You Can't Avoid Some Garden Mistakes

There are some garden mistakes that are unavoidable, no matter how many gardeners have made them before us.

The wonderful thing about mistakes, including garden mistakes, is that we don’t have to make them all. We can learn from the mistakes of others. For example, we don’t have to make the mistake of plucking a ripe Scotch Bonnet pepper off the plant and biting into it. Someone before us has done that, and watching that person turn bright red and sweat while chugging milk for the next 30 minutes is warning enough that it’s not a great idea. It’s also not a great idea, a few weeks later, to offer that person hot sauce that you made with those (very diluted) peppers, but I digress.

Some mistakes, however, you just have to make yourself. I find that to be especially true with garden mistakes. In fact, the mistake in today’s story is one that I’ve made more than once. Yes, I know better, but things don’t always sink in so quickly!

In Less is More, Jennifer Kennedy shares her story of what may be the most universal of garden mistakes: over-planting the garden. But the story gets even better when she notices a friend making the exact same mistake, proving that no matter how much progress we make, there are just some things that are destined to be. The only real choice we have is how much to laugh.

We Could Get Upset At Our Garden Mistakes, but Why Do That When They Can Make a Great Story?

This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. I love pieces like these that turn stories into comical moments of laughter, and I hope you enjoy this story as well.

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Less is More

What many gardeners learn—the hard way.

By Jennifer Kennedy

Since my husband and I lived in an apartment for the first two years of our marriage, the small yard of our first house in the suburbs seemed like vast acreage. I designated a sunny corner of our yard, close to the back kitchen door, as the vegetable garden. My husband tilled up a 5’ x 10’ rectangle. Although that certainly wasn’t a big area, it was far more than the single pot I’d had on our apartment balcony. I designated a row for tomatoes, one for squash, and one for lettuce. If I’d stopped right there, it might have been a nice garden. But I reminisced about the tall, green stalks of corn—their leaves flutter-ing in the wind—in my dad’s garden when I was growing up and thought, Why not? Then I thought of the year Dad grew pumpkins and how much fun we had rolling them up the yard to the house. I thought of how crisp green beans are straight from the garden and how tangy sliced homegrown cucumbers taste soaked in vinegar with salt and pepper.

I read the seed package labels, saw the recommended plant spacing, and felt a wave of disappointment. If I followed the directions, I’d have to not plant as many of each vegetable or leave some out altogether. Not feeling happy with those solutions, I decided to crowd them all together and hope for the best. Before long, I had an entire produce section planted.

My yellow squash plants grew far bigger than I remembered—they hogged all the space for a solid three feet around. Their leaves covered over the lettuce, which became pale and lifeless. The overcrowded tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers produced pitifully spindly crops. The only pumpkin seed that survived snaked all over the garden, produced a few mini-pumpkins— and died. The corn grew tall, shading the rest of the garden, and bore a few, underfertilized ears. My bountiful harvest didn’t come to be, but I learned a valuable lesson: Sometimes less is more.

This spring, a friend eagerly posted online, “Wood-walled, raised veggie garden has been planted! Carrots, radishes, green beans, peas, and beets are in. Still need to pick up potatoes and one other veggie.” The garden in his photo was hardly longer than the shovel still lying in the bed—and less than half as wide.

I didn’t say a word. Less is more, you know.

By Jennifer Kennedy, published originally in 2019, in GreenPrints Issue #117. Illustrated by Tim Foley

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What kind of garden mistakes have you made? More importantly, have you ignored good advice just so you could make those mistakes? 


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