Experts, Experience, and Egg on Your Face


If you are a gardener, the more seasons that pass over the dam the more you realize how much you have to learn. This fact is one of the best reasons for never getting tired of gardening. It is also a reason the "expert" often has egg on his face. About the time you latch onto a hard and fast rule, nature or a unique microclimate shows you how wrong you are to be so pig-headed.

One of the first years growing burning bushes on this exposed hill, there was an extremely cold winter with little snow cover. The compact variety of Euonymus was killed outright or so stunted it took years to recover. The shrub had been planted everywhere and was in great demand, so this novice followed the trend and suffered the loss.

A competitor was overheard saying Red Sunset Maple was not hardy and he had no luck with this swamp maple cultivar. For decades now the Red Sunset Maple has grown well and strong on this location. Conversely, Lindens always get borers and succumb and are no longer planted here. One of the rules learned by such experiences is that there is no rule except to make a logical choice and help it to work.

Recently, someone in Dixfield told of growing a Hibiscus (Rose of Sharon) and Buddlea (Beauty Bush) with success. One reason for this may have been that they were somewhat in a pine grove where frost did not go as deep. Although Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) struggles to survive in inland locations, it grows on this hill in a spot where snow drifts deep and sunlight is filtered. The location is also just below treeline where sweeping winds do not beat the foliage.

If you wish to try marginal plants, meaning anything classified Zone 5 or not guaranteed by your nursery, the best time is early in the season. If they are in the ground by June, your chances of success will be greater. Do your homework in finding what the plant needs for soil, shelter, sun, and so on. Often, gently mounding snow around it the first few winters will help. This writer shunned evergreen holly due to a total lack of overwintering success. Planting in areas with afternoon shade and no wind, preferably near a foundation, proved to be the key. Yet, with foam blankets, white plastic, and Wilt Pruf, they still will not survive a winter on the hill.

Exceptions to whatever rule the expert wishes to make are more the rule. Over the years, large leaf rhododendron of no particularly hardy variety are seen in full sun, exposed to the wind, and flourishing. Two cases are also in sandy soil. No burlap covers them in the winter, nor does snow pile high around them. Most experts would not tell you to plant your large leaf rhodie in such a location.

After many years of regularly eating humble pie, and learning to wear egg on my face gracefully, it is apparent the expert bases his knowledge on experience. Writers, such as Dirr, have more world experience and others to gather information from, and hence are more expert in the general sense. You, the home gardener, are perhaps even more expert in regard to your own property and what to attempt to grow. The true joy is in raising that unique and marginal plant, defying the rules and proudly parading your success.


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Poland Spring, Maine
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