; digging amendments only into the spot you want to plant, and smothering surrounding weeds in mulch. She argues that turned weeds in newly enriched soil have a perfect environment for sprouting. She applied her approach to the nearly maintenance-free Cottage Garden. Good lesson.

Mistake 4: Overwatering

Check. But only for a few plants that were misplaced for their surroundings. Most of the garden is on sprinklers instead of drip. Not ideal – but it was the most practical approach. So we have to be thoughtful about plant positions. There was a little trial and error involved in the first year. A couple have been sacrificed along the way.

Mistake 5: Planting an Invasive Variety

Guilty, I think. I could not resist planting some California Poppies. If they reseed profusely, the other gardeners will be cursing me next fall. But aren’t they lovely?!

Mistake 6: Not Taking Wildlife Into Account

We were warned. We figured out how to co-exist with the Killdeer birds that lay their eggs in the beds;

and we made peace with the snake (who has been absent of late),

but the bunnies have occasionally gotten the better of us.

Thankfully, things grow so abundantly in the garden that we can spare some extras. But do they have to eat the herbs right down to the plant base? Moderation, please, little bunnies!

Mistake 7: Not Giving Plants Enough Sun



Definitely not guilty. Our garden was made for sun-lovers. Three years from now, when the many trees mature, things will look very different and we’ll have a lot of re-arranging to do. I can’t wait to find spots for Hydrangeas, Astilbe, New Guinea Impatiens, and Fuschias!

Mistake 8: Spreading Too Many Seeds


Maria. Sunflowers?

Enough said.

Mistake 9: Using Too Much Pesticide

Mulch is our best friend. It keeps out the weeds, and keeps in the moisture. We went through tons of it. For our garden, we found that shredded bark worked best. Light enough to layer on thick, but still workable. Next year, we might want to just truck it in.

Mistake 10: Planting Too Close Together

So Guilty! In fairness, nothing I have every grown in this Sacramento Valley has grown as profusely as it does in this garden. The verbena, marigolds and petunias in the bed above were started from a couple of six-packs. Sue was worried that they would never fill in. Surprise.

Same with the Hummingbird garden above. The rule of spacing plants at one half their expected height was followed; their expected height was just really misjudged. As a result, we’ll merge these two beds this fall, giving ample room to all.

And here are two more rules for good measure:

Mistake 11: Clumps of many different plants are less attractive than larger groups of fewer plants:

Says who?

And finally,

Mistake 12: Don’t put the brightest colors at the end of the border which will lead the eye right out of the garden.


Point taken. We will try to remember that in the coming year, thank you!

10 comments

  1. Maria

    Rule 8: I always hated rules. I’m planning on trying a few more different sunflowers next year, so get ready. I can’t wait to go through the seed catalogs for my winter reading.

    Rule 6: Those Finches this year really liked the sunflower leaves.

    • Rebel!! Just be sure to plant something boring in color at the edges so our eyes are not led out of your beautiful Sunflower bed (please see Rule #12).

  2. When I was keeping an herb garden, I made the mistake of planting oregano. I had not problem with the mint, which everyone said would take over. But years later I still have about half an acre of oregano.

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