Learn from Your Mistakes

Oxalis triangularis is pretty but spreads quickly.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

A long time ago in a graduate history course, the professor marked in red the monotonous rhythm of the sentences in one of my paragraphs. Every sentence began with subject/verb, subject/verb. From that one paper I learned the invaluable lesson that it’s important to vary the rhythm in writing.

Likewise, in gardening, the best training comes from learning from your mistakes. One of my constant refrains is to continuously reassess your garden. Take out those plants you dislike. Admit the errors, erasing those mistakes you can rectify but keeping others as a reminder.

Now, while I cannot assess your mistakes from afar, I can certainly tell you of some of my gardening errors. It’s important to acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes: As Alexander Pope stated, “To err is human.”

When I have many plants to put in the ground, I frequently fail to research the dimensions of a particular plant. Consequently, when I had two roses to place in the garden, I put Buxom Beauty in the back and Mme. Anisette in the front — after all, doesn’t Buxom Beauty sound rather robust?

It turns out that Buxom Beauty is a short hybrid tea with huge blooms whereas Mme. Anisette is a tall grandiflora that only wants to get taller. My placement was in one word: absurd. The moral of this mistake is that I now read the dimensions of plants before I put them in the ground.

One of my roses, through no fault of its own, is nameless. Now roses need place markers. It’s okay to have a nameless rose that has survived a hundred years on your property, but it is not okay to have a nameless rose that you yourself planted. Even though I keep a written record of all my plant purchases, I simply am unable to identify this particular rose.

It’s a white rose that demonstrates great disease resistance. Why did I not mark it when I planted it? The moral of this mistake is that I now identify all plants I install in the garden. You might think you will remember the names but I assure you that you won’t.

Another mistake I made was to plant the wrong plant. Just because a garden center or big box store is offering a plant does not mean that it’s suitable for my garden. I once merrily picked up several Oxalis triangularis, a lovely purple shamrock. The purple leaves were a perfect contrast to all the green in the garden and the flowers were so sweet.

Oxalis triangularis is pretty but spreads quickly.

Little did I know that this deep-rooted plant is impossible to get rid of, that those innocent flowers vomit massive amounts of seeds throughout the garden, and that this plant has no qualms growing on top of any plant that it deems is in its way. It’s impossible to pull out by the roots so now I’m stuck cutting it back incessantly, in hopes that it will eventually succumb to fatigue.

The moral of this mistake is that I now try to research new plants that might tempt me. I think long and hard before I plant cannas as those lovely seed heads scatter seeds throughout the garden while the canna clumps grow and grow and grow.

My mistake with lilies is that I frequently assume they need staking when it is too late. Good soaking rains, the type we had a lot of this past May, can quickly cause a tall lily to bend in half. Now my lily staking time occurs in early May when the lilies are young and are willing to grow up straight. After all, what’s the point of having lilies with broken stalks?

So, my garden advice is this: Assess, reassess, accept your mistakes — and learn from them. Mistakes can offer the most valuable lessons out there.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com


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