Don’t worry; be happy




This (above) is what I saw when I looked out the window this morning, and I suspect many others across the Northeast, Midwest, and even points southerly might be seeing something similar. Or something equally unpleasant.

Winter has a tough time letting go; in Western New York we can always count on some April snows or freezes, and it looks like we’re not alone. What did I do to prepare for it? Not a damn thing. I figure any plant that expects to survive in my garden from year to year had better be able to do it without early spring babying. The sunrise show guys on TV this morning confirmed it, advising me to expect a little browning on the tulip foliage, but that the only things to worry about were food crops.

I believe them, having seen incredible comebacks on the part of such early bloomers as hellebores, which would one day be lying flat on their faces, looking all but dead, and then 2 days later bounce back in peak condition. These late, pathetic attempts to discourage me only make me smile; they are reminders of how close the outdoor gardening season is.

Speaking of high anxiety, I also had to smile at a recent series in the New York Times about vegetable gardening for beginners. It was filled with worried talk about soil samples, possible screw-ups, and over-ordering of seeds. I particularly remember the phrase “Growing vegetables as a major part of your life requires major sacrifices”.

It’s a nice article and a nice idea, but how did everything get so difficult? I don’t have a veggie garden, but my parents and both sets of grandparents did. My grandmother managed hers in between raising 7 kids and working fulltime as a housekeeper. My grandfather on the other side worked at a factory, grew tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and so on, and also made wine in the basement. Any one of them would have looked perplexed at being told what a sacrifice they were making by growing vegetables.

There were certainly plenty of things to worry about then, but I don’t think gardening was one of them. Maybe we can get back there.

Previous articleUnnecessary garden stuff we love
Next articleGuest Rant: Can an Ornamental Get a Little Love?
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Four inches of snow at least, a temperature of 22 and of course the ever pleasant howling 30mph winds. Tomorrow it is supposed to be 50 and sunny.

    I’m with you. No babying, coddling or extra effort allowed on cultivated grounds that will be over an acre in time. Survive or be gone.

  2. I think gardening has become difficult because we have preconceived notions of what a garden should look like and those “gardening experts” on TV (with the exception of Paul James, he usually tells it like it is) try and put us at ease by telling us it’s oh so easy – and when it’s not we feel like failures. People try and do the whole yard in one weekend and get disappointed when all they managed to do in one weekend was pull up all the weeds. Then they see how long it will take to get the soil ready and then planning?!?!? Garden stakes? And compost side dressing??? People think getting a veggie garden going is like redecorating a room, it has to done completely in one go. I don’t think most people realize they can do it a bit at a time, and in stages. “Hmm, I’ll leave all the lawn alone this year and just rip up that bed of ivy and plants a small squash patch.” I think most people get overwhelmed and don’t know how to approach what looks like a monumental task. And most people don’t realize that what doesn’t work this year, can be redone easily/moved around the next, versus a room where when it’s done, it’s done until you redecorate 10 years from now.

  3. I host twice-a-year Plant Swaps. These parties can draw as many as 55 people and last all afternoon. It always amazes me how far people will travel to sit and talk to other gardeners and drag home a few plants. One of the observations that I can make is in the shop talk of newbies versus old timers – those that are just starting out are all concerned about soil quality and proper pruning and only using the highest of the high end products on their garden. Anyone that’s been at it for while is much more relaxed, pays little attention to the “experts” and pretty much lets mama nature do the worrying.

  4. When I was at college here in Minnesota, one of the professors would plant his large vegetable garden in May, put cardboard and carpet scraps between the rows, leave the state in early June, and return in September to enjoy whatever vegetables had survived — which was most of them.

  5. Truly,it is not rocket science, just growing vegetables. Like your relatives, my grandparents and parents never sent away a soil sample for testing. I have jars full of unused seeds from ordering mishaps. It all works out fine. We just turn over the dirt, add some compost, stick in the seeds, mulch with grass clippings and hope for rain.

  6. i grew up working in my father’s garden and i can’t remember one fancy thing about it. now as i plant in my raised beds with perfect soil i remember the soil from that garden. it was medium brown and just awful to break up. but we mixed in compost from our very unfancy compost pile and made sure to water it and it grew wonderfully! i just read advice from someone who said….don’t fret about your gardens. those plants really want to grow. give them a bit of help and they will do all the hard work! urbanfarmchick

  7. this makes me smile – at the wonders of digital photography and blogging. To be able to take a picture and publish that sucker in minutes to the world – at no cost – is pretty cool.

  8. So true! I never thought about it like that. I love Joe Gardener’s seed starting in the pizza box idea because it is simple and cheap.

    We dug up big beds last spring, and instead of digging up more (expense, time, back), we are moving around, re-purposing, etc. Love my veggies. Gardening is all about trial and error, anyway.

    I need to chop up some of my junk that goes in the compost and properly layer it. Maybe this weekend.

  9. Why is at all so difficult?

    Because they have to write something, I guess.

    Nobody told me when I was four years old that it was difficult. Sweetpeas, ixias, larkspurs, radishes, lupins…Make a hole, plant a seed or bulb. Water, wait. twas wonder, and happiness.

    Maybe that’s it. Many people are so far removed from gardening that they think it difficult.

    A garden design client last year freaked. out. when she saw the earthworms in her container on a rooftop. Hated them. Bugs, she said.


    Do you think that…maybe it IS difficult??


  10. My sister is on her third year in her current vegetable garden site while I am patiently awaiting my last frost date for my FIRST vegetable garden. I am the one with all the worries and she had this to say to me: Keep it simple, stupid. Words to live by.

    I have been enjoying your blog, thanks for sharing with us!

Comments are closed.