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Green thumbs up for 2008

Unlike most Americans who planned to lose weight, quit smoking and get organized, last year I made new year's resolutions about gardening, determined to kick some bad habits, improve my skills and enjoy a more beautiful, environmentally friendly landscape. If you read my story, perhaps you set goals for yourself, too.

If we're like the majority of 100-million Americans who make resolutions each year, we start out with a bang but end the year less motivated. Some of us even forget what we had resolved to accomplish in the first place.

So how did we do and what did we learn"

1. Have more fun in the garden. I did! For starters, I finally admitted that my yard would never be perfect, nor did I want it to be. I experimented with different plants and added color to my garden with whimsical touches such as colored glass marbles, ceramic mushrooms and little garden fairies. I hung bright starfish on a fence that I bought for 10 cents apiece at the Macy's prop and display sale, which is held each spring in Tampa. I actually enjoyed having the kids pick my flowers instead of shooing them away.

2. Stop complaining about gardening chores. I reduced my workload in the yard by replacing nearly all the turf grass with ground cover, laying about a half-inch of newspaper under mulch to thwart weeds, cutting back on time-consuming and expensive annuals and using lower-maintenance plants.

3. Be smarter when using hired help. I'm convinced that the best way to find good help is word of mouth. I use only one professional to help with tasks that are too dangerous or physically impossible for me to accomplish. I pay only when the work is completed to my satisfaction.

4. Swap plant clippings with neighbors and friends. I've been the recipient more often than the giver, thanks to so many generous gardening friends. But I learned that too much of a good thing isn't a good idea. I planted so many freebies in my yard that it was becoming a maintenance nightmare. Perhaps it's better to give than receive.

5. Take better care of my tools. Oops. I did manage to install a system in the garage to hang my tools, but sharpening and cleaning them regularly hasn't been happening. How hard can it be to fill a big bucket with sand mixed with oil, then immerse tools after each use to keep them in tip-top shape" Of course, there's always St. Petersburg's Green Thumb Festival in the spring and other gardening events where professionals sharpen tools for a nominal fee.

6. Have more patience. I'm known among my gardening friends for my penchant for immediate gratification in the garden. That's a nice way of saying that I overplant. I tried my best this year; if I crowded new seedlings, I transplanted some of them to other parts of the yard. To save money, I bought smaller plants (they're priced by container size) and started new plants with my own cuttings.

7. Be nice to the environment. Getting rid of almost all turf grass was the most effective way to cut out using chemicals. I'm still using time-release fertilizer pellets: I have a lot of palms that must have added nutrients to stay healthy in Florida soil. It's easier to keep plants healthy and disease-free by feeding them. I've used a lot of organic fish emulsion, especially on herbs and vegetables. It doesn't smell good, but the plants love it. I usually battled mosquitoes with outdoor electric fans (they are poor fliers against a breeze) and garden incense sticks instead of chemicals. I did, however, use doughnut-shaped Mosquito Dunks (which contain Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt) in standing water and granules in the water-filled cups of bromeliads.

8. Support our local gardening community. I've discovered some wonderful locally owned garden centers in the past year and learned a lot about plants and products from their owners. Downtown St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market regularly offers robust plants for sale at good prices.

9. Spend more time with your family in the garden. Last year's vegetable garden was a hit with the kids, and they actually ate more broccoli, green beans and carrots if they helped pick them. Now if I could just find a way to install a computer in a flower bed, I might be able to coax my husband to spend more time outdoors.

10. Learn to live with Mother Nature. There really is no fighting Mother Nature, so don't even try. It's actually nice turning control over to a power greater than my own. It doesn't mean I can't prune, transplant and shape my garden the way I like it, but a garden is an evolving, forever-changing place. It's best to change and grow along with it.

The year just past was a good one, with some successes, but there's still room for improvement. I'm repeating last year's resolutions in 2008, determined to share the joy of gardening with family, friends and readers even more.

But I'll add one more resolution, inspired by the Babylonians 4,000 years ago. Their most popular New Year's resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. In that spirit, I'll make sure any tools and supplies are returned to their owners — perhaps along with a cutting or two from my garden.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.

Unlike most Americans who planned to
lose weight, quit smoking and get organized, last year I made New Year's resolutions about gardening, determined to kick some bad
habits, improve my skills and enjoy a more
beautiful, environmentally friendly landscape. If you read my story, perhaps you set goals
for yourself, too. • If we're like the majority of 100-million Americans who make
resolutions each year, we start out with a bang but end the year less motivated. Some of us even forget what we had resolved to
accomplish in the first place. • So how did we do and what did we learn"

1Have more fun in the garden. I did! For starters, I finally admitted that my yard would never be perfect, nor did I want it to be. I experimented with different plants and added color to my garden with whimsical touches such as colored glass marbles, ceramic mushrooms and little garden fairies. I hung bright starfish on a fence that I bought for 10 cents apiece at the Macy's prop and display sale, which is held each spring in Tampa. I actually enjoyed having the kids pick my flowers instead of shooing them away.

2Stop complaining about gardening chores. I reduced my workload in the yard by replacing nearly all the turf grass with ground cover, laying about a half-inch of newspaper under mulch to thwart weeds, cutting back on time-consuming and expensive annuals and using lower-maintenance plants.

3Be smarter when using hired help. I'm convinced that the best way to find good help is word of mouth. I use only one professional to help with tasks that are too dangerous or physically impossible for me to accomplish. I pay only when the work is completed to my satisfaction.

4Swap plant clippings with neighbors and friends. I've been the recipient more often than the giver, thanks to so many generous gardening friends. But I learned that too much of a good thing isn't a good idea. I planted so many freebies in my yard that it was becoming a maintenance nightmare. Perhaps it's better to give than receive.

5Take better care of my tools. Oops. I did manage to install a system in the garage to hang my tools, but sharpening and cleaning them regularly hasn't been happening. How hard can it be to fill a big bucket with sand mixed with oil, then immerse tools after each use to keep them in tip-top shape" Of course, there's always St. Petersburg's Green Thumb Festival in the spring and other gardening events where professionals sharpen tools for a nominal fee.

6Have more patience. I'm known among my gardening friends for my penchant for immediate gratification in the garden. That's a nice way of saying that I overplant. I tried my best this year; if I crowded new seedlings, I transplanted some of them to other parts of the yard. To save money, I bought smaller plants (they're priced by container size) and started new plants with my own cuttings.

7Be nice to the environment. Getting rid of almost all turf grass was the most effective way to cut out using chemicals. I'm still using time-release fertilizer pellets: I have a lot of palms that must have added nutrients to stay healthy in Florida soil. It's easier to keep plants healthy and disease-free by feeding them. I've used a lot of organic fish emulsion, especially on herbs and vegetables. It doesn't smell good, but the plants love it. I usually battled mosquitoes with outdoor electric fans (they are poor fliers against a breeze) and garden incense sticks instead of chemicals. I did, however, use doughnut-shaped Mosquito Dunks (which contain Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt) in standing water and granules in the water-filled cups of bromeliads.

8Support our local gardening community. I've discovered some wonderful locally owned garden centers in the past year and learned a lot about plants and products from their owners. Downtown St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market regularly offers robust plants for sale at good prices.

9Spend more time with your family in the garden. Last year's vegetable garden was a hit with the kids, and they actually ate more broccoli, green beans and carrots if they helped pick them. Now if I could just find a way to install a computer in a flower bed, I might be able to coax my husband to spend more time outdoors.

10Learn to live with Mother Nature. There really is no fighting Mother Nature, so don't even try. It's actually nice turning control over to a power greater than my own. It doesn't mean I can't prune, transplant and shape my garden the way I like it, but a garden is an evolving, forever-changing place. It's best to change and grow along with it.

The year just past was a good one, with some successes, but there's still room for improvement. I'm repeating last year's resolutions in 2008, determined to share the joy of gardening with family, friends and readers even more.

But I'll add one more resolution, inspired by the Babylonians 4,000 years ago. Their most popular New Year's resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. In that spirit, I'll make sure any tools and supplies are returned to their owners — perhaps along with a cutting or two from my garden.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.

Green thumbs up for 2008 03/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 11:26am]
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