How Gardening is Like Falling in Love

“None of us are born with green thumbs,” my friend Jeff, a professional gardener, said. “But we all have one, deep inside.”

No plants have ever survived under my care, including a mini-cactus I had in fourth grade and a poinsettia over Christmas. I’ve been convinced for years that everything that I touch would eventually wither and die (watch out, Kiki). The thought of getting dirt under my nails and sweating under the sun while sprawling over more dirt never appealed to me, but my mom’s love of plants made me curious.

I was set on growing sunflowers, the symbol of summer, with its round shape and bright yellow petals like plucked rays of sunshine. The back of the seed packet states that they’re easy to grow – perfect for a beginner like me!

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Are they supposed to look like this?
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These plants won’t die on me this time, right? Right?!
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Day 5: I underestimated how fast these babies would grow!

In the beginning I eagerly overwatered them, but I quickly learned their their likes and dislikes. I worry if it’s too hot or rainy or windy for them to survive. And I’ve already uprooted a few on accident when transferring from one pot to another. Forgive me!

These sunflowers are my go-to first thing in the morning like rushing to see one’s crush from afar.

I wish I could confess my love to them in a handwritten letter, and they’d blush and bloom and we’d live happily ever after in a field of gold.

I have so much respect for master gardeners and my friends who grow fresh produce in their backyard. Maybe one day I’ll be able to share some sunflowers seeds with everyone.

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The latest photo of sunflowers.
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Bonus photo of Kiki judging me while gardening.
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The mixed seeds are doing well! For reference, I’m a little over 5′ 8″.

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Last year’s bloom:

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Do you own any plants? Gardening advice welcome!

 

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5 thoughts on “How Gardening is Like Falling in Love

  1. Does the location you put the planters in get full sun, or partial? I’m trying to figure it out from your images, but unsure. It seems they got leggy from lack of adequate sun, and so went “looking” for it because I don’t think wind would cause that many curves. Weaker start sunflowers can be helped along by supporting them, even if it’s dead/trimmed tree branches in the pot with string or jute between them (check for wood bugs if broken off and on the ground). If you want to stake them individually since your pots have most of them clustered rather than in a row, use one support per just tied just around them midway, with a loosely tied knot so you can easily undo it later to move it up the support pole as each grows. (Jute is better than string, as string will tighten more when wet).

    I’m learning a lot as I garden too. Hang in there! Spend what time you can in winter reading. It helps when you don’t have time during the growing season.

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    1. I started out with partial but they’ve mostly (and presently) been in full sun. I noticed they’ve been able to recover faster after moments in the rain or wind after getting full sun – they seem all around much happier. I was thinking they got curvy because of my lousy transferring between pots!

      Thank you for your golden and careful advice. I was thinking they needed support from some sort of metal pole, but I love the idea of staying “organic”. Would it be better to get a rectangular pot for sunflowers and then leave a few inches in between each? I’ll utilize my time in winter this year well.

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      1. Flowers (and many other plant types depending on age and size) will turn to reach the sun to an extent, and even lean when they need to/can. Our old crabapple tree has one branch that has been trying for years to reach past the canopy of other trees that grew faster and taller than it over the years, for instance. The one branch is crazy long and touches the ground when laden with crabapples.

        I’ve noticed flowers tend to turn their “face” this way. Since you started in partial sun, that’s probably why they got leggy like that. One of my pumpkins I started indoors started to shoot up tall and at first I was excited, but then learned from reading about starting them from seed indoors about how that was more likely to be a leggy sapling from lack of sun, not a stronger one just because it was tall. From my understanding, leggy seedlings tend to be weaker in stem and sometimes root, which would explain the curvature to the stem. I’m really glad to hear yours are recovering well.

        I’m happy to share what I know, which is partly from reading and my own successes and failures. There’s so much to learn, so I know how frustrating it can be first hand when you aren’t sure of terminology or causes and symptoms.

        Metal staking can work as well, however, if the metal is prone to rust, over time that would increase the iron content in the soil. Some plants love iron, but I am not aware if sunflowers do. I know sunflowers are one of the plants that help pull out/neutralize certain harmful things in soil over time (Farmer’s Almanac has an online article about this.) We actually used a squared metal frame we found on the property with jute dangling down at first for our pole beans because we hadn’t put the longer branch teepees together as we were having trouble juggling time and weather when we first planted those seeds.

        Speaking of jute, if you use true jute and not the nylon garden “twine”, it often will be close to/disintegrating by the end of season from the rains and sun. When you cut back whatever it was supporting, you can toss it in the compost to degrade the rest of the way to help feed later plants.

        I’ve never grown sunflowers in pots, so I can’t say if shape of the pot matters. Distance between plants is important, though. If you started yours from a seed packet, they should have sowing distance directions. Sunflowers will gobble up whatever nutrients they can, so anything within their “range” becomes a competitive foe for nutrients unless it’s a plant that feeds them (more on this below). I think there’s a certain amount of fiddling you can do with that if you’ve amended your soil well, or have hugel culture mounds or even nutrient dumping ground cover. I’ve mostly seen sunflowers in straight rows in smaller garden beds, usually at the back as they tend to be the tallest so they won’t throw shade on other plantings nearby.

        A quick search yielded this: “In general, a mammoth (tall, giant) sunflower does best in good quality soil with no other plants within 24-inches (two feet) in any direction (a four-foot diameter circle of growing space). Smaller varieties of sunflowers are more forgiving, with some doing fine with just 6-inches of growing space (in all directions). But more is better. The better the resources, the larger the plant can grow.” (https://empressofdirt.net/growing-sunflowers/)

        You also might want to look up companion plants for sunflowers as well. Some plants play really well together, while others are fiercest enemies. I’m just starting to learn about companions myself.

        I hope this wasn’t too rambly. I tend to prattle once I get going. *smiles*

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      2. Amazinggg! I didn’t even think about the “twisting” of plants for sunlight. This explains a lot about the earlier seedlings that didn’t do well.

        I took your advice about propping them up with branches, and they’ve become much stronger and sturdier as a result. It’s a little frustrating since I don’t have much space to actually grow any plants in the ground – I have to resort to pots. The sunflowers I’ve seen in my neighborhood are all grown without pots and they’re HUGE! I think I would be lucky this time around just to have mine bloom.

        You grow pumpkins!? What do you not grow? Have you been able to build an organic produce garden (the dream)? Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with me, it’s pretty exciting to get all of this feedback and inspirational to hear about your experiences.

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  2. I’m really glad to hear the staking helped. Siting plants really is an art if you have a small property and lots of possible shade sources to consider. I’m learning a lot of hard lessons about siting, especially this year. (Ask me about the plant I almost killed last year by transplanting it to a poorly chosen site some time.) I was helped along the path to knowledge on that near death (and other info) by friends I’ve met at an old house forum that has a garden sub forum. That site covers a few of my interests hence my frequent visits, but lately I’ve been seeking out more garden blogs, which is how I found yours.

    I’m really happy that the feedback and sharing experiences is helping. I too feel the same way when I get the same, or stumble upon information that provides a possible “ah ha!” on the web or in a book. It really is inspirational to know that others have had similar struggles, and learning about how they overcame them. It helps me press on in my pursuit of gardening.

    Getting back to the flower stems, I sowed some black eyed susan seeds this year in the same beds as the pumpkins, and of the ones that did survive, as they grew, they too did a bit of the curve stem dance, especially the one to the rear of that bed where there is the most shade. (I’ll send you a link via your contact after posting this so you can see a pic of that.)

    I still have a lot to learn about siting plants. Last year I read on one site to take pictures for reference, and I did that in early May, but then this year I remembered the sun angle changes due to time of year, and we also have a small stand of mostly deciduous trees on the back of our lot (southernmost edges) which make a huge difference for the back yard too. Despite realizing that, I never took further shade pics after May of last year because…my brain was too full and I forgot.

    It’s really darn easy when you’re new at gardening to get overwhelmed. So much to learn, so much to remember, so many habits to build. Still, we try, hoping to prevail.

    The pumpkins were late getting sown, and had another challenge due to my error in site selection. I also too late learned a way to “help” the seeds germinate by either gently filing or sanding all edges except the pointed tip to allow water to better reach the seed’s inner bits, and soaking them on top of that. (I’ve learned over time that soaking is an oft given advice for quite a few seed types. Abrading the “shell” of the seed, less so. It depends on the plant.)

    Still, I know they’ll do better into fall than other kitchen garden crops to a point, but I also planted them in beds that don’t get quite as much sun as they should (site selection). I thought those beds were partial shade, but the reality is they’re a bit more towards the full shade side. It’s almost mid August, and we don’t even have vine yet, let alone flowers. Because we are in New England, we should have planted them in mid-May, and our first attempt went in the ground June 1st. The funny thing is the second attempt planted on June 18th in a pot and left in a kitchen window to protect the seeds from critters (the first yielded 1/6, second was 1/2) is almost as far along, but is just this week dropping its seedling leaves. I’ve been looking at the calendar a lot this month and wondering if it’s worth the risk to move them to a sunnier spot. Speaking of site selection…we planted them in the front yard because we thought it’d be a lazy way to have Halloween decorations. Given how soon the possible frost date has been bumped up for us this year (Sept 20th), this feels a bit foolish now, though by then they should have been picked and cured (something else I had to learn) which partly kills the lazy spirit we had hoped for with our plan. (I joke I work harder to do less later. Sometimes, that works. Other times…)

    Last thing I want to write about is the organic garden dream. Yes, that is our target. We also are trying to have as naturalized an overall yard as we can get away with here at our small city urban lot, though the city itself has amazing ponds and other natural bits within and without. (I have been sitting in at our city’s conservation commission public meetings which helps, as does knowing the local code related to yard upkeep.) We do have one bordering neighbor that sprays for ticks in spring. I’m trying to figure a buffer for that, but thankfully our grade level is the same at that 50′ edge of our rectangle lot, so minimal runoff concerns.

    We don’t use pesticides nor herbicides. I will start handpicking various introduced asiatic beetles off plants soon and in the future, though. I learned most of them have few if any predators here so you drown them in a bucket of soapy water. Mind you, I don’t stretch too much in trying to plant exotics or anything hard to care for either. The pest bugs have been a bit worse this year, but I’ve read that’s mostly due to the abnormal weather swings.

    We have two rain barrels now (bought one last year, one this), which luckily we can have here because some places can’t, and the town gets a grant to sell them at cost

    For me, the hardest part is learning how to let the garden take care of itself while also managing things that threaten it. I also have to keep the “front of house” fairly tidy too due to code, but I’m learning how to work with that, rather than just rail against it. I’ve also been learning about invasive plants and insects (and why the definition of “invasive” is a bit misleading…native to “when”, for instance.) I also have been learning about companion plantings and beneficial creatures. There is a lot to learn, and some sites have conflicting information. The biggest problem using both books and the web is that over time, new things are learned. The worst problem with the web in particular is how often sites will parrot information without checking sources. So you try to do what you think it right, only to find out it wasn’t. Some sites also don’t help because the zone or climate is totally different, so what’s good or bad for them isn’t for you. I have far to go before I’ll even consider myself an amateur gardener. Right now I spend more time rejoicing over what I haven’t managed to kill. 🙂

    Thank you for allowing me to ramble. There’s a quote somewhere along the lines of “had I more time, this would be shorter”, and I’m definitely of that type of writer.

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