A Case for Mistakes

Nature can be messy. It’s complicated, temperamental and so interconnected it can be hard to tell what’s affecting what. We go to such lengths to figure out what plant will do well where and work out how much water each one likes. Yet we find shade-loving plants growing surprisingly well in the sun where they should be burning to a crisp, and other plants we’ve endlessly catered to withering on the vine.

This can be… frustrating. It can also be pleasantly surprising. Sometimes individual plants are magically resilient against all odds and others fail for no discernible reason. There are so many things that can go wrong, from soil pH to diseases to humidity levels. The truth is, planting anything comes with some degree of risk. Gardening is like everything else in life, you have to be willing to try and you have to be willing to fail.

I would like to make a case in favor of mistakes. More precisely, I’d like you to open up to the idea that mistakes are okay, particularly in gardening. For most of us, messing up is scary. But it’s also how we learn and grow. There’s something liberating about trying a new thing, having it not work out, and fixing it or moving on. It reminds us that we can handle the ups and downs of life.

So, preaching aside, what does this mean for your garden? Should you disregard all plant tags and throw things in the ground willy-nilly? Probably not. For instance, being aware of what species are invasive in your region is important. They can often still be used, but with care. For example, Ajuga and Buddleja, (Bugleweed and Butterfly Bush) are invasive species in West Virginia. They’re still used in local gardens, but their placement is key. Aside from that, there are very few mistakes you could make in your garden that would actually have significant consequences.

However, I have found that many gardeners follow only a handful of prescribed paths towards vegetative glory. They look at what their neighbors are doing or get advice from a more experienced gardener and that’s the end of it. This is fine if it suits you and your interest in your garden. But I’ve met so many people with a passion for plants that can only be quelled by squeezing yet another flower bed in somewhere. For those people, I say go for it.

Do you like that prairie grass and that woodland phlox? Use both. So what if you’re mixing two design styles? It’s your garden. Are there some plants you’d like to put together in a bed, but you fear one might crowd out the others? Plant them and see what happens! It’s your garden. Are there certain plants that your local plant guru hates but you love? Try them out. What’s the worst that could happen? IT’S. YOUR. GARDEN. Have fun with it. You’re putting in the work, you’re the one enjoying it, so try some combinations that sound fun and don’t worry about what other gardeners will think.

“But what about the money?! The time spent?!” you ask dramatically. It’s true; by taking risks in your garden you chance failing and potentially wasting money and time. If you can’t afford to waste either of those resources on your garden, then I completely understand. However, I would say that a lot of these risks can be done on a small budget. And, if you don’t have the time to put in, then your garden was probably going to fail whether you took risks or not.

So get out there and try something new. Gardening is an art, and like any creative endeavor, you won’t get very far if you aren’t willing to play with it.

-By Brit Blevins

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