Fessing up to foibles and failures

Published 7:17 pm Sunday, January 2, 2022

By Felder Rushing

Hewing to my four-decade year’s-end tradition, it’s time for the annual Felder Fesses Up column, in which I slog through a soppy review of my foibles and failures. Trouble is I don’t feel in a confessing mood.

Sure, it was another year of miserable tomatoes, but I managed to harvest at least one every now and then, each celebrated gleefully/gratefully as if it were the only red berry on earth. And once again I failed to follow my own advice and over fertilized so my already too-rich raised bed soil grew loads of sweet potato vines but produced only a few skinny tubers. 

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But the good things outweighed the bad. My truck and its garden were at the front of some parades, and January’s Big Freeze didn’t ruin my garden. New critter-proof fencing protected a bumper crop of peppers, now frozen for winter meals. Next year I’ll just buy better ‘maters from the farmers’ market.

I harvested a lot of salad greens, mostly because they grew too quickly for anything to bother, and I grew so many peas I tired of eating them. But overall I ended up with more zinnias than veggies, which is okay by me and the butterflies.

One sad happening I reluctantly commemorate was witnessing a garden I loved disappear nearly overnight. Just before moving to a new town, an old friend celebrated in my new Maverick Gardeners book had to abandon his little corner “guerilla garden” which had become a community gathering place. However, true to the garden community’s ethos, the plants were quickly salvaged, lovingly carted away by Master Gardeners for their spring plant sale.

I’d even predicted in Maverick Gardeners that gardens like this don’t last long. So why was it sad? It’s hard enough just knowing how ephemeral what we gardeners do is, but for an entire lush garden overstuffed with antique flowers, vegetables, herbs, and vibrant but hard-pressed urban wildlife to disappear nearly overnight was mind- and heart-breaking.

And it reminded me of my own garden’s mortality. It’s true that very few gardens outlive their creators for long and that sooner or later my quirky oases will fall heir to someone else. And my garden style is absolutely not my children’s fashion.

So this year I resolved to take a proactive approach to tone it down while I’m still somewhat in control. Trouble is (seeing as how I’m supposed to be fessing up), I often slip up and overstuff it again with plants, gnomes and other foundlings that catch my fancy.

It’s a seesaw between everything I want and what I know won’t outlast me.

So this year I talked my landscape architect friend Rick Griffin to help outline what we’re calling a “creative deconstructionistic” approach to making my garden both lower maintenance and more enticing to folks with, er, normal sensibilities. More on this later.

Finally, to end on a joy, this year I built bridges with the gardening community by taking my Friday morning MPB gardening program on the road, broadcasting live from a dozen towns across the state, and by joining the over 22,000 members of Mississippi Gardening, one of Facebook’s rare, politely agreeable sites. In a place where newbies, serious dabblers, and seasoned experts find common ground and speak mostly the same language, we share proud accomplishments, ID weird plants and critters, and encourage one another over failures. Though admittedly there are never-ending debates over fire ant control, pressure treated lumber, and whether the antique Philadelphus shrub is called English dogwood or mock orange. Welcome to join us!

Meanwhile, here’s hoping 2022 will bring rainbows to gardeners!