On Terms With My Garden

We have reached week nine of my twelve week class in gardening and the topic for this week’s session is about herbaceous plants. This is the proper title given to those plants, whose leaves and stems die down to the ground at the end of the growing season. And these can be further divided into annuals (those plants whose live cycle lasts only one year), biennials (those whose life cycle covers two growing seasons), and perennials (those plants who charm us year after year and make the gardening process easier by living such long lives. This means we do not have to repeatedly exhume them and plant new tenants like we do with annuals and biennials).

All three categories of plants can be further divided into two major categories; those which are tender and those which are hardy. Tender plants are susceptible to frost whereas the hardy plants can even endure a little snow on the leaves and still look good as the onset of winter becomes ever more evident. Despite the beauty of the tender plants, in Wisconsin hardiness is a virtue, which means you tend to see more of them in the gardens of us amateurs, whose own tender sensitivities require the support of hardy plants to dispel the onset of despair as a result of our fruitless labors.

All three categories of plants can be even further divided by family type, then genus, specie and cultivar (aka variety). The nomenclature for what we are doing when we dig in the dirt, plan, plant, water, weed and hopefully harvest has become overwhelming for me, however. Nine weeks in, with three sessions yet to go, and I realize I am lost in the jargon of what is supposed to be a pleasant pastime. And just like meeting someone, whose face I remember but whose name escapes me without any chance of recovery, plants and pests in general, plant and pest parts specifically, have eluded my memory and its diminishing capacity.

This is very discouraging as there will be a test at the end of the class. I need a passing grade in order to attain the certificate, which will proclaim my status as a Wisconsin Master Gardener Volunteer. Of greater concern for me, however, is that as I do my best to tend that little nature preserve I call my garden, I am not and perhaps never will be on a first name basis with the plants, trees and shrubs I am committed to care for.

“Hey you” will be just as common in my discussions with my flowers and vegetables as it is with my relationships with people. Things, whatca-may-call-its, and do-hickies will abound despite the best efforts of our instructor to impart knowledge and insight into my attempts at making the illusion of another Eden on earth. My only consolation will be the depth of my appreciation for the beauty and bounty that may come despite my inability to remain on friendly terms with those green and leafy thing-a-ma-bobs, which make it all possible.

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