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WHY I’M DITCHING MY GARDENING BOOKS

July 10, 2013

I used to read a lot of gardening books.  It’s a whole lot easier to gaze at the pretty pictures and the seemingly ultra easy instructions and pretend that particular garden is mine than it is to get out there and do what it takes to make my actual garden look like that.  Gardening  books allow me the pleasure with none of the sweat or bug bites or sunburn or sore back.

But the thing about gardening books is that they eventually make you believe you actually can have a garden that looks like those beauties featured in them, because they give you “easy-to-follow” instructions that allow you to things faster, better, more organically, thereby allowing you time to enjoy just sitting around admiring your handiwork.  One of the “easy-to-follow” bits of advice almost all of the authors of gardening books give you goes something like this: 

“The best way to prevent having to do too much work in the garden is to work in it a little every day. Just five minutes of tending to it every morning means you will nip problems in the bud, and you will be able to pull up any stray weeds before they become troublesome”.  

Five minutes?  Really?  Five  minutes? I don’t think so.  I’m thinking there’s an error that the editor didn’t catch, so I contacted the author of one of my books to let her know I had found a mistake in her book.  Here is how the conversation went: 

Me:  Hi, I have your excellent book here, “Art of Gardening,” and I just want you to know I found a little error in it.  You may want to fix it for the next edition. 

Misleading Author:  Yes?  What is it? 

Me:  Well, on page 12, you say that if you work in the garden just five minutes every day, that’s all the time you have to spend on it.  I’m sure you meant to say you should work every minute for five days.  And you’re right.  It would be nice to take a couple of days off a week. 

Misleading Author:  No, I meant just five minutes a day, every day.  All seven days.

Me:  That’s not possible.  It takes me 20 minutes just to walk around the thing. 

Misleading Author:  Well, maybe your garden is much bigger than mine.  That five minute thing works for a garden about 48 by 48. 

Me:  Well, my garden may be a little bigger than 2,300 square feet, but not that much bigger. 

Misleading Author:  Oh, no, not 48 feet by 48 feet. Goodness, that would mean you have to work in the garden all the time.   I mean 48 inches by 48 inches.  That’s about 8 square feet. 

Me: 48 inches by 48 inches is 16 square feet. 

Misleading Author:  Oh, well, I’m a gardener, not a mathematician.  I guess 8 is more like it.

Me:  But really, your garden is 8 square feet? 

Misleading Author:  Well, I live in New York.  We  count things by the inch here. 

Me:  But all those pictures! 

Misleading Author:  Oh, that’s the garden at Giverny.  I have the same kind of plants in my garden. It’s just that Giverny is so much more photogenic.  More room for getting good angles.  But my garden really does look almost like that.

 Me: You’re telling people that you can have a garden that looks like Giverny by working in it only 5 minutes a day?

 Misleading Author:  Pretty much.  Once it’s perfectly established and all the weeds eradicated and there’s plenty of organic material worked into the soil and you have lots of earthworms and the soil is the proper pH balance and you have the right amount of rainfall and proper drainage.  Yes, once that is all in place, the work is minimal. 

 Me:  (totally bummed) OK, thank you very much.  You’ve been helpful

 Misleading Author:  You’re welcome. Good luck.

 So, at first I’m steamed, but then I get to thinking, maybe she’s right.  You have to start with a perfect situation.  Once you get the garden looking absolutely perfect, with all conditions just so, then maybe you only have to spend 5 minutes a day for every 8 square feet of garden.  Since my garden is approximately 10,000 square feet (OK, I exaggerate. It just seems that big sometimes).  Let’s be  more real and call it only 2,500 square feet.  The rest is mostly grass.  That means 2,500 divided by 8, which comes to 312.  So if I spend 5 minutes per 312 square feet, that comes to 1,562 minutes, then divide by 60 (minutes per hour), that comes to a mere 26 hours per day, 7 days per week that I have to spend keeping it looking good.  That is, provided I start with perfection. 

 I think I’m going to cry.

 

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