Before I get into the heart of this post, let me get into, well, the heart of this post. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man blog is turning one today, and I want to thank all of you for helping to make this year inspirational and educational, as well as for joining me on a journey that I never imagined could happen by simply clicking “publish.”
Perhaps the best illustration I can offer is the picture below, and it’s an image that completely astounds me. WordPress recently added this feature to the stats page – a visual depiction of where the readers of this blog live and garden.
This occasion has also brought to mind all of the lessons and tidbits of knowledge that I have picked up over the years. In fact, it’s safe to say that gardeners dispense advice as if it is seeds – casting them about and hoping that one or hundreds will take hold and root and grow.
My earliest advice probably came from my mother. I have very clear memories of being a child and pulling weeds from the yard and then replanting them in the beds of my toy dump trucks – a gardenscape if ever there could be one. Mom’s advice probably went something like this: “Kevin, stop planting weeds in your dump truck.”
Then, she taught me the importance of deadheading to keep a flower in bloom, especially marigolds and geraniums.
From my father came lessons in weeding and crop rotation, even if each summer’s crop was wedged into the sunniest corner of a suburban backyard – the corner he referred to as the lower 40.
My maternal grandfather was the one with the green thumb. He was a farmer and cattle rancher in Louisiana, and from him came the knowledge of talking to plants. He was as gentle with green things as he was with a newborn calf.
Over the years, other pieces of advice have landed in my brain – and I’m not sure from where they came. One of the best pieces I picked up came in handy when I re-landscaped the walkway to the front door. It went like this: look at the landscaping around local businesses and shopping centers. Chances are the owner hired a professional landscape designer, who then selected plants that would grow best in that zone. Once you have an idea, visit nurseries and try to match the plants that inspired you.
I then became curious about the advice other gardeners have accumulated.
My friend Lorraine and I can talk for hours about plants, swapping stories and sharing stories of horticultural success and failure. One of her best stories is about her Uncle Richie, a man who created his own mixes of soil for each specific plant. Now 87-years-old and no longer with sight, his heavy-duty gardening days have passed him. However, on a recent visit to Lorraine’s garden, he “looked” around at the hydrangeas and gagoots (zucchini) – and although his eyesight was gone, he pronounced like a king blessing her yard, “Lori, you did good.” Lorraine still gets misty-eyed at the memory — and I have to agree with her.
I asked her to find out the best advice he ever got, and through her father, this is what Uncle Richie had to say, “Make sure that where the plants live is the place they’re supposed to be, with the best light and the best soil. The best soil — that’s your foundation. It’s like how you build a house.”
My next stop was the local branch of Cornell Cooperative Extension. According to Sandra Bonczyk, horticultural consultant, it was difficult to choose just one piece of advice — there’s a lot for her to consider since a large part of her responsibilities is dispensing advice. But she did narrow her answer down to two ideas.
“You can’t fix dead,” she explained. “I like that one. Or, you can always water a wilted plant, but once it’s crispy, you can’t go back.”
I then wondered, just how far could I go in finding the best gardening advice a gardener ever got. Would a celebrity gardener answer the question?
Yes, they would.
P. Allen Smith is one of the few remaining true gardeners remaining on television. His show, “P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home,” is like a visit with an old friend. His gentle southern charm draws viewers into his world — and he is more than happy to share — as he did for this post — all that he knows about gardening basics, landscape structure and design, and living. Responding to my email through his assistant, he answered:
“The best advice I ever got was from my grandmother: ‘start small.’ She gave me a little space in her garden to start growing, but I wanted a whole row. She told me to start with something small and let it grow into something bigger.”
Now, this is where you all come in. How much advice is out there? How big could the advice list grow?
If you add your answer to the comments section below, you will be entered into a drawing for a set of gardening hand tools and a selection of seed-embedded products, courtesy of Bloomin, including a bag of “Growfetti,” three greeting cards, and a journal — items that can be given and planted (although you may want to hold onto the journal for yourself).
I’ll keep the response time open for one week. The names of all entrants will be put into a hat and a winner selected. I will then contact you via email to arrange shipping information. And if you consider the amount of advice that could potentially be posted here, we could all walk away winners!
So, what’s the best gardening advice you ever got?