The Baer Guide to Gardening

I am not a gardening guru. My thumb is beige and pink. Definitely not green.

I do not come from a family of farmers and gardeners. My parents were born and raised in Manhattan and Queens, boroughs of New York City. Corn and wheat fields were history decades before Mom and Dad wandered the boroughs’ concrete streets. Dad, however, became an avid gardener in his later years. One year he planted brussels sprouts. He could not understand why the plants flourished, but not a single sprout appeared. One day a knowledgeable visitor told him to separate the leaves and—behold! clusters of sprouts emerged! Dad also raised bonsai, filling the living room. Mom was not thrilled but tolerated his passion, sympathetic in the belief he was at heart a frustrated farmer.

My grandfather—Mom’s Dad, big city born and bred, also tended a garden in his retirement years at his bungalow in the Catskill Mountains. I do not remember helping him or spending any time in the garden. As a young girl my interest in gardening on a scale from one to ten was zero.

I cannot find any farmers in my family tree. There are shopkeepers and store owners, itinerant peddlers, a haberdasher, restaurant workers and owners, even a rabbi. No farmers, although my research to date is incomplete.

So why am I qualified to give gardening advice? Because I discovered gardening books and articles do not provide full disclosure. This is less a how-to than a supplement to the many fine gardening manuals available.

What to Pack for a Trip to your Garden

It is helpful to take a stack of supplies when venturing into the garden, including:

  • Two pairs of gloves. Wear one pair at a time. By the end of the season probably just one glove survives, the others lost, dog-eared, torn, or so filthy you do not want to throw them in the washing machine.
  • Garbage bags, preferably recyclable brown grocery bags.
  • A spade, a necessity for planting and weed removal.
  • Clippers.
  • Seeds and seedlings, bulbs, and anything else you decide to plant. This is your garden, your creative tour de force, so anything goes (almost…).
  • An accessible water supply either via hose or watering can.
  • Flowerpots, hanging baskets, and other suitable containers. Use your imagination and otherwise discarded items can find second homes in your garden.
  • Lawn ornaments. What is a garden without a couple of tacky embellishments?
  • Tossable shoes.
  • A hat for sun protection and to keep tree sap, bugs and other yucky stuff out of your hair. A hat does not, however, take the place of a shower after gardening.

Annual Events

Gardening provides the opportunity for the observance of unique events year-round, some dependent on geographic areas. Here are a few of the annual events gardeners in the Mid-Atlantic states enjoy:

  • Seed Catalog Readings, accompanied by hot chocolate, warm blankets, a fire, and muted music. Begins after New Year’s and ends, if the gardener actually wants to order seeds for pre-season planting indoors or outside, the beginning of March.
  • March Indoor Planting Party, invented for eager gardening enthusiasts living too far north to actually go outside and till the soil.
  • Weed-a-Thon – scheduled sometime in May, depending on the weather.
  • Veggie Vestival – begins the end of June and continues for several weeks. Bug spray and sunscreen required.
  • Fall Flower and Foliage Show – includes guided tours applauding the results of a gardener’s spring, summer, and fall hard work. Can be disappointing depending on seasonal weather patterns and the gardener’s sustained diligence.

Good Facts to Know

The following tips and nuggets of wisdom were painstakingly discovered after countless hours attempting to bring forth beauty and bounty from my small patch of earth.

Plant at least two of any bush, shrub, flower, or vegetable. One usually survives while the other struggles mightily against the elements, eventually turning brown, shriveling and dying. Plant one and it will without a doubt perish.

The best results from your garden, such as the tastiest tomatoes, are ready to pick when you are out of town.

Weeds love your garden. They sneak up, peek out of the soil and yell “Gotcha!”. And they are smart. They know when you are away. As you pull out of the driveway they will suddenly stretch their little green leaves and begin growing non-stop until you return.

Perusing seed catalogs is a great way to wile away the long, dark evening hours until spring. Order seeds in plenty of time for indoor planting. Or buy plants at your local garden store.

Transplant purchased plants as soon as possible, otherwise seedlings tend to wither and die while sitting patiently, awaiting your attention, in the driveway or on your patio.

Check out garden stores for sale items such as tomato cages. Acquired too late to place over tomato plants, use (upside down) for beans, cucumbers and other climbers. Or, if brave, allow the kids to build forts or use for their devious purposes (outdoor use only!).

Annuals that thrive one year will probably disappoint the next.

Want it to rain? Soak your plants.

Want it to stop raining? Pray.

Favorite plants grow excruciatingly slow. Plants least likely to please flourish and spread like wildfire.

A garden requires the most attention during the worst weather; usually a record-setting heat wave.

No matter what you do your neighbor’s garden will look better than yours.

Do not be surprised if seeds and other items carefully stockpiled for the following year disappear over the winter.

If you want your garden to look picture perfect, hire a professional landscaper.

An alternative to a professional landscaper is illegal workers, namely, your children, grandchildren, and any family members you can coerce into working for you for the price of a free meal, or choice tomatoes, zucchini, and other luscious products from your garden.

Enjoy the time, effort, energy and creativity devoted to your garden. (I won’t mention the $$.)

Did I mention the money? Do not keep a detailed list of expenses, or you may be shocked at the amount of dollars spent over the course of a year on your garden.

Whatever works congratulate yourself and whatever does not, try something else next season. Most important—have fun!

For interested readers

You are welcome to visit Baer’s Garden and Garage Compound, but please call ahead. Hours of operation vary. Winter and early spring visitors will be disappointed, as the area is a desolate patch of brown dirt and dead plants. The Baer complex offers a small deck and patio area equipped with a plastic table and chairs shaded by a large, overgrown evergreen tree. A covered front porch with three plastic chairs and a small wicker table is also available. BYO food and drinks. No public restrooms. Email for additional information and directions.

About the Author: Meryl Baer is recovering from a career in finance and lives at the Jersey (USA) shore. Folks descend all summer, except during the summer of 2020, when nobody came. No one visits in winter, so she writes. Her work has appeared in anthologies and journals.



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