I am the Girl Who Could Not Grow a Zucchini.


Here is a guest rant from Rebecca/The Potato Queen

I am a sloppy amateur gardener. 

My vegetable garden is a mad tangle of poorly supported pole
beans battling for supremacy against cucumbers in the same condition and
tomatoes that long ago overgrew their cages.  A visitor viewing my vegetable
garden sees not tidy rows of orderly produce, but a jungle of poorly thinned,
weed-infested vines and stems, apparently trying to strangle each other.

My flower beds are currently overrun with weeds.  When
I DO remember to weed, I leave behind me piles of little green corpses I forget
to pick up later.  I may be losing two new little shrubs I planted this
spring due to ignorant placement and lax watering during this oppressive
summer.  There’s a giant branch in the middle of the backyard from last week’s
storms: it will probably still be lying there this weekend.


Where others see this:

 I see this:


When I first began to garden in my little townhouse, I
envied the professionally landscaped yards of some of my neighbors. Everything
was just so, the right plants for the environment, perfectly balanced
arrangements, like something from a magazine.

A year into my first efforts, that envy disappeared. Since
then my favorite landscape has always been my own. I’ve had many failures with
flowers and edibles, but after that first year, the successes began to
outnumber the failures. And because I planted it, every bloom and leaf is
special to me. The most special: the ones given to me by friends and especially
by my dad.

Six years later when I left that little townhouse for a
little blue house with my now-husband, I left behind a proud legacy of flowers
where once there was nothing but English ivy and honeysuckle.  The new
owners knew nothing of that transformation, and tore out most of my lovingly
tended shrubs and flowers.  But some remain, including my dad’s beautiful
white peonies.  (In evil moments, I consider digging them up under cover
of darkness and bringing them home.)

The new house offered a much bigger canvas: a quarter acre
of weedy, patchy yard, some random plantings apparently made to dress up the
yard for sale, and a oddball planting of ten miniature arborvitae-like trees
spanning the front yard along the curb. Six years earlier, I would have
probably left all as-is.  Instead, I saw a big playground in which I could
continue to dig and grow (and yes, kill–sigh) on an even larger scale.

The secret?  It’s not that I’ve become a master
gardener.  While my successes do outnumber my failures these days, I still
have a lot of failures (zucchini, anyone?).  I still am lazy and often
don’t follow the rules, resulting in mess and death in the garden. 

The secret is I have ceased to fear failure. No matter how
many failures I continue to have, I believe that anything is possible. 
I’m looking at you, zucchini.

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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 regularly 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 yahoo.com


  1. My favourite gardening quote
    ” In gardening there is no such thing as failure. Just varying degrees of success”
    I am not sure who said it first but it is my mantra and I am going to have it translated into Japanese and carved into a large rock which I will place in the middle of my Japanese style garden which will be a little to the right of my formal garden which will be to the right of my English garden and in front of the orchard………

  2. Love this and I would so have taken the peonies with me! Do not view any of it as a failure but rather a learning experience! Every plant we plant that thrives or dies is a chance to learn and that is part of what makes gardening so wonderful!

  3. Rebecca,

    What a lovely post!

    The difference between the professionally landscaped yards of your neighbors and your yard is that your neighbors never enjoyed themselves while making it.

    Gardening is a journey. After 20 years, I’ve ceased to be embarrassed by my failures–or moments when I get too busy to weed.

  4. Bravo, Rebecca. Check with your local county extension office and look into the local Master Gardener program. You’ll find out how much you have in common with other amateurs who suddenly find themselves with the bizarre and undeserved title of “Master Gardener”. We’d certainly sign you up in a heartbeat. Cheers.

  5. I love this post. If anyone ever asks me to describe my gardening technique — unlikely — I can now say “check out what Rebecca, The Potato Queen said over there on Garden Rant. (And I too would have taken the peonies.)

  6. After all the negativity over posts the last few days, I find your post quite uplifting! I used to tell people that I learned most of what I know about gardening by trial and error, mostly error.

    I always try to remember when putting crazy combinations together, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

  7. I like your attitude. Pull up the boot straps and forge ahead. This was a very lovely post and had many cute moments. I am glad I stopped by today. Thanks for your honesty and writing the cute story.

  8. Love this…it is my own story. I grow everything-annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, ornamentals, succculents, and veggies, and even though I’ve grown it successfully in the past, my zuchinni the past 3 years, give me nothing but blossoms! Cheers, Steph H

  9. Thank you so much for the nice comments! Regarding the peonies: I would totally have taken them… only we moved in February and the ground was a rock. I do, however, plan to steal some more from Dad at the next opportunity.

    So cool to see how many others feel the same way about their gardens.

  10. Amen!!! I am just finishing up my certificate in Landscape Design but have come to realize that deep down I just want to be a gardener. Designing “landscapes” for others will never offer the pleasures of planting/toiling/learning in your my garden.

  11. What a wonderful vision you see – complete with mountains that aren’t actually there. 🙂 I love it! It’s so true. Sometimes I try to look at my garden with an outsider’s eye, and all I can say is “good heavens…” But when I look at it through that bright eye of hope that all gardeners have in some measure, all is beautiful… Thanks for a lovely post.

  12. Certainly where I started–and where all my new flowerbeds hover for a year or two after construction, even now!

    My yard is mostly in the sad state of tearing out overgrown things and has not yet reached the happy place of new abundance yet. But it will!

    I, too, insist on doing things the hard way–planning things for myself, from stratch. It’s not that I can’t ask others–its that it won’t be fully my own if someone else plans it for me. And “my own” is what I want, even if I’m not all that red hot!

  13. @Steph: I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear that I am not the only one with zucchini “issues.” I gave up on them this year because of previous lack of success and the fact that Mulch Boy wouldn’t eat zucchini. But he’s coming around now, and I think next year I’ll be giving it the ol’ college try again.

  14. I had to replant zucchini and yellow summer squash three times this year because of deer who didn’t eat everything, but left enough so I couldn’t remember where the zukes were. I ended up with all yellow squash. No zucchini at all. Can you believe I’ve had to buy zucchini. Amazing.

  15. My mother asked me last night if my garden was worth it, since we’ve been in our house for a year now. Since she is a businesswoman to the core, I said that financially I probably broke even on produce and herbs (not that I would buy all the fresh herbs that I’ve had from the garden). But it’s an example of another way where nongardeners don’t “get it”. I’m very much looking forward to next year and the year after, as I overcome my learning curve for this new land and new plants (like watermelon!)

  16. Awesome awesome awesome. My favorite of the guest rants so far. I remember my mom once saying to me that it was frustrating that I could grow everything and she couldn’t grow a thing. Not true, I said. I just grow SO many things that even after half of them die, I’ve still got a lot. My success rate is much higher now — it just takes time and a little practice.

  17. What a great post! Thanks so much for sharing…and making alternatives to success (okay, failure) seem s little more okay.

  18. ah thank you…i can so relate…yesterday my husband and i were diligently sweating into our soil when a neighbor (we had not yet met) called out “this house used to be so nice! What’d y’all DO to it!” despite the fact i knew she was referring to our jungle of a garden, I semi-politely answered that in fact we have not done a darn thing to the house since we bought it. However, she soon became our friend, left with some of the purple cosmos seeds I just saved, and promises to leave us a zuchinni on our back step. yes, i can neither spell nor grow it either…but who cares if you can grow zuchini when everyone will beg you to take it home with you?

  19. garden beauty is in the eye of the gardener. The only season in which mine is truly lovely is in “seed catalog season” in which I’m in a comfy chair with a quilt, cup of tea, cat(s), stack of catalogs, stars in my eyes and 10-12 inches of snow on the ground.
    The other 11 months its playing in the dirt, playing with the plants, building climbing frames, squishing bugs and eating treats. It only looks like work to people who don’t know its play.

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