Monday, June 9, 2008

I Hate Gardening Books

I have been gardening for several years now and can't seem to get any better at it. Seems that every year brings new, unforeseen challenges: if it's not the bad soil, it's the drought, or the rain, or the Mexican bean beetles, or the groundhogs, or the shrivelly disease, or the voles. I keep returning to gardening books for answers, but there are none. Instead they show me beautiful pictures, like this one:

Okay, that's really from the internet, but you get the idea. This is what MY bean plants look like this year, after the heat wave and the Great Slug Massacre of June 5th:

I should have made sure the shot included the beer bottles I left lying around as slug traps -- that would give you a better feel for it.

Most of the gardening books at my store were originally published in England, where the soil is black, moist, and crumbly, and there are no deer. In a dry season, digging my clay soil is like chopping through a city sidewalk. The compost I try to work into it just dries up and blows away. And we have voles: I was watering a zucchini plant the other day and it just sank into the ground and disappeared into some rodent's living room.

All I'm asking for is less fantasy and a little more realism in these gardening books. Maybe it's impossible -- who would garden at all if they knew they'd be going through what I did with my corn crop: waiting and waiting for the weather to warm up, finally planting 250 seeds in the rain, followed by a heart-stopping late frost, daily checking for sprouts, the purchase and installation of two nets to keep the crows from stealing the seeds, and... nothing. Maybe five seedlings came up. Knee high by the Fourth of July my granny's behind!! It was even worse than the last time I tried planting corn in 2004, when crows stole all the seeds and I had to replant, and then the resulting five or six corn cobs tasted terrible, anyway. After all that!

Or more to the point, who would buy a book with pictures of ugly, slug-infested, vole-chewed plants? I would. It would make me feel better.

EDIT: OK, this is John posting here...I just thought I'd add a little something to Rhian's post--a mockup I made of our forthcoming gardening book. What do you think--would you buy it? Click for a larger image--you don't want to miss a single shitty detail.


Writer Reading said...

I would, too. That little snippet of your garden was highly inspiring. I want to see more. No diary exists that I know of of a pathetic garden. It would sell like hotcakes.

zoe said...

Love the use of the word "indoorsiest".

myles said...

Same here: drought and more drought, then the freaking birds pluck out the seedlings, then the freaking earth mites eat what's left, then more drought... and so on. But if the damn things make it through, they're worth the effort. We don't bother with corn, though. Or beans. Can't ever get a bean to grow.

I'm a dedicated indoorsman, so Mrs Myles does most of the gardening. I do the sympathising.

Spot said...

Been good to read your blog since I found it by chance the other day.

Tough about your beans. Every creature tries to eat our plants before we do, even in our dry and chalky corner of England!!

Slugs and snails can eat us out of our whole crop in just one warm and damp night. But we are trying out various things that they might not like to walk over, like broken chunks of sea shells, lots of pine cones, or pistachio shells in a thick ring around each plant. Also trying to bring seedlings on in pots before we plant them out so that they can survive losing a few leaves to the munchers.

Mesh is a pet hate of mine, but there's a family of crows who have scouted around my plot. They only go for certain crops - cabbages, broccolli, spinach. So, we make sure those are covered.

Just as we think we have it sorted, we discover a family of mice like the strawberries.......

Good luck with your planting.

Anonymous said...

I would totally buy this. I think it has Chronicle Books written all over it.

The only green thing I'm responsible for keeping alive is my son's bean plant. I noticed this morning that the tiny milk container it came home from school in isn't cutting it anymore -- the plant keeps toppling over. But I'm afraid to put it in the earth. I've never done that before and I know it won't go well.

rmellis said...

WR -- I was thinking about doing a whole blog about my gardening failures -- it really could be helpful to people -- but that's a lot of work to display my suckiness. Still...

Z -- J & I realized we were essentially Indoorsy when we lived in Montana, an extremely outdoorsy place, where river rafting was considered to be a moral virtue.

Myles -- Well, I guess we should be grateful not to have "earth mites"!
The last very large garden I had, about half the stuff turned out, and I thought that was worth it.

Spot -- Thanks for coming by! I hate mesh, too -- I put some over our grape arbor last year and the grapes just grew through it, and now it's all tangled and a horrible mess. And deer ate every single grape.

BL -- I have my son's bean plant inside, too. I can't seem to bring myself to plant it... it would be like sending it to college...

bookfraud said...

how could anyone resist "i hate gardening books"? very funny stuff. not that i'm laughing at you.

you've just talked me out of planting a vegetable garden.

maybe you shouldn't read british gardening books -- you know, stiff upper lip, no complaining.

AC said...

I would buy the shitty gardening guide. It's geared to my skill level, and specific to my region too. How often do you find that?

I haven't had to deal with slugs or beetles yet, but that's only because my plants don't usually survive the sprout stage. I like to blame it on the fact that I don't have enough room or sunlight in my yard to have a "real" garden, which I guess makes me more of a plant abuser than a gardener. I can't say no to them even though I don't have the proper resources to give them a good home.

rmellis said...

I think I'm drawn to British gardening books because I had a British grandmother who had the most insanely beautiful garden you can imagine. Stone walls, roses, fish pond, blackberry arbor, greenhouse, apple trees, primroses, sweetpeas... and her own fuschias that she developed as a member of the South Wales Fuschia Society.

An unachievable ideal... we all need them!

rmellis said...

AC: One year J + I planted one of those "Square Foot" gardens. It was beautiful and so organized. Except we planted it in the spring before the leaves were out, and it turned out be in deep shade. Doh!

For years I yearned for lots of sunny space to plant a garden. Now I have it, and so I have no more excuses! Careful what you wish for!

zoe said...

That's the English that have stiff upper lips. The Scots are great complainers. Maybe you need a Scottish gardening book. We generally have less clement weather than the southerners. Although I wouldn't have a clue about gardening -- we inherited a tremendous veg garden and managed to kill it stone dead in a few months of moving in.

C. Leigh Purtill said...

That's how I feel about cookbooks.

Can you do one for cooking? :)

Anonymous said...

I'm seeing a series here. The shitty gardener, the crummy cook, the pathetic crafter, the color blind decorator...

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