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Clueless in the Garden: Excerpt from Chapter 1

...Rolling Up Your Sleeves: How To Get Started
by Yvonne Cunnington
by Yvonne Cunnington

I am a garden writer and photographer living near Hamilton, Ont. My articles have appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life magazines. My book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless (Key Porter Books) was published in 2003.

My husband and I tend a large country garden, which has been featured on TV’s Gardeners Journal and in Gardening Life magazine. We have had numerous bus tours visit our garden.

Visit her website at

July 24, 2004

ycCluelessGarden.jpg (89536 bytes)You look out the window and there it is: Your bare, neglected, overgrown (circle the one that applies) yard yawns before you. Visions of perennial borders, sun-ripened tomatoes, and fragrant flowering shrubs tempt you, but you know that anything you plant is doomed-you weren't around the day they passed out the green thumbs.

Even if you knew what to plant-and that's a big enough hurdle-you wouldn't know where, how, or when. And as for that weedy, compacted, tree-root-infested, muddy-or dusty-dirt you've got, won't any plant just turn up its toes anyway? Besides, isn't it a lot of work?

Well, yes, work is a four-letter word-but you can have a garden and a life too, and no, it's not too late to grow a green thumb. Actually, as one of my favorite garden wits, the acerbic Henry Mitchell, once put it, "There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises."

The main reason starter gardeners fail has less to do with being clueless than with the fact that they don't pay enough attention to their gardens. Yes, you need to know the how, why, and when stuff-but even more important, you need to get outside. That way, you're more likely to notice if the seedlings are getting parched or something's been chewing your favorite shrub or that Vigorous New Perennial is overtaking everything in sight. Noticing these things while there's still time to do something about them is one of the keys to success. And the more time you spend in the garden, the sooner you'll figure out what works for you and what doesn't.

No, this doesn't mean moving into the garden shed during the growing season. Just pay your garden a visit several times a week and really look at what's going on-what's growing well, what needs a nip and a tuck, and, oh, better pull out that weed right now before it goes to seed.

As for the work part, I call it "playing in the garden." Self-deception? I don't think so. Gardening should be fun-it's really creative play. There's enormous pleasure to be had growing things and putting good-looking plants together-gardening is a bit like matchmaking, you know. And what's wrong with losing a few pounds digging? I'd rather burn calories while getting a chance to smell the flowers and watch robins splash in the birdbath than on a dreary treadmill at the gym.

So you want to turn your boring yard into a garden. Great! This is the time to get started. [Next excerpt: Color Your World: Planting a Flower Garden]

Yvonne will be speaking on the topic, Clueless in the Garden? Tips for the Horticulturally Helpless, on Saturday, March 15 at 11 a.m. at Canada Blooms in Toronto.

From: Clueless in the Garden (Key Porter Books, 2003) © Yvonne Cunnington, Feb. 2003

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