Aaron Sumner


Why can't I figure out gardening?

I live on top of some of the most fertile soil in Lawrence, if not all of Kansas. (Sure, it floods every 500 years, but what are the odds this is one of those years?) The former owner of my little homestead was a master gardener, and every square inch of this place was once covered with colorful blooms and broad, green leaves.

And I can't grow a thing here.

I've tried. I spent an entire day turning over soil in what was her "vegetable patch" last year and figured I'd start small–a few tomato plants. To be fair, they grew. And grew. Within a few weeks I had a tangled mess of plants with fruit that was bitter and barely edible. (I say "barely" because I did eat some of them, but probably out of some sort of spite for the plants or myself.)

That vegetable patch is now almost all grass, in part because this year I decided to plant vegetables inside our nice little courtyard, outside the front door. My reasoning was it would make it easier to tend to the plants and grab delicious ripe vegetables on the way inside.

This time I went with a few tomatoes, a red bell pepper, and cucumbers. The cucumbers died within a few weeks. The red bell pepper might wind up growing little tiny one-inch red bell peppers. The tomatoes did pretty much what they did last year. I've got fruit starting to ripen, but it's the same deal–the ones that haven't been claimed by critters aren't anything I really want to eat.

Then, last night, a storm whipped through, poured rain straight down, and knocked everything over. I think tomorrow evening I'm going to go ahead and rip everything out and call it a wash for this year (pun slightly intended).

Oh, and the shrubs I tried planting earlier this year shriveled up months ago. That was forty bucks poorly spent.

Why can't I figure this out? I've given up reading books on the subject, or going online, because they always start with "first, determine which zone you live in." Why does my local nursery or greenhouse sell plants that aren't intended for my zone? Asking seasoned gardeners for tips is even worse. The standard answer is I don't really do anything–I just plant things and they grow! I'm sorry, but that approach hasn't worked for me.

I'm starting to think gardening is actually some sort of elite, secret society. There are ways to gardeners' magic, but they throw you off the trail by throwing out zone numbers at you, or make you feel bad by telling you that they don't have to do anything to make their plants grow!

Seriously, you gardeners out there: If one of you writes a book that honest-to-goodness explains how to make things grow, in plain English, step-by-step and foolproof as possible, I will buy it. So will a lot of other people. It shouldn't be this hard.

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