Gardening Impediments



Gardening impediments are the things (mostly behavioral) which prevent one from being a better gardener, thus having a better garden. I had prepared a PowerPoint document for a group presentation, but instead will use the topic for this rant. The points are enumerated, but in no special order. I have referred to these lead words (these issues) in many previous rants, and will do so here as well. Being a Better Gardener is also the generic title for the classes I occasionally offer. Forewarning: this is by far my longest rant.


(1) DENIAL - Refusing to accept truth / reality. Most people would rather preserve their delusion(s) than admit to being wrong. It is the rare bird who can truly self-reflect, and even rarer are those who act on the assessment. I am reminded of the outstanding quote from Richard Powers' The Overstory, "the greatest flaw of the species {humans] is its [their] overwhelming tendency to mistake agreement for truth." Furthermore, it is difficult to solve a problem until you acknowledge that it exists. Denial is also linked with all the other points listed below, but especially to the next one (#2). See also my Nov 2021 rant.


Two common gardening denials are (1) the fact that all woody plants have indeterminate growth and (2) that the clump diameter of many ornamental grasses (the mat type) increases every year as does the corresponding center dead zone. The above picture (NE Indy, taken in Jan 2020) features a row of Chinese junipers alternating with silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis). Fabulous house (although it would be better with a larger garage entrance and better means of access) but bad landscaping (i.e., plant choice and design), obviously done by a plants as furniture person featuring the "common alternating layout" about which much can be said, but almost nothing good. In just two years, the invasive grass and gymnosperm were intergrown. Moreover, I suspect part of the purpose, given the low ridge, covered with black dyed mulch (see my May 2018 rant), was to create a visual and sound barrier or buffer. Good idea but not with these species. Waste of money and time. The layout also exemplifies several other categories listed herein. I will not be surprised to learn that this work was done by a "professional."


(2) HIDEBOUND - The definition says it all; unwilling or unable to change because of tradition or convention. If you are unwilling to admit that you are wrong or that there is a better way when confronted with enormous contradictory and indisputable evidence, what does that say about you? Not a good trait for a person, or a gardener. Synonyms include diehard, intolerant, and close-minded. If so, please stay away from me, and I hope you are not a teacher and never hold an elected position. Also see my Nov 2021 rant.


(3) IMPATIENCE - One will never, let me repeat NEVER, be a good gardener if impatient. I appreciate the quote, "Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts." Practice makes perfect (or at least better), and it takes time. The plants as furniture crowd (which is most people) will not get it. My gardening mantra is, "it [gardening] is a process, not an event." Nor does having wealth make you a better gardener. And trying to buy a garden no more makes you a gardener than buying a painting makes you a painter. -- Notice that the comments are starting to swerve back towards denial.


(4) SLOTH - Gardening is a wonderful activity for both physical and mental wellness but it requires toil. Unfortunately, the prospect of manual labor is abhorrent to many people, especially sloths. This aversion, is a prime reason there is so much obesity -- I find the reasons for the aversion fascinating. And corpulence is incompatible with being a gardener, so are manicured and fake nails as well as screen addiction. Moreover, I am convinced that an hour's effort of the sort I do at age 70 would be impossible or intolerable for most people (even if paid), never mind the knowledge involved. Related is the failure to understand that regular ongoing maintenance is required in ALL gardens, with some needing more than others. Moreover, permitting weeds to produce seed and to spread asexually compounds the difficulty -- often requiring many years to overcome, and sometimes recovery is nearly impossible. See also my Oct 2016, Jun 2017, Aug 2021, and Aug 2022 rants.


(5) APATHY - Simply put, lack of interest or concern. Which, when married with sloth, and it commonly is, makes for a person ill-suited for gardening and usually means no garden or an awful one. Apathy is definitely related to sloth/laziness. As with sloth, I find the underlying cause(s) interesting, especially the dopamine deficiency. I can see it now, a HOW TO book entitled Better Gardening Through Chemistry with a focus on the gardener. An apathetic person lacks passion (i.e., a strong and barely controllable desire or conviction). Passion is the mojo that drives one to excel, to accomplish great things. Hard to fake for long. Anhedonia (literally "without pleasure") refers to those who no longer enjoy activities they once did or usually do. I am now so afflicted. My drive and stamina are gone :( The work is now more drudgery, but I soldier on. Apathy and anhedonia are different than lethargy (sluggishness), but all can be symptomatic of underlying physical or psychological problems, and all three are incompatible with having / keeping a good garden.


(6) GULLIBLE - Being susceptible to marketing/propaganda is a human flaw. Gullibility is a weakness in our nature that most of us cannot perceive and/or do not want to acknowledge because to do so might force us to admit we are not special (anthropocentric) and that we are fallible. Caveat emptor because the garden center's goal is simply to get your money using every means possible, and pretty (which is subjective) sells itself. We justify by hiding behind thoughts like, How could I be wrong? - The salesperson was so nice - My idea (really?) - Everyone else is doing so, it must be good. One of the biggest misbeliefs gardeners are susceptible to is native bias. The simplistic US v THEM (good v bad) is one of the gardening issues I find myself needing to address a lot. Like the half-truth. "ALL we need to do to save biodiversity is to plant native species" touted by a certain celebrity mercenary entomologist ecologist. This distortion is blindingly accepted and perpetuated by many well-meaning gullibles. It is much easier to sell a car to a person who wants to buy a car. See also my Jun 2019, Mar 2021, Nov 2021, and Sep 2022 rants, as well as the Wilhelm & Homoya discussion during the Rothrock Symposium (see Home Page).


(7) LEADERSHIP - Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey no see, what to do? Mimicry is an important part of the game (i.e., the learning process). Practice helps, but perfect (directed) practice is the better course. Furthermore, one typically presumes "person" when thinking leadership, but it can be an action or thing, too. But what if there are no good examples? Also see my Dec 2021 rant.


(8) FOOLISH - My one word descriptor for taking advice from the wrong source/person, and following it -- gardening and life in general. I sometimes substitute the word idiot or sucker. Closely related to gullible.


(9) INAESTHETIC - There are many ways to paint a great painting -- different strokes for different folks -- but there is also just plain bad / ugly. Most people have poor taste, essentially philistines, and simply follow the masses (the norm) with their landscaping. Moreover, the norm (while literally safer) is often not very appealing. [If the "safe norm" thought intrigues you consider checking out Rene Girard's concept of mimetic desire]. There are some talented artists out there, but odds are you are NOT. The inaesthetics (pl. n.), which is a supermajority, should not expect a blue ribbon. Might I suggest they become followers instead, and to be careful who and what they choose to follow. For example, plant labels are frequently inaccurate. Moreover, following blindly (i.e., without objective assessment, often referred to as faith based) is fraught with pitfalls. Yes, I am talking gardening. Plus, when inaesthetic is combined with lazy, which is too often, the result is usually bland to hideous -- simply drive through almost any neighborhood, eyes open. While most of my comments are related to ornamental value, functionality is at least as important. -- As I note in my rantings book, (1) many of us want to judge, but few are qualified and (2) we should be looking more to Nature for gardening advice. Also see my Nov 2021 rant.


(11) IMAGINATION & CURIOSITY - I contemplated including these under the previous lead (inaesthetic) or even within hidebound. One also could consider incuriosity as closely related to apathy. Regardless, they certainly are impediments, all of which are interlinked. When imagination and curiosity are lacking, or limited, the result (the garden) usually tilts towards bland and boring.


(10) KNOWLEDGE - Being a good gardener takes time, education, and practice, i.e., experience. A good brain helps, but there are few shortcuts, and some of the best lessons involve "falling off the bike" that is failing, but hopefully short of Darwin Award qualified. While we are on the topic, how many garden center owners and/or their salespeople do you think have a good garden, or garden at all? You would likely be surprised by the answer. Moreover, their knowledge often extends not much further than what the label states, i.e., they do not know the plant(s). Frankly, they would not need to know much to be ahead of most of their customers. Furthermore, knowing the name does not mean one knows the plant. Or the garden center person merely knows where to buy the plant(s), who the wholesalers are. And, with respect to acquiring and inventory, often that effort and ability is not very impressive. A check of the plants offered against the potential outstanding species well suited for the region would prove my point. Alas, Broken Arrow Nursery, Brotzman's, or Soules Garden examples are uncommon and becoming rarer. If you are fortunate and find a truly good resource, smile and consider sharing. See also comments on ALL the above points as well as my Nov 2021 rant.


(12) CONTROL - I should probably amend this lead by calling it the myth of control, at least for part of the meaning. Thinking you can control Nature is one of the biggest mistakes humans and gardeners make -- the two groups are not mutually all-inclusive. About all we succeed in accomplishing is temporary manipulation and causing harm. Take a look! Anthropogenic usually equals damage. Another aspect of control is being controlled. Although many people reject the notion, we are rather easily conditioned; susceptible to all kinds of propaganda/marketing. Trained and habituated. See also gullible above. Many of us are little more than corporate pawns. Inculcated to the point you eventually think it was your idea, and vigorously defend. One of the biggest reasons control is an impediment is that many of us cannot deal with change -- crippled by the idea of, the desire for, permanence. The myth of forever. Some people fear change (metathesiophobiacs). The Serenity Prayer and a reality check (esp some introspection) might help with the problem. Know this, you never step into the same garden twice. It is impossible. Think ephemeral, and enjoy the moment. I also isolate myself with plants. As my buddy Gerould Wilhelm has told me many times, plants don't lie, nor do they have an agenda -- at least not one that involves you.


(13) LOCATION - This point is "all gardening is local" combined with a reasonable expectation credo since there is often little to work with. Condition / site limitations. Unlike the other points, it is a not a behavior, but is directly related to denial, but location needs separate listing. Lack of space, or suitable light or soil, or the appropriate geography -- reality that impacts what we can and cannot do as well as what we should and should not do. But this inconvenient truth, this selective acceptance, does not prevent people from trying to do what they want. Making ill-advised choices (species, siting/placement, and care) and, when failing, looking to place blame or rationalizing, especially the plants as furniture crowd. Perhaps "they" should consider moving, finding a more suitable location to fit what they want, assuming that it is infeasible to adequately modify the site. Or, even before that, objectively assessing whether the purpose and the plan are rational. See also my Jan 2022 rant.


(14) HUBRIS - I frequently use the Adam McKay quote, "Knowing a little but thinking you know a lot." Hubris is a common and widespread trait, with symptoms that prompt the interrogative, really? Not certain I can make a better or more succinct statement about hubris than the one in my Nov 2021 rant.


(15) IGNORANCE - Last, but certainly not least, I make frequent use of ignorance (n) and ignorant (adj) meaning willful disregard or failure to consider rather than implying stupidity (inherent or acquired). A smart (natively bright) person can be ignorant (many are) as well as uninformed (i.e., uneducated). The apparent incongruence with the verb ignore is confounding. Certainly, ignorance is a major problem -- gardening and otherwise -- and the tendency is not going away. Yet another unfortunate and common human flaw.


IN CONCLUSION: Gardening problems are almost always related to the gardener; his or her choices as much or more than outside forces, conditions, and the inherent plant problem(s). All plants have potential issues. Bottomline, we are usually our own biggest impediment. -- In my Ranting book I deal with this topic in Chapter 3 Common Gardening Mistakes (The Gardener), Chapter 16 (The Perfect Gardener), and again in Chapter 21 (Common Mistakes & Issues to Consider).

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