by Guest Author Wendy Kiang-Spray
I had a great neighbor who has since moved away. The first day we met him, he invited us over for empanadas. He and his wife were perfect neighbors for first-time homeowners to have. Old enough to know the neighborhood stories, young enough to hang out from time to time and share a bottle of wine. As we settled in and began to make some changes around the home and yard, the well-intentioned nay-saying began, “The city is not going to take those boards away unless you take all the nails out.” “Every piece of tinsel has to be removed or they won’t recycle the tree.” “You shouldn’t go up on the slope because there is poison ivy there.” “You can’t grow vegetables here because the soil is all clay.” It got to the point where I tried to do outdoor tasks at odd hours hoping I wouldn’t get caught.
The thing is, we’re stubborn people. My husband didn’t remove the nails or the tinsel, and I both climbed the slope and planted vegetables in the clay.
Three years ago, I attended the International Master Gardener’s Conference. The sessions have been largely forgotten by now, but there were many parts of speakers Janet Macunovich and Steven Nikkila‘s lecture that were thought-provoking and pieces keep coming back to me in my life.
One point they made was about IMMEDIACY. As a gardener, if someone asks you for help, avoid jargon. SHOW him how to do what he needs to do. You want to make it do-able for the novice gardener — and more importantly, for him to feel the excitement of it. Janet shared an example of an inexperienced gardener friend who was suddenly motivated to move a tree. And during the worst part of the year to do it! Despite the chance that the tree might suffer or not even make it, she helped him move it anyway. There’s an excitement that gets into us — you’re a gardener — you know this feeling too.
This makes me think of my neighbor. It’s true there was poison ivy on the slope. I got a case so bad I ended up in the ER. But when I got better, I got back on the slope and you can bet I was able to differentiate between the English ivy and the poison ivy. It’s true it’s VERY difficult to grow vegetables in clay. But I tried and at the end of that season, I learned all about amending my soil.
This also makes me think of an interaction I had at work a while back. Some of our students held a plant sale — everything was $1! I bought plants like chives, ferns, parsley. Great deal. Later, one of my particularly exuberant friends bought some seedlings too and was so incredibly delighted about it! In her box, she had a lettuce seedling and a beet seedling and was telling me she was going to have fresh salads for her family all summer. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the lettuce seedling wouldn’t provide enough leaves for one salad, that the plant would probably bolt in a couple of weeks, and that the one beet seedling she bought would produce exactly one beet. A beet she paid a dollar for. I felt a little bad about not sharing the information, but I thought of my neighbor, and I thought of Janet and Steve. Instead of nay-saying, I shared in her excitement. I figured if she gets her hands dirty and does a little experimenting, she may catch the gardening bug — it’s not difficult to do. She may complain that the lettuce didn’t produce enough to garnish a sandwich. She may ask questions. And that is when I’ll show her how to sow her own row of beets and how to start her own salad bed.
Wendy is a DC Master Gardener who blogs at Greenish Thumb.