Admitting Gardening Mistakes


The unhealthy factor that I bring to our marital garden design dynamic is a resistance to change and a unwillingness to admit mistakes. Take, for instance, the stone fruit trees in our front yard. The “new normal” that climate change has brought to our region–fewer chill hours and drought–has greatly diminished the health and productivity of most of our stone fruit. It’s time for those trees to go and for the execution of a more coherent and attractive landscape plan. As Hermann von Pückler-Muskau advises in his 1834 book Hints on Landscape Gardening,

I know of nothing more pathetic than when a failed detail is allowed to remain as an eyesore in a completed project, rather than being removed and replaced by a better idea, simply because it has already cost such and such in the first place, and changing it might cost again as much. . . Once changes have been found advisable, though, it is also dangerous to put them off, for whatever is incorrect in the current situation will likely show up again in the execution of the new project.

Gardening requires a ruthlessness and lack of attachment that I often don’t have the stomach for. Sometimes you have to embrace creative destruction and curse that fig tree (or, in our case, curse the diseased and unproductive Nectaplum tree; the fig is doing just fine).

Time to get started . . .

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  1. I resemble this. 😐

    It seems like you and Kelly have been having a discussion lately that I have started thinking of as Permaculture Phase 2: now that we’ve initially tried all these good ideas, how do we come up with permanent solutions for *this* space? And that involves editing…not my favorite thing, either.

  2. It’s so painful to remove established fruit trees knowing it’ll be at least a couple years until new plants bear fruit. 🙁

  3. I just had to deal with a mistake this week.The Hawthorne tree I planted years ago was in the wrong place because I made an error. It has been ailing for years, but I don’t like cutting down trees….when our planet needs trees. I feel like a killer, but it came down yesterday.
    Now that I’m older(and hopefully wiser) I do a lot of research before planting.
    Of course when the climate changes….your planting research does you no good.

  4. I would never cut before:
    Being really sure that the tree has no hope (the climate is erratic nowadays maybe it will also have good years)
    Making sure is not a soil problem
    Trying grafting some different varieties
    Planting the replacing tree years before cutting the old one

  5. I worked for an agricultural plant breeder (grasses, clover, and other grazing plants) for a few years. If you have a single sentimental cell in your body, it isn’t the career for you.

    • Hi ET, I’m working on an alternative to Amazon but it’s going to take some time. I tried the Powells affiliate program for several months but it was not popular. Right now Amazon pays for the hosting costs and for our webmaster but not much more. What I’m looking at doing is producing some short books, teaching more classes and maybe a Patreon campaign to wean us off of Amazon. But these ideas are going to take some time to implement. That article today provided a push, though. I’m really not happy with our Silicon Valley overlords.

    • I too read that article and have begun using Abe Books more. I buy books that I cannot get at my local county library. Abe books supports the local independent book sellers. Or at least that is what I was told by an independent seller up in Crestline. Also I am going to try and take note of where the used books on Amazon are coming from. They often offer to buy back books I have purchased from them and those probably go to one of their warehouses to sit until someone else orders it. Powell sells through these other companies. I love Powell. I miss Acres of Books in Long Beach. I know buying used and going to libraries does not help authors to make any money. Sorry. I did buy YOUR books new from Amazon when they came out!

    • Sorry I did not mean to hit the post button before I put in my name. It came up as ‘anonymous’.

  6. I hate to take out trees that are not doing well. I am not the toughest gardener and tend to think, ‘poor thing…maybe you will come around.’ So what I have done a couple of times is leave the tree that is struggling (I take out anything diseased right away!)and I put the new tree next to it. OK, most of my trees are young…under 4 years old so when they die off they are easy to remove. But a couple of times the first tree has pulled through with a companion and in a couple of places I have several fruit trees growing too close to each other but so far seeming to be happy. Maybe in a couple of years I will have to decide which is the better one. But then too I have had spots in my yard where I have done planting after planting and nothing wants to live in that spot. But I am forever optimistic! We need all the trees we can get! Good luck with what ever you decide.

  7. I have to admit I get very sentimental about trees I’ve planted. I see that they provide shelter and shade, structure for the rest of the garden, and other intangibles that go beyond the fruit they should provide but maybe don’t. In the past I’ve waited until a tree showed clear signs that it was dying anyway before taking it out.

    I must admit I have a nectarine tree that is very old, still green and leafy but non-productive, that I’m thinking of removing. It’s the first tree I planted at our house, when we moved in over 15 years ago. That adds to the sentimental side of the equation. It’s a hard decision – almost like considering putting a old pet to sleep while it still wants to eat. I think I’ll be taking the big step this winter . . . but it will be hard.

  8. Thank you for the nudge. I have a fig tree that is gorgeous and full and beautiful- and hasn’t produced a single fig in two years because it’s in too much shade. It must be moved.

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