“Oh, good to see you have weeds too,” said my neighbor as we walked through my vegetable garden. I’ve felt just like that when visiting other gardens, haven’t you?

Here’s a fact that should give all of us a feeling of relief: In the best gardens and on the best farms that I’ve visited, there are still weeds and pests and other things going wrong. You are not alone. Don’t let photos in books and magazines — and on websites like this! — give you unrealistic expectations for your garden.

On any given day, I am winning some and losing some out there. Today, most of the tomatoes that I planted a few weeks back are growing well.

Healthy ‘Sunrise Bumble Bee’ tomato plant.

But one is suffering.

Unhealthy ‘Juliet’ tomato plant.

I’d noticed slight browning on the edges of the plant’s lower leaves when I bought it, and I know better than to buy a tomato plant with anything but impeccable foliage, but I thought it was so slight as to not be from actual disease. Now I see I was probably wrong.

We had a good winter of healthy heads of broccoli and cauliflower with very few aphids.

Head of cauliflower harvest in January 2020.

I think that was partly due to the luck of the weather and partly due to my diligence at rogueing plants with infestations. (See my post, “Dealing with aphids on broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.“)

But soon after my neighbor noted that I also have weeds the other day he asked, “What are those big plants next to the broccoli that is bolting?”

Bed of broccoli.

They are another type of broccoli, “purple sprouting broccoli,” and they have grown bigger than any broccoli plants I have ever seen. Finally, a couple weeks ago they began sprouting purple florets, which are dazzling in appearance.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

“But they don’t taste great,” I told my neighbor. “Not as good as other types of broccoli. My kids snack on all the other broccoli plants but don’t eat these ones.” And now they’re getting a bunch of aphids inside the florets to boot. Win, lose, lose.

There are many more winners and losers in the vegetable garden today, but how about among the fruit trees? I have a reliable Blenheim apricot tree. It is done blooming now, and the fruitset looks as heavy and healthy as every year before.

Blenheim apricot tree in bloom, March 1, 2020.
Apricot fruitlets, March 19, 2020.

That tree is a winner. On the other hand, you don’t want to look at some of my avocado trees. There was a night in early February that dropped to 25 degrees, and it caused my Reed to die back at branch tips and shed 110 avocados.

Ugly Reed avocado tree with dropped fruit due to cold.

While some other small avocado trees look half dead.

Hard to look at this poor little GEM tree.

I stopped using Instagram recently. One reason is that it felt natural to try to take and post photos of beautiful things (e.g. the bloom of my apricot) but never the ugly things right beside them (e.g. the sickly young avocado tree). This was pleasing to the eye, but really it is a lie.

And it is unhelpful. It’s not helpful to only get half the story. And in fact, usually you can learn more by taking a look at what’s going wrong than what’s going right.

I’ve tried doing this from time to time with Yard Posts that I’ve titled, “Oh, the mistakes I’ve made: . . .”

( . . . Not thinning enough fruit from a plum tree.”)

( . . . Planting vegetables at the wrong time.”)

( . . . Thinking flowers were for girls.”)

My yard is not perfect and neither is anyone else’s. Let’s not pretend that having zero weeds or growing everything successfully is even a goal that we want to achieve. How boring that would be!

If everything were growing right, wouldn’t that mean that we weren’t trying anything new or learning anything? To me, the testing and discovering is one of the most fun aspects of gardening. 

One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Yeats:

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth,

We are happy when we are growing.”

A list of my Yard Posts is here.

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