Skip to main content

Through Rhody-Colored Glasses

Everybody knows gardeners are positive, happy, simple folk who just want to make the world better, and who could be against that? Yet, in our fervor to do so, we must admit that sometimes we act like fools.

Rhododendron is one plant that fails repeatedly for Scott, thanks to his limestone/clay soil. He'll keep trying, though!

Rhododendron is one plant that fails repeatedly for Scott, thanks to his limestone/clay soil. He'll keep trying, though!

I know that was hard to hear. It wasn’t easy to say. But how else would you describe otherwise bright people who willfully, joyfully suspend all disbelief, again and again, and fall victim to the delusion that this time might be different? That we could get lucky? That we’ll succeed where none ever has? Yep, we gardeners are, and always will be, suckers. Big, dumb dopes. Forever vulnerable to that trap wiser people call wishful thinking. Lord, take pity on us.

And you know I’m not wrong. Who can even count all the sun-loving perennials that perish annually in gardens darker than Hades because we’ve convinced ourselves that limbing up a couple trees in our forest would let in enough light? Conversely, how many shade lovers wither to dust in gardens that shimmer like the tarmac at LAX because the gardener thought a little extra water would see them through? In that last situation, by the way, two strikes. Strike one: the idea that more water would keep those plants alive. Strike two: the deluded gardener thinking they would remember to water more.

And I won’t even go into that whole zone-pushing thing. Or the deer-resistant plant list! And, seriously, has there ever been a time in all of recorded history when a space-challenged gardener didn’t have room for “just one more” container, or lilac, or oak?

Should we call it wishful thinking or do we just call it dumb?

Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so, and here’s why. Who among us has not chosen to believe the ludicrously under-estimated height and width estimates on a plant tag when we desperately wanted a plant we knew we didn’t have room for? I’m guilty. Yep. Been there. Done that. Will surely do it again. Just as I will replace the tenth rhododendron I tortured to death in my limestone clay with an eleventh. And then a twelfth. “A bit more peat this time.” Wishful thinking.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. In the grand scheme of things, a little wishful thinking is pretty harmless. Might cost us money. Cause more work. Some tears. But a swing and a miss ain’t the worst thing in the world. Nope. That would be going down looking, which is exactly what all the dour grumps do.

The important thing is that we have fun, remain hopeful and keep trying. But let’s at least commit to self-deception only when the risk isn’t too high—like killing yet another rhody. Convincing yourself that a giant tree by your house isn’t leaning a little more this year than last? Well, let’s draw the line there.