Hope for the Horticulturally-Challenged

June 8, 2009 by


Many of you out there, if you’ve not yet done so, yearn to grow something in your limited spaces.  The challenge develops when, in addition to limited space, you also have limited resources, and for some hopeful gardeners, perceived limited talent too. Your black thumb turns green with envy when you see your neighbor’s tomato plants.  You attempt to tend your garden space with loving care, only to find that nearly everything you touch fails to thrive. 

But maybe the key to becoming a successful gardener is to simply think like a gardener: never give up. Read what Colleen Smith, on examiner.com, quotes from Henry Mitchell’s On Defiance of Gardeners from The Essential Earthman, 1991:

Now the gardener is the one who has seen everything ruined so many times that (even as his pain increases with each loss) he comprehends – truly knows – that where there was a garden once, it can be again, or where there never was, there yet can be a garden so that all who see it say, ‘Well, you have favorable conditions here. Everything grows for you.’ Everything grows for everybody. Everything dies for everybody, too.

There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises. It sounds very well to garden a “natural way.” You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes gardeners.


My high school friend, Joy Bennett, is one of those hopeful gardeners who will not allow herself to be intimidated or stopped by her perceived lack of gardening acumen. She has kindly agreed to contribute the following guest post:

My Black Thumb
Misadventures of a neophyte gardener. 

Martha Stewart I am not.  So when a high school friend suggested I write something for her new gardening web site, initially I begged off.  I’m just not that great at gardening.  But then the idea stuck around, kind of like a weed you can’t get rid of.  Why not help her out?  After all, editors weren’t exactly knocking down my door for submissions.  I’m a writer and mom, and writers are always looking for opportunities to get published.  So I thought, why not take a chance and write up something about how the rest of us garden.  The imperfect ones, who, like me, struggle to keep their lawns and apartments and houses looking decent, all while trying to balance kids, jobs, bills and all the rest of the crap – er – items we have to take care of. 

Now if you need to know why I think I am a mediocre gardener at best, here are two examples.  Recently I was replanting a Sage plant in my front yard.  I killed the first one because I didn’t plant it deep enough and then overwatered it in desperate, failed compensation.  You should have seen the look of benevolent disgust on my local greenhouse employee’s face when I told her about this.  I knew they wouldn’t give me a refund, but did she have to treat me like the village idiot?


Second, once on a volunteer job, I diligently watered a flowering plant until another volunteer kindly informed me it was a silk plant!

Third, as I was replacing the aforementioned Sage plant, a couple of bulbs came unburied that I had forgotten I had recently planted there, hoping against hope that they would somehow regenerate. Damn!  Where are those bulb-eating deer when you need them?   Undaunted, I stuck the bulbs back into the ground, gave them a little water, and hoped for the best.  Either they will become deer food or maybe just maybe they’ll bloom, if the local animal population of squirrels, bunnies or what not don’t get them to them first. 

Anyway, having established my credentials as a hopeless neophyte, why this article?  Well, because if you are like me, and I think there are more of us out there than will admit, you need help. You need someone to hold your hand when you first start to plant those containers in your apartment, yard or driveway.  You need someone to make it OK to make mistakes, start over, and even give up gardening completely to take up, say, belly dancing.  A gardening column for the rest of us.  Well, I’m your girl, so here goes.

Photo by Joy Bennett

One thing I did find really helpful recently are these complete sets of little organic herbs and flowers that I dup up at my local Home Depot.  They have really clear, well-written directions as to how and what to do to plant them.  They’re all complete with the soil, seeds, and little pots that you will need.  It’s organic too, so you don’t have to worry.  And even I managed to get them to bloom and sprout within a reasonable time, it’s anyone’s guess how long I’ll manage to keep them alive.  Try it, they’re fun and easy and look pretty cute on your windowsill.  It will keep you going until you polish up your belly dancing!

Joy Bennett is a writer and mom who lives near Rochester, New York.  Her web site is joybennett.com.  No animals were harmed in the writing of this column. 




  1. Plant Doctor Makes House Calls | Urban Gardens | Unlimited Thinking For Limited Spaces Pingback said:

    […] give me the news, I’ve got a bad case yellowing yew! A few days ago I published a post about black thumbs. With all the knowledge out there and, now, with some of that even available on your iPhone, […]

    — June 15, 2009 @ 12:49

  2. The Sitting Garden | Urban Gardens | Unlimited Thinking For Limited Spaces Pingback said:

    […] back in 2009 I wrote an article for Urban Gardens called My Black Thumb? Well, after paying a fortune to professional landscapers to keep my yard looking good, I decided to […]

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