COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Avoid these five mistakes

The last week of February is a celebration of spring as the Northwest Flower and Garden Show kicks into full bloom at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. This year the theme is “Once upon a Time – Spectacular Gardens with Stories to Tell.”

Last week in this column I started the list of “Top 10 Gardening Mistakes” in honor of one of my show seminars titled “A Tale of Two Gardens – a story of good and evil.”

The good news is we all learn from our mistakes and gardeners have the best place to bury their failures. The more plants you kill the more compost you have. We all need more compost, but learning more about the art of gardening will help you some of these lessons the easy way.

Numbers 6 through 10 in Top 10 Gardening Mistakes “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” from Charles Dickens in “A Tale of Two Cities”

6. Allowing bamboo to sneak into the neighbor’s yard.

People have moved, gone to court and threatened gunfire over this crime. There are well-behaved clumping bamboos and some dwarf bamboos and the perfectly behaved Nandinas that are called Heavenly Bamboo, but don’t ever let spreading bamboo escape into your neighbor’s yard or this horror story could turn into a murder mystery.

7. Placing thirsty plants or pots too far from the faucet.

I really thought I wouldn’t mind hauling buckets of water out to the end of the driveway to water the geranium plants. But they demanded water all summer especially on the hottest days when I didn’t want to haul water. Now I only put yuccas and sedums in faraway pots.

8. Ignoring that sun-loving plants need sunshine.

Sunflowers have that name for a reason. I’ve tried and failed to grow them in partial shade.

I have killed delphiniums with darkness and grown wild flowers that look wan and pale. I’ve encouraged disease on my roses and I’ve had to put a pouting potentilla out of her misery. I have a mostly shaded garden – which, of course, means I am drawn to colorful, sun-loving plants. Only Charles Dickens could turn this tragic story into a tale of happily ever after.

9. Placing coleus, basil, marigolds, tomatoes and eggplants outdoors too early.

There is no exact date when summer arrives. Thinking that the month of May is warm enough for all heat-loving plants is a mistake if you live in western Washington. Here is my sad tale: I agreed to have my garden on a tour for charity one spring, scheduled for late May. I purchased and planted an entire flat of colorful coleus to brighten up the drab spots of the landscape. The night before the garden tour, there was no frost, just a bit of a chill in the air. All those newly-planted coleus just melted. A very ugly sight awaited the first people on that tour. It was me in my nightgown, uprooting dead plants and tossing them into piles. A sad and tragic tale indeed.

10. Using the words “yard work” to describe the most pleasurable process of making the world a more beautiful place – by creating a garden.

Every garden story has a happy ending because the mere act of trying to plant or care for something is one of the oldest and greatest stories ever told. From Adam and Eve to Jack and his bean stalk, gardens and gardening are a rich source of drama, action, death, new life, lots of interesting events involving the birds and the bees and plenty of challenges and heart aches. This is the stuff of great stories.

Once upon a time I planted a garden. Now you can grow your own happily ever after.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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