A Green Thumb

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view. 

Evidently the idiom having a ‘green thumb’ dates back to the early part of the 20th century and means  a person with a gift for gardening or who can easily grow plants well. Hence, the person has stained green fingers (UK) or has a green thumb (US).

Noo Jea Lea in Canowindra NSW

Can a gardener’s green thumb skills be taught I wonder? I don’t think having a green thumb is necessary to be a good gardener I think anyone can learn to garden just like anyone can learn to cook. It all depends on what you are exposed to in the formative years and what interests you. If you like doing something, you will enjoy learning about it and you will be in a far better mindset to be successful. If you love what you do, are you not automatically careful and nurturing?

Sage advice comes from Rudyard Kipling who commented in his book ‘The Glory Of the Garden’

“Gardens are not made / By singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ / And sitting in the shade.”

Yes, it takes work and patience to garden. Whether your garden is on a balcony in an urban environment, a windowsill, a few pots, or a large scale vegetable or flower garden on a suburban block or a rural farm. Gardening requires the same skills for all types of gardens. What is it that gardeners with a green thumb do differently? The skills below will make it easier to develop that ‘green thumb’.

You can plan ahead but the unexpected will happen and it’s not always a bad thing. Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.

Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia

Develop the skills to be a green thumb?

  • Understand that Nature is the real gardener and as such we just set up the conditions so that the bacteria in the soil can do its job.
  • Understand the climate of the region you are in and what grows well.
  • Learn the basics of soil and general plant requirements.
  • Decide how much time you can give to the garden so you don’t take on too much.
  • Decide what you want. Do you want a full-scale large garden or a small succulent garden? Are indoor plants your thing or a vegetable and kitchen garden? Or do you want a rose garden or a cottage garden? A formal garden or a more relaxed garden around an entertaining area?
  • Once decided analyse the soil.
  • Learn the basics first and get to know what you do best?
  • Stick to the chosen type of garden and remain on track.
  • Garden with a sense of purpose and a plan.
  • Get to know exactly what your plants need in your area.
  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • Learn to multitask.
  • Water well and wisely.
  • Always mulch.
  • Don’t be a fair-weather gardener, plant for all four seasons.
  • Enjoy the garden.
  • Ask the experts for advice.
  • Share knowledge and plants with friends.
  • Remember gardening is all about change, what works one year may not work the next. It is a series of mistakes but that is how one learns.
A fern that keeps on growing at the back door of the farm.

It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. 
You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not. 

W.C. Sellar & R.J.Yeatman in Garden Rubbish 1936
Blooms in my garden last Spring 2018

Growth takes time. Be patient. And while you’re waiting, pull a weed.

Emilie Barnes
Last year’s blooms in the French Garden 2018

There is no mystical special gift a green thumb has and there are no gardeners that don’t kill plants from time to time. Everyone has disasters and make mistakes perhaps by planting things in the wrong place or not watering enough or too much. Gardening is a science and an art. We can all learn to have green thumbs as long as we remember that gardening is usually a series of failures and mishaps with the occasional triumph and success thrown in.

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.

May Sarton
The French garden last year 2018

“In Santa Fe her whole yard had been crowded with different-sized terra-cotta pots, out of which she grew everything from rosemary and lavender to ornamental pear and plum trees and even peppers, although they were not particularly popular with the bees.
In Colorado she’d created a fertile oasis out of old gas cans and cut-off oil drums. Her neighbors had been skeptical to begin with but once her creepers grew up and her flowers draped down and her shrubs fluffed out, the junkyard ugly duckling was transformed into the proverbial backyard swan.”

Sarah-Kate Lynch, The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners

Words and Images Di Baker 2019 Header Image Le Pigonnet Garden France 2019. First Image is a regional NSW town garden of a local Green Thumb. Top quote is from The Quote Garden H Fred Dale.

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