Dear Mr. Garden Guy,
Why didn’t you stress the importance of soil conditioning?
When we moved into the new subdivision, its lovely laid lawns and planted shrubbery disguised a horrible truth. The builders had stripped the land of its top soil and left only hard packed Georgia clay encased in rocks. Lots of rocks. We had to drench the earth with water, dig down deep, remove a layer of rock. Then more watering-in, more rock removal until finally we were ready to plant. And that was just our mail box!
I wanted a flower garden in my front yard. Could it be done without all this digging into rocks and clay? I turned to you Mr. Garden Guy. You said plant an above ground garden. No digging needed. Oh yeah I was all on that like white on rice! Following your instruction, I carefully mapped out the flower bed, smothered the grass under heavy black plastic, and purchased bags of garden soil and rotted cow manure. I enthusiastically piled layer upon layer of the most beautiful black soil ever! Yet something seemed so WRONG about buying soil in an area known for its rich agriculture heritage. That’s like living on an island and having to buy sand. Sigh. Nevertheless I was ready to plant.
It was then that you reminded me that plants are much like people – some like the sun, others prefer shade, some like to drink, others are teetotalers. Armed with this knowledge, I joyfully set about planting a flower garden that became my pride and joy.
But Mr. Garden Guy you didn’t tell me about caring for my soil’s needs. As the years went by my perennials stopped thriving and my annuals weren’t lasting even a season. Money was wasted buying more plants. They simply died. Even applying liquid fertilizer seemed futile. Like a botanical sugar rush, it gave the plants a brief growth spurt. But then nothing. Stunted plants and devouring insects dotted my once lovely garden. I worried: Could I be losing my “green thumb?”
One day I stooped down for a closer look. Brushing away the mulch, I grabbed a handful of soil. It was no longer the richly black, heavy soil I had laid. Rather it had become an ashy grey, lifeless heap of dirt. My soil was dead! Augh!
I ran crying to you Mr. Garden Guy. You explained that the plants got their nutrients from the soil. But since I never “fed” the soil, it could no longer “feed” the plants. My soil wasn’t dead. It was simply malnourished.
I cleaned out the garden and began feeding the soil. I fed it shovels-full of fresh top soil. I fed it nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
I fed it wood ash, used coffee grinds, diced banana peels and crushed eggshells. I fed it earthworms. Throughout the fall and winter, neighbors smiled nervously as they watch me till, turn and dig into the mound of dirt. I didn’t care. I was determined to nurse that depleted dirt back to life. By spring planting, the harmful insects who thrived in the once nutrient-starved soil were all but gone. And when I saw a tiny black ant making its way home with a slither of eggshell, I smiled. The soil was coming back to life again!
More changes were in store for this flower bed. I will share in a future “letter.”