Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Growing Pains

Gardening is loads of fun, but it can be hard on the ego.

Some years ago, a friend of mine stopped short halfway through my garden and pointed. "Are those peonies?" he asked.

I said yes, they were.

"Peonies!" he said, shaking his head. "How did you manage to get peonies to grow?"

"I just planted them," I said. "I stuck them in and they came up."

"Mine didn't," he said, frowning. "And I tried three times."

"Maybe your soil is different."

He grunted. "My soil is exactly the same as yours."

"I use chicken manure," I told him. "And bone meal too. Maybe that's what you need."

"Yeah." He gave me a sour look. "So did I."

I shrugged, but it was hard not to swell with pride. My friend had a much nicer garden than mine, but I'd managed to get peonies to grow and he hadn't! Maybe I was developing a green thumb at long last.

The other week, I visited my friend Dina. Just outside her house, there is a bed filled with periwinkles. They are healthy and vigorous and studded with little blue flowers. They make me feel sick with envy: I can't grow periwinkles.

"How do you get such great periwinkles?" I asked.

Dina gave me a funny look. "Periwinkles? It's not hard to grow periwinkles."

I know this must be true: everybody tells me. Not being able to grow periwinkles is like not being able to grow dandelions.

"They don't work for me," I mumbled.

"Do you break up the soil?"

"Of course."

"Make sure they get enough water?"

"Duh." This is Scotland, after all.

"Then your problem shouldn't be getting them to grow, it should be getting them to stop."

When I went home, I planted the periwinkles Dina dug up from her garden and watered them in. I need them for a weed-riddled patch, but I was kind: I started them off in a relatively weed-free area. A days later I went outside to see how they were doing. They looked wilted and sullen, like teenagers asked to do an unpleasant chore. I watered them anyway. Two weeks later, I came out again and they looked even more pathetic. It was obvious they weren't going anywhere.

"It doesn't look like they've taken," I told Dina the next time I saw her.

"Take some more cuttings," she advised. "Believe me, anybody can grow periwinkles."

"I've got some great peonies, though," I bragged, stuffing my next lot of periwinkles in a plastic bag. "My peonies look fantastic this year."

"Yes," she said. "Mine are doing well too."

I miss my friend who couldn't grow peonies.


Travis Erwin said...

Thanks for making me smile.

angryparsnip said...


Love this post today.

Living where I do it is very easy to decide what to plant,cactus, cactus more cactus, and citrus trees everything else either dies from the sun/heat or the nibbling of wild animals.

I am so envious of your ability to plant and grow Peonies, a flower I adore !

cheers, parsnip

Charles Gramlich said...

I guess we all have our strengths and weaknesses. your weaknesses could be worse. :)

Kappa no He said...

I can't grow lavender. My mother-in-law can. I'm trying to remain adult about the whole thing...

Lynne said...

you would love me, I don't much about flowers. we could be walking through my backyard and you could ask me what type of flower this or that was and I'd shrug my shoulders and say "I don't know....purple/yellow/red?" ya, I'm no help. LOL I have garden envy.

Kim Ayres said...

When I was a kid I tried to grow an apple tree from a seed. It started to grow and each day I would go out to my pot and look at it or water it or mutter words of encouragment. Then, one day, I came home and found a half empty pot with a fern stuffed into it. One of my siblings had knocked the pot over and shoved the fern in hoping I wouldn't notice. I was devestated. It clearly left a lastig impression as I've never tried to grow anything since

Vijaya said...

Hee hee. You'd love me. I end up killing most green things eventually.

UK said...

Howdy, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments? If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can advise? I get so much lately it's driving me mad so any assistance is very much appreciated.

Mary Witzl said...

Travis -- The pleasure was all mine. And thank you for thanking me.

AP -- I grew up in a town surrounded by lemon and orange groves, full of cactus plants. We were baked by the sun and scoured by the sandy wind. I couldn't wait to leave, but when my family and I moved to Cyprus a few years back, I relived it all, and it was wonderfully nostalgic. I never realized how much I missed palm, eucalyptus, and olive trees -- or bougainvillea.

But yes, it's great to live in a place where peonies flourish!

Charles -- It could be worse: I could be the sort of person who couldn't even grow dandelions. But considering the state of my garden, that doesn't sound so bad.

Kappa -- We had a fantastic lavender bush when we lived in Abiko, which I grew from a tiny plant. I did almost nothing to it but give it the occasional pruning, and it flourished. When we left, I dug it out and gave it to a friend in Tokyo who admired it. (She later told me it died the first month in her garden.) Here in Scotland, I plant lavender, coddle it, and it is almost always sickly and leggy. Sad.

Lynne -- Do what I did: buy a gardening for dummies book and read it from cover to cover, then pester your gardening friends for information. Most of us are just figuring it out as we go along -- or out and out faking it.

Kim -- You managed to grow an APPLE tree from seed? I've never been able to do that, and I have tried!

When I was a kid, we had all sorts of fruit trees, but I longed for flowers. So I grew a petunia, tended it carefully, then planted it outside. Just after the first bud developed, we had a rare rainy day and snail came out and gobbled it up. That put me off gardening for a long time.

Vijaya -- I'll bet you could grow periwinkles, though!

UK -- Blogger has provided me with a clever spam-eating genie with a huge appetite. She especially likes the exotic stuff I get from Spain, Russia, China, and Poland.

Marcia said...

I can't keep much of anything alive long term. I did well with African violets during one period, but with them it's all about the light. My neighbor, a master gardener, gave me purple iris rhizomes one year. They are all OVER my garden -- and for her they're not working! But neighboring soil can be drastically different. We have sand; they have clay. In the end, I'll take my dry basement over her garden. :)

Chocolatesa said...

My mother has a green thumb, but she's lazy. I remember our livingroom looking like a jungle when I grew up, nowadays she decides to not water her houseplants for months at a time, throws them out when they fall dead, and then a while later decides she wants to buy more, and repeats the whole cycle! It drives me nuts.

Once she had planted dozens of shrubs and bulbs around the house we lived in, and when we moved she asked the person moving in if he wanted them, if not she would dig them up and bring them with. He replied yes, he liked gardening, he'd be happy to have them. A few weeks later we drove past the house and the whole yard had been bulldozed, my mother was furious! She never gardened outdoors again.

I apparently inherited my mom's green thumb, I have lots of houseplants, if I had a yard I'd definitely grow things outside too.

I remember when I was little one of the first things I ever planted was a single row of sunflowers along the side of the house. I must have been 6 or 7 years old. I remember watching with excitement as the little shoots sprung up, checking every day to see how much taller they had gotten. One day I arrived to a razed patch where they had been, my dad had unknowingly mown them down with the lawn mower thinking they were weeds. I got so angry and yelled at him, and then cried my heart out. Luckily that didn't kill my desire to garden, I planted lots more things ever since then at my parents house.

It's been the same story ever since, my dad can never tell what's there on purpose and what's not, you have to tie big red ribbons and put wire fences around anything that you don't want destroyed! Oh the arguments I've had with him about it, to no avail. Luckily the rose bushes he mowed down liked it and grew back again after their hearty trimming...

Aledys Ver said...

Lol! Loved this post!
I don't know you, but I keep working in the garden, I read about gardening to see what I should be doing and when to which plants... and it's never enough!
I love peonies, by the way!

Angela Ackerman said...

ROTF. This was me, with roses. My neighbor had the most beautiful roses. He told me exactly how to care for them and get them through the winter. Still, no matter what I did, I could never get them to last more than a year. :(

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Robert the Skeptic said...

I have never taken to gardening, probably since it was my second most horrible chore my parents gave me - pulling weeds. Lining the garbage can with newspaper was the worst, not that it was hard, but what the heck is the point in keeping the GARBAGE CAN from getting dirty?!?

As an adult I discovered Roundup (tm) and weeding became a search and destroy mission. Unfortunately I live in a climate where weeds thrive! So hand weeding is still required. I dislike weeding, but I dislike weeds even worse.

Pat said...

There is no rhyme or reason. Periwinkles surround the perimeter with no help from me(just a little quick gloat)but it has taken me 25 years to develop a not very sturdy peony. And I couldn't get a white periwinkle to grow.
I've learned to accept my limitations gracefully - sort of:)

Mary Witzl said...

Marcia -- I'd hate to have to choose between a dry basement and a flourishing garden, but in the end, I'd probably pick the basement too. But that may be just because it's been raining all day here and our roof is leaking again. And, my feet are cold.

I can't grow African violets!

Chocolatesa -- I'd have been broken-hearted if my father had mown down my sunflowers! Our Sunday school ran a sunflower growing competition every year in the summer. Mine almost always won. I just knew it was because I hovered over them and begged them to grow taller and stronger and healthier than anybody else's.

My friend's husband decided to help her in the garden one day without telling her. He did a bang-up job on the weeding, pulling out every last straggling thing he found. The problem was, he wasn't botanically gifted. When my friend got home, she saw he'd pulled out every last bit of the Aubrieta she'd so lovingly cultivated over the years, from seed. My daughter did the same thing to my prize clematis. It's a good thing we love our families, isn't it?

Aledys -- I read all about when I'm supposed to be doing whatever and how to do it, but you're right, it's never enough. Garden writers always seem to underestimate my total idiocy by using words I can't understand and techniques I can only guess at.

Angela -- Roses are nice, but they are so temperamental and pesticide/fungicide hungry that I don't even try. But if I did, you can bet mine would have spotty leaves and all sorts of bugs.

Robert -- I have a confession: I enjoy weeding. I make a big thing out of how irritating it is, but I secretly get a lot of pleasure out of yanking weeds out of damp earth. I often wonder what I'd do if I ran out. Ground elder is different, though, and so is Montbretia. I can definitely get enough of both of them. But using Round-up would be cheating, for me.

I'm with you 100% about lining the trash can, though. What's the point?

Pat -- Gloat away, oh mistress of the periwinkle! If you can't grow peonies, I KNOW it has to be my soil -- I've seen your photographs. I have to accept that there are a number of things I'll probably never be able to grow here. Lavender will grow for a short time in our soil, but it doesn't really flourish. I feel wistful when I remember our lovely, healthy, fragrant lavender in Japan.