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Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 18, Number 4
October 1964

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How to Become an Expert Gardener
G. A. Arrington, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

        Let us assume that you are a gardener and have such things as a garden plot, the essential tools, and a hankering to become known as an expert. Becoming an expert, as treated upon here, doesn't necessarily mean that you have to know everything about gardening, or even most everything. It just means that everyone thinks you do. This is called IMAGE, a discovery made by politicians. IMAGING, of course, in itself requires a degree of real honest-to-goodness know-how and work, plus some expertness. It is not, however, just old fashioned "Sweat of the Brow", "Ache of the Back" pre-IMAGING type of work. It is much more subtle than that. It, as the word implies, includes an adroit use of the imagination. It also requires strict adherence to a security standard of rigorously classifying all image defacing occurrences into the top secret category.
        We will first discuss the basic psychological image-building skills. Admittedly, both image and non-image gardening are fundamentally the same. Admittedly you can grow just as fine plants while calling them by their common names as you can when calling them by their botanical names. But if you do, your image will suffer.
        An important area of horticultural IMAGING is the learning of the Latinized botanical names of all of your plants as soon as possible. One way to accomplish this is to mumble them over and over to yourself while weeding and caring for each variety until it seems quite natural to call it by that name. Then never take guests out into the yard to see your beautiful Forget-me-nots. Take them into the garden to see your beautiful Myosotis palustris semperflorens. Never tell folks about azaleas or rhodies. Tell them about your rare Rhododendron calendulaceum crossed with R. canescens or your good form of Rhododendron metternichii. Never tell folks about your clipped privet. Describe your handsome sheared Ligustrum biota regelianum.
        Never point out the big red berries on your Hawthorne. Call attention to the large, handsome scarlet fruit on your Crataegus phaenopurum cordata. Never let your guard down. Never flounder. If you are asked about a plant that you don't know, or for which you cannot immediately remember the botanical name, do not hesitate. Give an explanation, such as "It is a recently introduced species from the high Himalayas as yet unnamed." Keep this up. Consistency in these matters must be stressed. It is basic to eliciting that first gleam of respect superimposed on the look of ridicule in the eye of your visiting non-image gardener.
        This, of course, is only a beginning. It takes years of IMAGING. Years of careful attention to all the angles to attain an unassailable position as an expert. By this time, however, you will be thoroughly enjoying the process and will occasionally be experiencing heart-warming moments of Ego-glow.
        This brings us to another important area to be studied and mastered. As a gardener you are bound to have plants that look peaked and poorly; plants that look sickly or dead, and are. But your image can't afford this.
        Perhaps it is not your fault. Perhaps there is some minor, almost unheard of, chemical element missing from the soil. Perhaps it is caused by some disease or pest that you bought and paid for when you purchased the plant. Perhaps you got confused by the simple diagnostic clues and remedies given for plants in distress; such as, if the leaves of a plant turn yellow it indicates that there is a deficiency of either nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese or other trace elements, or you planted it too deeply, the soil is too wet, the Ph of the soil requires adjusting, or it has been attacked by a parasitic pathogen, etc., etc.
        Perhaps you don't quite understand such down-to-earth cultural directions as "HARDY WHEN GIVEN SOME PROTECTION." This simply means that in order to have some small measure of success with the plant, never leave it exposed to the amount of sun that it takes to scald it, never let it freeze to death, never expose it to winds that, for this variety, are of a fatal velocity, never let it go through a winter that is more rigorous than it can withstand, never, let it get too dry, never let it get too wet, etc., etc. By far the best cultural advice to the IMAGER regarding this class of plants is: Give yourself the protection. Don't plant it, or if you already have it, get rid of it. It's an image buster.
        Perhaps you don't understand such straight-forward cautions as: PREFERS LIGHT SHADE. This just means that it is necessary to take into consideration the summer temperature ranges and the candle power in lumens associated with your latitude and longitude. Relate these to the number of trees in the area and in turn relate this to the number of cloudy and partly cloudy days during the year. Note: You can neglect the shade provided by standing over your exposure mistakes weeping.
        These are only a few of the perhaps but they perhaps will serve to illustrate the point.
        All is not lost, however, if you failed to recognize and avoid these simple pitfalls, if you happened to make a bad guess and picked the wrong remedy for the right ailment, if you happened to get caught red-handed with some of the resulting sickly looking items before you could dispose of them. As we shall see later disposing of them is the real crux of the matter. However, if you didn't make it in time, it is not a disaster. Proper IMAGING provides for this. Just call your failure by its scientific name, giving a short dissertation on the difficulties experienced when a physiological disorder occurs such as a chlorosis brought about by a deficiency in available trace elements. Then as a further thought diverter expound on how such symptoms are often the result of an attack by the parasitic pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi. On second thought it would be better to refer to the pathogen Rhizoctonia solani as the cancerous Phytopthora fungi, like overly perfect neighbors, are not always socially acceptable. This approach immediately takes the critics' minds off of the failure and diverts them to taking note of your extensive scientific knowledge. Such resort to scientifics is an invaluable image salvaging device. By this means image back-slidings, such as being caught with sick and (lying plants on view, are quickly adjusted to at least a partial image recovery and sometimes, for the more advanced IMAGER, a gain.
        The skills, touched upon above, are a very necessary part of any climb to the expert gardener status and no good IMAGER, worth a bent trowel would be caught (lead without them. They should not, however, be used obviously or indiscriminately. If you should get carried away by your joy and pride in such intellectual accomplishments, it can be fatal to your image. Remember - Admiration for your gardening attainments will never reach their optimum without the injection by you of just the right proportion of humility along the way. Even though you won't feel that way at all, the adroit use of humbleness is an image building necessity. These most necessary psychological skills, however, only supplement the most important point of all in the process of establishing and maintaining your image. This secret has been known to doctors for generations. It's very simple and effective: BURY YOUR MISTAKES. Never commit the error of throwing your mistakes away where they can be found by your enemies, or what is much more dangerous, showing them to your friends. BURY THEM. Learn to use that prime weapon in the arsenal of all serious aspirants to the Expert Gardener Image, the shovel, promptly and efficiently. Be ruthless. If a plant shows even a sign of turning into a mistake, bury it. Never vacillate between burying and trying to nurse it back to glowing health. Nursing invalids, is like most worthwhile bad habits, you grow to love the darn things and "Poof" there goes your image!
        By being religiously persistent in the matter of burying your mistakes, your status as an expert will be practically self perpetuating. In fact, when you have been gardening as long, and have buried as many mistakes as I have, you will find that this system amounts to a constantly effective program of double digging that the English gardeners set so much store by. Think! There is as much nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and trace elements in buried mistakes as in any other organic matter. The more mistakes you bury the higher the organic content, the more cultivated and productive your soil becomes and the happier your replacements are. Finally your whole garden is thriving in a most gratifying and above board fashion. The most beautiful part of it all is that, in spite of your shifty, sneaky, back-handed, unethical intent, this system finally makes an honest person of you.
        You Have Become an Expert Gardener.


Volume 18, Number 4
October 1964

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