By Michael Nolan
One of the most beneficial skills that any urban garden tender can cultivate is that of listening to your plants.
It isn’t nearly as new age as it may sound, and I guarantee that once you have mastered the art your urban garden will reward you with health and vitality.
In my experience, the number one problem for most urban gardeners is that they stick to the ‘rules’ too much.
Urban gardening by its very nature is unusual and out of the box and those merry few who choose to partake of its many pleasures need not be bogged down by a list of instructions.
An old friend of mine named Dianne wanted to have a lush indoor herb garden like she’d seen on a popular home gardening show on television. She went to a local garden center, bought all the right plants and the most eye-catching containers and took everything home. Within a couple of hours her kitchen window was green and beautiful and even though she had no experience growing edible plants, she felt confident that she could maintain this living herbfest because each plant came with detailed instructions from the vendor.
Two weeks later, what was once vibrant and alive looked like the wake of some natural disaster and my friend Dianne was left crestfallen and defeated. When she called me in tears, I stopped by to see if I could help.
The problem, I quickly deduced, was that Dianne had been a bit too devoted to the little plastic instruction sticks that came with her herbs. She watered a set amount every two days, religiously. This was the result of two factors. First, she works in a very structured 9-to-5 job where the rules are critical to the end result. Second, as this was her first taste of urban gardening, she was concerned that she may mess it up if she didn’t do everything just right.
In other words, she was listening to the rules instead of her plants, and rules killed her herb garden.
Later that same day, after we had replaced the waterlogged remnants of a fledgling attempt at gardening, I taught Dianne how to check the soil for dampness on a daily basis. She learned to touch the herbs in her window garden and note any changes in color or strength. Satisfied that she knew enough to keep or herb garden / nursery happy for a few days, I went on my way.
When I visited Dianne about three weeks later, she was chirping her way around the kitchen making a salad for lunch. I caught a glance of her kitchen window as she snipped some chives and curry and I may have made a bad joke about naming the salad ‘Curry-er and Chives’. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized how beautiful those herbs were!
Dianne took my advice. She started paying more attention to the plants and less to the rules. She’d even become creative and used chopsticks and floral wire to create a rosemary topiary that looked like something out of a magazine.
The plants had been talking all along, but it wasn’t until she learned to clear her mind of the interruptions known as ‘rules’ that she was able to hear what they were saying.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes today and have a conversation with your urban garden. You might be surprised how much you can learn just by listening.