Today, we’ll talk about that dark shadow that lurks just outside of our visual field. That shadow is most of humanity’s deepest, darkest fears all summed up into one word: FAILURE.
You know, gardening is a lot like life. Some things you do in the garden are great successes, others not so much. Some ideas you have you might be afraid to try, for whatever reason, and other things you find it easy to ‘give it a whirl’, so to speak. Why is that?
I find that the answer is pretty simple: we’re human. Our own thoughts, fears, upbringing, learned habits, and that little voice of criticism in our heads that speaks up when we don’t want it to, actually drive our actions in life, and consequently, in the garden. We do, or don’t, do something because of some emotional and intellectual math equation we do in our heads before we take (or don’t take) action.
As one of my mentors, Darren Hardy, said in his daily success mentorship video that I watched just this morning, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, in order to reach the success you want, you need to “fail faster”. I look at it like coughing when you’re sick: just like you want to get out all that phlegm, you need to get out all that failure so that you’ve learned everything you need to know to succeed out there in the garden dirt and sunshine.
We’re going to make it even more personal now: I’m going to confess my garden sins. Because I want you to know that even though I write blog content for a garden store, and I even teach gardening classes, I’m human. I’m not perfect. I fail often.
I think the hardest thing for me is the consistency of care that cultivating food requires. Life gets in the way, other priorities take hold of my time (for instance, content writing!), and my garden is often left to fend for itself for much longer than I’d like.
Occasionally, the garden actually fails. Utter, epic failure. But much of the time, it does pretty well, I am able to get food from it, and it’s a delicious success.
You might wonder how I can neglect it and still get at least some produce that I want from it. It’s because I’ve failed miserably before, and got nothing at all from my hard work. It was painful, and disappointing, to admit defeat. I’d failed.
I’ll share with you right now how I can (and how you can) build a garden that tolerates a modicum of what I like to call “benign neglect.”
Take a moment to think back to a heart-wrenching failure that you had in your gardening. Just picture it for a moment, in all its painful glory.
OK, ouch, that hurt. But hang on to that hurt for a second, because you don’t want history to repeat itself.
Now, I want you to keep thinking about all the stuff that happened within that failure, because trust me, it was more than one thing. If it helps you, list it out quickly on a scrap paper.
Your list might look something like this: Forgot to water, didn’t fertilize, planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b, weeds got out of control and covered everything.
Next, I want you to take this list, and pick one thing that you can find a solution for quickly and easily.
In this example, I’m going to pick “forgot to water”. I can fix this easily by getting a sprinkler, hose, and a digital water timer. The timer will turn the water on to the sprinkler for a certain period of time every day or other day, and then shut it back off. There. You’ll no longer have to remember to water. As the days get really hot, you might have to adjust the timer, but that’s super easy to do.
Cross that one off the list. You failed, and you fixed it.
Now, pick another one.
Planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b. Yep, I’ve done that one. If you wrote it like that on your list, it means that you now know better, but you wanted to tempt fate and see if you could make it work. I totally get it, I get a wild hair sometimes and want to try something that I know will probably not work out, just because. I think we humans need to feel like we can control the uncontrollable…and that fundamental need definitely comes out when we’re playing in the dirt.
But if you just wrote “planted lettuce and it died,” I want you to analyze when you planted it and how you took care of it. Something within the when and the how caused the failure. A good place to start with figuring out why something expired before you think it should have is to look at the planting charts for your agricultural hardiness zone. Also, the UF/IFAS (Extension Office) makes it pretty easy, they’ve published a garden guide online that is really useful. You can also come by the store and we can help you with our garden guides (that are based on the ag university’s chart) and knowledgeable staff.
So, all of that said, as I’ve gone back and reviewed what I did right, and more frequently, what I did wrong, applying what I have learned to hedge my bets in the garden. I’ve changed the way I prep soil. I’ve set up the watering systems to help me in case I can’t get out there. I’ve set aside time a couple times a week (OK, maybe only once a week) to pull baby weeds out of the soil so they don’t take control.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned in gardening is this: I’m comfortable with failure. As much as I love science (I have a biology degree and some medical training), I know that I cannot always beat Mother Nature.
That said, she and I enjoy an understanding. It was built on the backs of many a dead plant. The more I fail, the better my understanding, and thus the greater my successes are when they happen.
Now you know my biggest secret: I fail too. And I’m totally fine with it.
Speaking of failure, have you ever heard of the Failure Museum? It’s in Sweden, and they highlight failures in technology over the years. I invite you to watch their video here: https://failuremuseum.com/ I think you’ll find it entertaining, with a nugget of information that you can apply to your gardening, indeed your life, right away.
I wish you the greatest successes in your Spring garden this year!