Sometimes, despite all your best efforts you lose a plant. That moment when you realize it’s not thriving….the leaf color looks a bit off, or brown tips appear at the terminal point of each stem, or that creeping fungus that seems to have turned up everywhere…it’s a little bitter, a little sad and most definitely frustrating.
Generally we don’t plant things intending to kill them. And there is such a multitude of reasons a plant might fail that Sherlock Holmes himself would be hard put to discover the source. There’s light, soil nutrition, soil texture, soil ph, moisture, possible pathogens, insect damage, human damage, critter damage, sunscald, wind, over-fertilization and well I could go on.
A plant that is bright with healthy green growth is pretty amazing. And while nature will always be the best gardener, there’s something deeply satisfying in participating in that. Creation, nurturing, the ability to say, “I grew this”. It can be enormously difficult to let go.
On some level, the survival of plants in our garden can get tied up with our identity, our self-perception and even especially when it’s a front yard…competition and “keeping up with the Joneses”. I’ve talked about this with my fellow Master Gardener interns, “Come over next week, after I’ve weeded the yard,” is a common refrain. Beyond the sadness of losing a plant, we connect that loss with what it might say about us, time and again. Are we not good enough gardeners? Why didn’t we go out and water that one hot day? What did I do wrong? And so on.
Right now I’m struggling with slugs in my garden. They will not leave my peas alone, despite liberal applications of Sluggo. My peas as a result, are a bit stunted and a lot lacy. That said, I want to reflect on what it means to lose a few plants, in the protection of a greater goal. Preservation. This is not something I tend to talk about a whole lot here, many other far more eloquent folks than I have discussed this. Nonetheless I think it’s important, and it’s a conversation that should be ongoing.
What do we really want from our gardens? Over-fertilization and the liberal use of inorganic pesticides and herbicides have caused serious problems in our waterways throughout Washington. And what for? So that our grass can be a little greener? To keep from losing that tomato we were so excited to grow? If gardening is meant to bring us closer to nature, why are we using products that cause such harm to this profoundly beautiful place that we’re so very lucky to live in?
Maybe it’s time, I include myself in this, to check our egos at the door. If your rhubarb bites the dust or your rose succumbs to black spot, what does this really say about your gardening skills, your nurturing skills, or who you are? It simply didn’t work out. And I think that by learning to let go, we as a gardening community can make a profound difference in how the coming generation of gardeners learn to view “success” in the garden and what it truly means to have a “green thumb”.