In praise of killing plants

Many of my friends claim to be unable to keep a plant alive, and they think that they are therefore unable to garden.  This is almost always based on a dead houseplant they once had, a container garden they tried to grow or some failed childhood experiment.  For a long time, I was in the latter category.  I had grown sweet peas in my childhood garden, but they never germinated.  I thought that I clearly was unable to grow things.  Until my Aunt Madge gave me a Calla Lily and a container for my wedding shower.  Lo and behold, it grew! 

Everyone knows someone like this- even if it is themselves– and we gardeners should be up front with them about our true kill-lists. 

In my garage I have an old hanging basket where I keep all the plant labels for every single plant that I have ever bought.  As you can imagine, the basket is quite full.  I was looking to find the name of my favorite iris– it is “[something] surprise”– but was so distracted by all the other labels that are in the bin, that I forgot what the iris’ name was.

There were dark leaved geraniums that didn’t survive their first month; blue flowered azaleas- a pair of them, which would have looked lovely in that shady corner– they couldn’t stand the alberta clippers that sweep the city in winter; five different kinds of huecherella that I planted in a wee bit too much sun- and now only have 2 of;  3 different daylilies (I know- talk about embarrassing, some of the easiest plants in the universe to grow) that I planted one fall and never saw again.  Roses.  Tens of Roses that bit the dust after one or two years. 

The main intentional murder victims were cutesy little tropical plants that caught my fancy but never looked as good as I thought (the Datura comes to mind).  My husband always mourns the victims– a schefflera with scale, left to sit on the porch through one of the aforementioned alberta clippers, 2 or 3 crotons that lost all their leaves– both caused him to question my judgment and skill as a gardener.  Legitimate questions, but those plants had to go.

Some plants I was very, very sad to see die.  Two scarlet rhododendrons, an orange azalea, french hybrid lilacs, blue flowered dianthus, a hardy cyclamen, an entire border of orange and black tulips.  They were all part of my early ambition to make the garden just a bit different from everyone else’s– and they would have.  I’ve learned my lesson since then- you can be different, you just have to be reasonable.  Clearly the rhododendron/azalea family do not like my property.  Other bushes do– the dogwood as pictured in “time to prune your trees and bushes,” and other lilacs do well, I just needed to buy from a good supplier.  The blue dianthus and orange and black tulips were eaten by mice, so I learned my lesson and avoid covering the dianthus for the winter to discourage critters, and have planted daffodils instead of the orange and black tulips.  A few hundred daffodils is still not what everyone else has, but meets the challenges of my site appropriately.

So don’t be discouraged– it’s probably not a message from God that you are not a good gardener or can’t take care of your particular plot of land if something bites the dust.  It likely means that you have chosen poorly.  If you kill houseplants and can determine if you over or underwater them, buy something that will meet those needs: ferns take a lot more water than cacti- buy according to your own predilections for watering.  If you’ve failed at that wine barrel of petunias, plant up an outside container with succulents this spring and you won’t need to water the container every single day during the summer. 

And those sweet peas?  I am pretty sure now that 1) they were on the north side of the house, 2) planted too late in the year, 3) not nicked or soaked beforehand, 4) not adequately watered.  I grow sweet peas every year now in honor of life’s little lessons– if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

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One Response to In praise of killing plants

  1. seedlingsofexpression says:

    Thanks for the advice about the Meyer Lemon tree, it’s already hot here in Texas luckily so I don’t have to keep hauling my tree back inside everytime it freezes. I like your story about the sweet peas, it’s very true that some people get discouraged after their last failed garden attempt. That’s what stopped me from growing pumpkins for so long, the first time I tried growing them the landscapers mowed over the vines. Well, this year I’ve got a fence and trust me that won’t ever happen again.

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