Gardening and Immediacy

My little one and my father transplanting a Chinese herb

GUEST BLOG by Wendy Kiang-Spray

I had a great neighbor who has since moved away. On day one, he invited us over for empanadas. He and his wife were perfect neighbors for first-time homeowners to have. Old enough to know the neighborhood stories, young enough to hang out from time to time and share a bottle of wine. As we settled in and began to make some changes around the house, the well-intentioned nay-saying began, "The city is not going to take those boards away unless you take all the nails out." "Every piece of tinsel has to be removed or they won't recycle the tree." "You shouldn't go up on the slope because there is poison ivy there." "You can't grow vegetables here because the soil is all clay." It got to the point where I tried to do household tasks at odd hours hoping I wouldn't get caught.

Good thing we're stubborn. My husband didn't remove the nails nor the tinsel, and I both climbed the slope and grew vegetables in the clay.

This posting is a little late, but I attended the International Master Gardener's Conference back in October of 2011. The sessions have been largely forgotten, but I did attend a session by speakers Janet Macunovich and Steven Nikkila. I'm not a handout keeper, and in classes, I prefer to listen rather than take notes, so I probably don't retain as much info as your average attendee, but there are many parts of Janet and Steve's lecture that were so interesting and important and pieces keep coming back to me in my life.

One point they made was about IMMEDIACY. As a gardener, if someone asks you for help, avoid jargon.  SHOW them how to do what they need to do You want to make it do-able for the novice gardener -- and for them to feel the excitement of it. She shared an example of an inexperienced gardener friend who was suddenly motivated to move a tree. And during the worst part of the year to do it! Despite the chance that the tree might suffer or not even make it, she helped him move it anyway. There's an excitement that gets into us -- you're a gardener -- you know this feeling too.

This makes me think of my neighbor. It's true there was poison ivy on the slope. I got a case so bad I went to the hospital (and I'm a tough cookie). But when I got better, I got back on the slope to do more work up there. It's true it's VERY difficult to grow vegetables in clay. But I tried, and then I learned.

This also makes me think of an interaction I recently had at work. Some of our students held a plant sale -- everything was $1! I bought things like chives, ferns, parsley. Great deal. Later, one of my friends (a particularly exuberant friend) bought some seedlings too and was so incredibly delighted about it!  In her box, that she was showing me, she had a lettuce seedling and a beet seedling and was telling me she was going to have fresh salads for her family all summer. I didn't have the heart to tell her that the lettuce seedling wouldn't provide enough leaves for one salad, that the plant would probably bolt in a couple of weeks, and that the one beet seedling she bought would produce exactly one beet. A beet she paid a dollar for. I felt a little badly about not sharing the information, but I thought of my neighbor, and I thought of Janet and Steve.  I figure if she gets her hands dirty and does a little experimenting, she may catch the gardening bug -- it's not difficult. She may complain that the lettuce didn't produce enough to garnish a sandwich. She may ask questions. And that is when I'll show her how to sow her own row of beets and how to start her own salad bed. 

About the Author:
Wendy blogs at She is a high school counselor by day and a landscape architect or possibly farmer in her dreams. She volunteesr as a DC Master Gardener. In spare moments, she is a freelance writer with national publication credits.


It was indeed a very fun article. I really love empanadas and I really wish I know how to do them like your neighbor. Anyway, thanks for the "avoid jargon" advice because I often do that. I tend to get excited and babble explaining things that people who asks for my help got really confuse. I guess SHOW them will help much better. Thanks again.
I am just curious to know how they succeeded growing vegetables in clay soil?
Good question, LMB, I will ask Wendy to chime in.

Jean, same here, easy to go into jargon and think others are with you - showing and doing are a good solution.
Wendy said…
Jean - I agree. And sometimes when I try to give advice, I go off on so many tangents and "well, if this, then this, if that, then that", that I'm sure it's not so helpful in the end!

Brisbane - was not successful growing in clay! Then I tried amending the soil but that did not provide the immediate results I wanted. Finally, I built raised beds and filled them with compost. Of course, I promptly started expanding and the only space I had left was back in the clay, so I've been amending every season. It's taken several years, but each year, the soil gets better and better. Past couple of years, I've been using a product called Bumper Crop that my local Behnke sells. It's on the pricey side, but is pretty good stuff. :)

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