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Lessons Learned in the Garden

Mary’s contrary, but how does your garden grow? It’s our third year with planter boxes; though the strawberry patch, rhubarb, grape vine and fruit trees have been serving up delights since we bought the property. Another “amusement” we inherited is the mint patch that now consumes a third of the backyard lawn. I don’t mind, because our “grass” is green and it smells divine every time the hubs mows; but a man loves his lawn, and I think he sees the “weeds” on his proverbial turf as an attack on his manhood.

But I digress. We’re in full garden mode here, already enjoying some of the fruits (and veggies) of our labors. And while I am NOT an expert gardener, there are plenty of lessons I’ve learned along the way. I share a few below.

Lessons Learned in the Garden

Photo: First Lavender Harvest of the Year

Apples of the Earth

In France,  pomme de terre, (i.e. apple from earth); we say potato. These tubers are so versatile AND fairly easy to grow. One of their best attributes also happens to be the downfall for many gardens: because potatoes, like the Beastie Boys, Fight for their right to party. They work for the soil – often making it hard for other things to grow. Many a tomato-plant has been less than fruitful because of Mr. Potato Head’s proximity.

We move the location for potato planting in our yard each year. I see it as pesticide-free weed killer; clearing out space and reducing weeding time, especially in the early spring and fall. Plus, harvest time with potatoes is like magic — my three-year old calls it “digging for dinosaur bones.”

Corn (Sugar) is so Sweet

So I get a kick out of the Corn lobbyists trying to rename HFCS “Corn Sugar” as if it’s going to make it any less offensive to the general public. I’m not anti-corn. I love a good locally grown sweet corn in the summer on the porch or at a picnic, but those are distinctly different things. Years ago I tried to grow corn, planting about 15 kernels in one long row. What I didn’t know is that corn has a better chance to cross-pollinate when it’s planted in blocks, (instead of my line). I won’t make that mistake again.

Radishes & Carrots, or the Tortoise and the Hare of Your Garden

Carrots are a lesson in patience. In fact, my first year trying carrots it took so long for me to see any hint of progress from their tiny seeds, I started planting other things in their plot just because I couldn’t tell if anything was growing. Enter the radishes: these grow so fast, and are such a quick return they make a great veggie for kids gardens and wonderful to plant beside your carrots so you know where they’re supposed to be growing. Hard to believe these started from seed.

So what lessons have you learned from your garden? Someone please share the secret to a thriving basil plant…


  1. My sister gave me this advise and it works — plant your Basil plants next to the your tomato plants — she calls them companion plants because they help keep bugs away from the tomato plants (Marigolds work too – so I use both.) Cut your Basil often — cutting down to just above the lowest leaf. Keep doing this and it will grow into a bush before long. I freeze basil by rolling washed and air dried dry leaves up together and slicing about 1/8th inch wide ribbons. Put them flat on a cookie sheet in 1 layer and freeze for a couple hours. Then bag in a ziplock squeezing all the air out – and you can use it all winter.

  2. I grow tons of basil in my garden. In my case (living in Ottawa, Canada), the secret seems to be that my garden is full sun. Plus you HAVE to remember to pinch off the flower buds from the centre of the plant so that it fills out nicely. I learned early on to contain the mint – planted in the garden it will take over. Catnip takes over as well. Nice to hear someone else has a herbal lawn. For us it is the oregano – smells lovely when you walk over it. And another valuable lesson – if you plant horseradish you had better plant it in a corner where it can’t take over your garden. We knew this in advance, planted it somewhere it would not intrude. Years later we still have not been able to kill it after I decided I didn’t like the huge plant. It got buried under a composter and still found a way….to grow out of a window well!

  3. Good to know we aren’t the only ones who have made the mistake of planting just one row of corn! This year our 4 rows of corn plants are thriving!
    I learned last year that cucumbers are really picky about their watering. My plant produced bitter tasting cucumbers– yuck!
    I’ve never had much garden success but since discovering Smart Gardener just in time for planting this year my thumb is slowly turning light green!

  4. Just planted my veggie garden last week (not from seed) and I can already see it growing! The kids wake up and want to give the plants a drink and I find myself just staring at the plants with a great feeling of accomplishment. I didn’t realize that planting a veggie garden could be so rewarding even though I haven’t yet enjoyed the intended “reward.”

    Thank you for the inspiration. You are a gem.

  5. Yes! I did the same thing with my carrot patch. This is my first year growing and I too waiting impatiently for the carrots to pop up. I just dug it up and plan to grown beans & peas there instead. I’ll have do try carrots again next year. Also I did not realize how quickly radishes grow and thus mine have bolted and have started to turn to seed. These will also have to be grown again.

    1. I am with you – we have so many (because I really just put them in to help me see where the lettuce/carrots are planted)… so a lot of them go into the composter. But it is a quick reward at the beginning of spring to see progress so quick!

      Good luck with the carrots. They are such an exercise in patience!

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