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Learning from failures

 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Gardening is intimidating to some folks. They say "I don't have a green thumb", as if it is a matter of in-born talent. It really isn't. If you learn about what you want to grow and apply what other people have had success with, you increase your chances of succeeding as well. You can also learn from mistakes, your own and the ones of others. I was reviewing some of my gardening activities over the last weekend and I came up with the following list of "don't do this, it's not likely to work":

1) Palo verde trees (Parkinsonia florida) won't grow in Georgia. I wanted to have something to remind me of my days living in the southwest, so how about try to grow a palo verde tree from seeds I collected on a stop in Tucson? I got them to germinate, and fairly soon I had gangly tall seedlings of palo verde, thorny and ready to take a bite out of me. But then winter came. Winter was rough on them in two respects, a little too cold and a lot too wet. I managed to coax them through one winter (a mild one) in my greenhouse by watering them only once a month, but the second, more severe winter came and killed them dead. Unless I want to create a desert arboretum (like the nice one there is in Albuquerque), I had better give up on my attempts.

2)Cardoons and artichokes are for Mediterranean climates, not the South. I got them to germinate, and grow big enough in pots that I could transplant them into the garden. I had visions of being able to recreate a country house that I saw in France where they had the front yard planted in cardoons and artichokes. No. It was not to be. These two did not succumb to the cold, but after each heavy rain, they looked a little worse for the wear until finally after one gullywasher, they just gave up the ghost. Just too easy to drown.

3) Bananas. There are bananas planted around here and you see them advertised as "tolerant to zone 7". But no. Winters here kill bananas down to the ground. If you are lucky, they might resprout when the weather warms up and maybe even put on some impressive growth through the growing season. But that growing season is too short to get to a size where it can flower and produce a stalk of bananas. Maybe you would be better off growing some other tropical plant that is a little better adapted to producing something during what growing season you do have. Taro comes to mind. I'm having great success with my taro plantings, but I won't be putting any more effort or $$$ down the banana rathole again.

What about you? Do you have an "I wouldn't try that if I were you" story to tell?
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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Don't build mounds unless they're catching some water on one side of them. They require a fair amount more water than any other spot on my property. Not a big deal if I can reshape them to hold some water or find resilient plants, but newfound knowledge.

Some of the common annuals are THIRSTY. Don't put them on top of the mounds that need a lot of water. Those mounds will then require more water.

Other than that; if you don't know, and won't cost you an arm and a leg to find out, don't be afraid to find out by just doing it.
 
Jen Van
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Don't forget to tell your husband not to mow down the native plants recently transplanted to edges of yard...

sigh
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Yeah. Don't be afraid to do a little experimentation - it's a part of the learning curve.

But a little friendly advice: Do most of your experimenting with $1.95 packets of seeds, rather than $29.95 trees. Besides saving some money, you are also saving some time. A failed annual will be obvious the first few weeks, where that tree may take several years of your time before you concede that it isn't going to make it in your garden. With a failed annual, you will probably have plenty of time to get something else to grow in the vacant spot this season. It's a lot harder to give up on an expensive tree.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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If you want to save seed, learn which families will cross pollinate and avoid planting different species together.
For example, nearly every member of the enormous brassica family will cross, and the results are nearly always pretty inedible:
broccokale with masses of tough leaves and a few tiny florets, caulibrocc which is an ugly brown, with mutant skinny florets...
Check whether something needs another plant to fruit at all, or well-
Once I grew single tomatillo plant which lowered madly and didn't set a fruit;
the next season I had two, and had way more fruit than I knew what to do with
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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John Polk wrote:It's a lot harder to give up on an expensive tree.


I'm not giving up on expensive trees. I may have gotten swindled when the mail-order company sent me birdcherries instead of apricots, but dammit, the rootstock looks fine and healthy. I'm going to topwork these trees and make them into bearing apricots! I did two bud grafts last week, and will evaluate my technique. It they take, then I might soon be on my way to the "tree of 40 fruits".
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 767
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Failures are a very important part of learning. Most of us do not have the old experienced neighbour who grows everything and anyway this neighbour would not
have realized that the climate has changed or trials new things maybe...
There is something with permaculture to first sit down an make a big plan. Yes this has some advantages, you cannot make this plan without experience. Even if you are an experienced gardener, this site is new. So I would advocate to make a rough plan, then go out and start somewhere. Do something every week. And adjust your plan in the meantime.
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