Grasping at Gardening Advice Over the Years

Whenever you hear gardening advice in the wild - take it! It could have taken someone ten or twenty years to learn a new trick!

“I’ve always respected senior garden mentors. I even grow elderberries,” writes the author of today’s piece, “Gardening Keeps Me Young.” And the theme of today’s story is exactly that: respect your gardening elders, they have great gardening advice!

Think about everything you’ve learned over the years, and how long it took you to learn every bit of it. Having worked with a number of publications before finding my home here at GreenPrints, I’ve never met such a humble community of folks who comment on articles with ideas and questions, completely without ego, and always with curiosity.

See, if we were talking recipes, I’d have five people telling me how to make a recipe the way they like it before even trying it, but in the gardening realm, we’re all just trying to learn from one another because every season we start off new, and become experts on our own gardens just before it ends and we start from scratch all over again. We glean insight into what may work this year, in the hopes it might work again next year, or we might start over and do something else the next year. Trying to “perfect” a garden is impossible, but we can always grow and learn more!

Today’s author writes, “It takes years to figure out the nuances of soil fertility, crop rotation, vacation planning, and all the other factors of horticultural success, and the garden gives us regular reminders that we never know everything.” Keep reading to find out all the gardening advice he’s learned, and how that makes him feel.

Discover More Gardening Advice

This story comes from our archive spanning over 30 years, and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that inject the joy of gardening into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope it does for you as well. Enjoy!

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Gardening Keeps Me Young

Well, relatively.

By John Hershey

As diehard football fans may re-member, a while back the Denver Broncos had a quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow. There was some controversy at the time over some of his opinions and whether he had “intangibles” (like a throwing arm). I didn’t follow it closely, but he seemed like a nice young man. To me, by far his most outlandish statement was a remark in an interview about helping his father in the garden as a kid:

“It was way too big. My dad did it for misery. It was like a half-acre garden. It was ridiculous to work in that.”

Though he was a gifted athlete and a big celebrity, young Tim lacked the maturity to appreciate his old man’s wisdom. Perhaps dating Miss Universe distracted him from the fundamental truth: there’s no such thing as a garden that’s way too big.

I know this because I got my start in a community garden, where elders were revered as repositories of the knowledge we beginners needed to succeed. Without their guidance, I’d prob-ably be direct-seeding tomatoes in hard pan in late June. So I’ve always respected senior garden mentors. I even grow elderberries.

In a culture designed to appeal to the 18-35 cohort and glorify attractive young athletes, entertainers, and bachelorettes, the gar-den is one of the last places in our society where age is honored.

It takes years to figure out the nuances of soil fertility, crop rotation, vacation planning, and all the other factors of horticultural success, and the garden gives us regular reminders that we never know everything. Last year my corn shot up beautifully to knee-high, then just stopped growing, as if it thought the Fourth of July was the finish line rather than an intermediate checkpoint. I have no idea why, so I obviously still have much to learn. This is one of the things I have in common with Thomas Jefferson, who put it this way: “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”

That’s me. After a couple of decades in the garden, I’m still learning from my mistakes.

When my kids were little, I tried to get them interested in gardening by growing vegetables together. They had some fun and liked the carrots, but over time they adopted a more Tebowist view. Not until they were older did I realize we should have been growing candy: strawberries, raspberries, musk melons. They love these treats from the garden now, but they must think, So what was with the kale and turnips all those years?

As I get closer to being an old man, I’m holding on to Jefferson’s concept of remaining a young gardener in other ways. Certainly the exercise, fresh air, and healthy food rejuvenate us. And I used to feel young relative to the other gardeners. When I started gardening, it seemed like a hobby reserved mainly for older people. Since I had not yet built up the proper soil or expertise, my weedy plot was no match for my elders’ effortless abundance. But I regained that great feeling we usually have only in young adulthood, of starting an exciting new endeavor with a long bright future ahead. Just at the time of life when I started to feel older than everyone—not just sports stars, but my doctor, the adolescent TV newscasters, the other people in line at the dispensary—I was happy to find a place where I was the naïve yet ambitious upstart. (I’m just kid-ding about the dispensary.)

Now the garden fork has been passed to a new generation. Many young people, passionate about environmental and food issues, are getting into gardening. This seems to be happening to me generally. Everything I’ve always liked to do is suddenly popular among millennials: Gardening, drinking IPA, play-ing ukulele, falling off the traditional career path and ending up in the gig economy. I’ve inadvertently become hip—I mean, a hipster.

The new interest in gardening among the young gives me hope for the world, and hope that my clumsy efforts might still pass my love for growing healthy food to my own kids. Perhaps I have planted seeds that will germinate in them years later. Surely an older and wiser Tim Tebow now attributes all his success to the work ethic and nutrition he got in that absurdly large garden.

With all these 20-somethings sharing their garden skills on YouTube, I’m clearly moving into senior status myself. This shocking realization hit home when my wife listed my hair color as “gray” on my online fishing license application. Apparently “silvery blond” was not on the drop-down menu.

But I’m OK with this. In the garden, we don’t mind getting older so much, because it’s a place where we can feel wise and productive our whole lives. Aging is inevitable, but the garden is a good place to do it. It’s even my retirement plan: I’m planting plum trees now so they’ll start bearing plenty of fruit just when I enter my prime prune-eating years.

By John Hershey, published originally in 2021-22, in GreenPrints Issue #128. Illustrated by Tim Foley

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Do you have any gardening advice or wisdom you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it!


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