Oliver: Another spring, chance to gain gardening skills

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

From the looks of it, we might actually have made it to spring. At last.

So that means I feel the usual pull of my landscape anxiety coming to the fore, not to mention some seasonal allergies. It’s not easy having perfectionist tendencies along with some sincerely inadequate gardening skills.

Somehow I must have missed the green thumb that seemed to run in my mother’s family. She had a knack for growing just about anything. My mother could grow a jungle indoors and feed an army with a half an acre outdoors.

She would plant enough vegetables that she could can, pickle, freeze and give away more than we could ever use. I do miss all those fresh veggies, but not all the weeding that was involved. Maybe that’s because it usually fell to my younger brother and me.

However, with such a good example around, one would think that maybe I would have picked up a gardening skill or two. Sadly, not so much.

I gave up trying to grow indoor plants for a couple of reasons: my black thumb and my cat’s penchant for playing with the leaves of the plants, leaving tooth marks in most of them. Not attractive and probably not good for the kitty.

What invariably would happen is that I would forget to water the plant until it resembled a cactus. Or, worse yet, I would be so doting that the plant would be overwatered and die of root rot. There really was no in between.

Did I ever consider cacti? Yeah, I tried them, and believe me when I tell you that somehow I managed to kill even them.

I have to laugh that I ever thought I could make it with African violets, a specialty of my mother and grandmother. Who was I fooling? Not the plants, obviously. May they all rest in peace. Goodness knows, I had good intentions.

So that leaves me with outdoor plants, which I have to admit I’ve had a little bit more success with. That’s probably only because I’ve lowered my expectations to the point that I just try not to embarrass myself.

I suppose it doesn’t help that I really haven’t done much with most of the plants that were there when we moved in around 1996. Same peonies, same invasive lily of the valley, same daylilies. Happily, they all look passable, which is all I ask.

Meanwhile, we had some lovely new neighbors move in a couple of years ago. I swear they did more in the first summer they lived next door than we did in all the years we’ve been here.

It’s kind of intimidating living next to the equivalent of Bob Vila and Martha Stewart. Don’t get me wrong, they are absolutely lovely people, and we love having them as neighbors. It just means that the bar has been raised on yours truly.

So here we go again. By now the real gardeners have a plan, or at least I imagine that they do. What do I know? Me, I’m just seeing what flowers bothered to reseed themselves. I won’t get started for at least a few more weeks.

I have a dear friend who drags me to the garden center each year to get a flat of annuals. Then I pick up some bags of mulch and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, I look over at my neighbors’ perfectly manicured landscape and think to myself I’d love to be able to do that, too.

Maybe someday.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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