The failure of one thing

Hyacinth beans at Monticello

Last Saturday, I had a wonderful time attending the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, where along with enjoying the food and vendors and music, I took two fabulous tours of the vegetable garden, the first, with a seed-saving theme, given by Pat Brodowski, the head vegetable gardener, who is full of useful knowledge and happy to share it, and the second led by Peter Hatch, director of gardens and grounds at Monticello.  Hatch’s new book, Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden, will be out in the spring, and his tour was a rehearsal for a new special tour based on the book (you can go and take the tour next year!  It was great!).

Hatch can quote Jefferson’s Garden Book sideways and upside down, and one point he brought out that I really appreciated after this rather disappointing gardening year was that failure is inevitable in gardening, and that Jefferson failed perhaps more often than the average gardener, or at least unflinchingly recorded his disasters in more detail.  He wrote “The failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another” — we always do seem to get balance in the end, or enough successes to want to keep going, and we can always learn from our failures and turn them into successes in the long run.

Failures in the garden, to me, seem to come in two categories, which I will ineloquently call the “oopsies” and the “oh wells.”  The oopsies are actual mistakes, that might have been avoided with better research or just remembering that you knew better, e.g. putting the tomatoes too close together, thereby inviting lack of air circulation, disease, and handy pathways for stink bugs.  The oopsies are what I’m going to work hard on repairing next year in the demo garden: lots of trials of options and techniques for common plants like beans and squash and cucumbers, none of which I had much luck with this year.

The “oh wells” are things you can’t help, mostly having to do with weather or, to a lesser extent (this is the oopsy-oh well gray area), pests.  We had our share of both this year, from voracious rabbits and bugs to horrible heat and torrential rain.  Remember my last post about the cucuzzi gourds and what Hurricane Irene did to them?  Well, straightening up the arbor didn’t actually help, and after Tropical Storm Lee’s week of rain, this is what the cucuzzis looked like:

It was, I admit, less of an “oh well” and more of a “oh %&$!!” – I was really looking forward to showing off those huge gourds at the Harvest Festival next weekend (October 1, 11-6, hope to see you there!).  But weather happens, and things do fall over and die sometimes.  Alas.

I’m reluctant to trumpet our successes in the next week for fear of tempting fate, but we do have them!  And we learn from successes as well, even if it’s sometimes along the lines of “wow, I didn’t expect that to work.”  One of the great things about Jefferson as gardener was that he wasn’t afraid to try new things; some of them worked in his Virginia climate and some didn’t, but they all added to our knowledge.  And one of the great things about YOU as gardener is that you can do that too, even without a place like Monticello (or the much smaller and less efficient Derwood Demo Garden) to experiment upon.  Successes, admittedly, are usually tastier than failures, but both can be valuable, and you shouldn’t be afraid of either.

Happy gardening!

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