That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people with great narrative instincts or a strategic grasp of the studio machinery or tremendous knowledge of the history of the movies. It just means that when it comes to predicting what will be a hit, nobody knows anything.
Gardening is the same way. It’s not that there are not people with fantastic stores of information and experience. But when it comes to predicting what will work under the specific conditions of your yard in a specific year with its specific weather- and pest-related challenges? Think William Goldman.
In gardening, conditions always vary! So I think gardening advice is best couched in terms of simple principles rather than elaborate rules, and the principle we all seem to agree on is …don’t treat fall leaves like garbage, when they are clearly God’s way of enriching the soil.
And don’t move them off your property and onto the tax rolls, as Terry Ettinger sensibly argues, if you can help it.
I fall into the "rake the leaves into the flowerbeds" camp. I’m willing to pull umpteen maple seedings in spring in exchange for a free and easy soil amendment and the pleasant feeling that I’m in sync with the cycles of nature, rather than fighting them.
However, the really dramatic discovery for me a few years ago was the power of leafmold in my vegetable garden. I was having terrible problems with weeds. Ernie, the guy who’s mowed my lawn in the country for years, ever since my husband and I were too young and poor to be able to afford a lawn-mower, is pretty much a sage. He said, leafmold, not grass products for weed suppression. So I began sheet composting in fall, first a layer of alpaca bedding, then a truckload of ground-up sugar maple leaves Ernie took off his other, more foolish customers’ properties.
A few years of this has made the soil in my vegetable garden, which is boggy clay, absolutely magnificent. By mid-summer, the beds are covered in worm castings. And my garden is absurdly productive–more productive even than the garden I had when I actually lived in the house where the garden was. I mean, ridiculously so. I come home from the country on Sunday night with bags and bags and bags of beautiful food. I would have to quit my job and give away my children to process it all.
And the leafmold is just a terrific weed suppressant.
Then, this year in spring, I noticed something odd. I was having trouble with germination. I’d push aside my mulch to put my seeds in the ground, as usual, and then maybe cover them again with a sprinkling of leaves. And only a few would come up. It could have been just the beating rain we were having, since things were much more normal by mid-summer.
Or it might have been the fact that sugar maple leaves are such terrific weed-suppressants because they contain allelopathic compounds that discourage seed germination and growth. If I had to do it over, I might really have pushed every leaf aside and turned over the soil a bit before tossing out a handful of arugula seeds.
But I probably won’t do it over, because I learned something else about leafmold this spring: It’s a lovely environment for ticks. And for a few weeks in May, nobody went into my vegetable garden without coming back with Lyme disease.
Leafmold–amazing, wonderful stuff in the right vegetable garden. But no longer in mine. What gardening lesson can we draw from this? After fifteen years of considering her vegetable garden the most important thing in her life after her family, Michele doesn’t know anything.