A Gardener’s Resolutions

Thinking towards the future: Planning this year’s garden based on last season’s results.

 

By Thomas Christopher

 

The weather keeps me indoors much of the time at this season of the year, and so I have an opportunity to reflect on what went well in the garden during the past year, and what still needs work.

I actually did keep a rudimentary gardening journal (one of last year’s resolutions) and found that activity as useful as I had hoped.  I ordered a Moleskine daily planner that was sturdy enough to be tucked, with a pencil, into a pocket and taken with me out into the garden.

As soon as this book had arrived in my mailbox, I penciled in a schedule of the sowing and transplanting dates of all my vegetable and flower crops, including the second sowings I intended to make when spring crops came out in early summer.  This activity had two benefits.  First, it forced me to be realistic about what I could accomplish – I start most of my vegetable crops under fluorescent lights in the basement and as I penciled in entries, I became aware that I was planning to plant more than my lights could illuminate at times.  So — I trimmed the seed orders a bit.

The second benefit of journaling was that it helped me to keep up with my planting – consulting the journal for a daily schedule of activities became something I routinely did every morning with my first cup of coffee. We had a hugely increased harvest as a result. In fact, it would have been more than my wife and I could have handled had I not made some strategic donations to the local food pantry.

My journal also included some notes about results. It tells me, for example that my onions were acceptable but not as large as I like when I harvested them on Independence Day. This year I’ll sow onion seed earlier than I did last year (on February 23rd). I’ll also keep more detailed records in my journal on the weather, so that I’ll know better if that played a role in my plants’ performance.

 Another resolution I have made is to have my flower and vegetable garden soils tested this year. This is relatively cheap if you have it done by one of the state agricultural universities: twenty dollars is the fee for a routine home grounds and garden analysis at the University of Massachusetts, twenty-five dollars buys the same at Cornell, and a bargain rate of fifteen dollars will get it done at the University of Vermont. I’ll probably save more than the cost of the tests because the results will save me from applying unnecessary fertilizers. That’s not only good forthe budget, that’s good for the environment, too, as too-generous fertilization can end up polluting nearby waterways, and escaping into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas almost 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

I’ve further resolved to make this the year of the native in my home landscape. I intend to replant a large part of my lawn with native warm season grasses and meadow flowers. This should yield food and habitat for pollinating insects and birds, helping to make my grounds a contributing part of the surrounding ecosystem. Even if you don’t want to undertake a project of this scope, however, you can move your garden in the same direction by resolving to make most of the shrubs, trees, or flowers you plant in 2019 natives. And by native, I mean native to your local area, not just native to North America. This choice will not only benefit the local wildlife, it will also benefit the gardener, for natives, when matched to the appropriate habitat, typically prove better adapted to the local climate and conditions and thrive with less care than the average import.

Finally, I have resolved to refocus my gardening, and make it less about achieving goals and more about enjoying the experience. I remember the day I dug my first small vegetable garden one spring when I was just 16. After I finished spading up that modest patch of earth, I lay down on it, and closed my eyes for a few minutes, just enjoying the smell of the soil and the warmth of the spring sunshine. I probably won’t recreate that posture in my present garden, but I will seek to spend a few minutes every day in the same frame of mind, just noticing.  I’m counting on that to be one resolution that is easy to keep.

 

Thomas Christopher is the co-author of “Garden Revolution” (Timber Press, 2016) and is a volunteer at Berkshire Botanical Garden. berkshirebotanical.org

Be-a-Better-Gardener is a community service of Berkshire Botanical Garden, one of the nation’s oldest botanical gardens in Stockbridge, MA. Its mission to provide knowledge of gardening and the environment through 25 display gardens and a diverse range of classes informs and inspires thousands of students and visitors on horticultural topics every year.  Thomas Christopher is the co-author of Garden Revolution (Timber press, 2016) and is a volunteer at Berkshire Botanical Garden. berkshirebotanical.org.