Learning To Garden: How A Friend Started Me Gardening

Several readers share how they introduced their friends to gardening.

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M. Hauber

It all began with my transfer from an office with southern exposure and yards of sills to a reconverted attic office with two postage-stamp north windows without sills.

By the end of September, when I would have had each window sill banked with green, Marge, whose office had lovely windows, showed no signs of using them.

I asked her if she would mind if I put my window box there. Her answer was, “Sure, go ahead, but don’t expect me to care for them. I’ve never successfully grown anything, and I don’t intend to start now!”

After that, I wandered into her office several times a week, watered, plucked, fed, and dusted the plants as they flourished in the light and sun.

Toward the end of May, Marge thrust a large piece of coleus at me.

“Look,” she said, hoping you don’t mind. This broke off as I opened the window.”

That’s all right.” I answered quickly, “Let’s put it in water and soon have another plant.”

I think that struck a spark. First, Marge was concerned, but then her concern became interested, even to the point of taking several plants home for her tiny living room.

As she cared for them and flourished, she found it necessary to relocate them to larger quarters. That resulted in her first outdoor garden venture—a window box.

The blooms and color must have pleased her, for the following September, as I talked about clearing out my garden, Marge inquired, “When do the window boxes come back?”

She didn’t want to part with hers. Following some magazine suggestions, she put small evergreens in the boxes after taking her cutting and was going to leave them in place during the winter.

Her attitude toward plants continued to improve. I still had to snip, dust, and feed, but Marge took care of the watering.

She had gradually become aware that below her second-story apartment window was a small unused plot of land—not very promising, but big enough to hold some experimental blooms.

In the spring, Marge, with the approval of her landlord, began to remove the piles of tins, rocks, and wires.

Her husband helped. They worked in an unhurried atmosphere of leisure and fun.

I began to get daily reports and requests.

“What do we do now? What do we plant in the shade? What will climb up those ugly walls? What shall we plant in the One spot that gets the sun?”

Progress was glowing. They pulled weeds, turned the soil, read garden magazines and books, talked plants—all of which stimulated a new, more animated conversation and interest which Marge brought into the office.

Her first garden was an overwhelming success. There came bunches of flowers —sometimes just one choice blossom to decorate our desks.

The realization that I had introduced one more friend to gardening came with a report from Marge: “My husband’s hands are gathering callouses.”

When I asked why she replied with a tiny air of superiority, “Well, don’t you know how deep you have to dig and how well you have to prepare the soil for rose bushes?”

She had arrived. She was the planner and the builder of a permanent garden.

Frances B. Mason

My friend was morally allergic to earth. It was, he believed, a site to be covered with cement and bricks.

Gardening meant vanity. Seed catalogs were fakes. Farmers never made a living.

He found himself painfully idle when he retired from a very pressing business.

On a strictly temporary basis, I lured him to a spot of earth beside a green and lovely cove, gave him a comfortable chair on the porch, and went to work with a trowel and watering pot in full view.

I stuck a flock of envelopes on sticks with the picture on the front. All I got from the rocking chair was advice.

I would get the backache bending over so much. I was wasting water, and it looked like rain anyway.

Desperately I thought of his fondness for bricks. So I began to plant bricks—in a serrated row along one border.

My friend came down from the porch with a string and a yardstick to show me how to be mathematical.

He laid the bricks neatly around one border in a short time, then started a second.

Two were not geometrical enough, so he made a third. He smoothly raked over all my tender seedlings and reset all the staked envelopes in orderly lines in nice tidy soil between nice tidy rows of serrated bricks.

This order pleased him so much that he purchased some shears to tidy up the shrubs.

Snip. Down went every graceful green branch. He was, he said, raising a view, not bushes.

In the early morning, I crept out and slipped new zinnia and marigold plants into the neat borders.

From open fields, I brought saffron and bouncing Bet ready to bloom, mullein, and spadefuls of Michaelmas-daisy shoots.

Surreptitiously, I soaked all of these with forcing fertilizers, both foliar and root.

When he saw the watering could be used so much, he bought a hose and played rain man so avidly that the bricks guarded lush green splotches of bright bloom and a multitude of interesting buds by August.

The following winter, I caught my friend frequently reading up on fertilizers.

By the time the jonquils bloomed, he was a complete gardener. And I took over the rocking chair on the porch.

Muriel K. Durgin

I often wonder if I should have started my neighbor in gardening.

At least that was one area where she didn’t outshine me. She dressed better, shopped better, kept the house better, and cooked better.

One day, as she watched me pry out crabgrass between violas and sweet-alyssum, she said, derisively, “All I’ll ever try to grow are irises. I have little space and less time. I can plant irises between the fence and the driveway. Just let them alone, and they’ll take care of themselves!”

I was never niggardly in sharing flowers with my neighbor. As she came to know my clove pinks, Oriental poppies, columbines, Fashion, Climbing Talisman, Mirandy, and Blanche Mallerin roses, my friend began to waver in her dedication to irises.

“Climbing roses might do very well along the fence,” she mused.

This was my opportunity to lend her my rose catalogs and McFarland-Pyle’s How To Grow Roses.

She discovered there were roses for even her limited space and started a floribunda collection, which didn’t include the roses she especially admired in my garden.

When Christmas came, I had my favorite rose grower send her a gift announcement that one Fashion, one Floradora, and one Climbing Talisman would reach her at proper planting time.

Meanwhile, because of her continued devotion to the iris, I was on the lookout for iris articles for her.

To my amazement, I found the iris field unexpectedly rich with dwarfs, pastels, and even fragrant varieties instead of the typical “purple flag” I had known.

I wound tip ordering a beginner’s collection while my friend went on to bigger and better irises. When the orders arrived, we swapped several items.

When she mentioned extending her garden activities even further, I gave her plants of violets and pinks, lily-of-the-valley pips, and jonquil bulbs.

She reciprocated with divisions of her dwarf iris. So my next- move was a subscription to a garden magazine for her birthday. 

Now she fertilizes, sprays, dust, digs, and mulches.

Her roses and gladioli are bigger and better than mine. She is debating whether to uproot her trees in the front and back of the house to make room for carnations, lilies, and chrysanthemums or to naturalize spring-flowering bulbs under the trees instead.

This year, it’s “en garde” for our bigger and better competitive gardening!

Mrs. Calvin L. Collins

My dearest friend, Jeannie, was ill and depressed because she couldn’t have a family of her own.

Remembering a school girl trick, I decided to use it to get Jeannie interested in flowers.

The following day, Jeannie received her first surprise package with instructions—a bulb planted in a flower pot.

She remained disinterested, and her husband, Dick, watered the bulb.

But when Jeannie saw leaves appear, she ran to the instruction sheet and read that she should put the pot in the light of a north window. After that, Dick never once had to care for the plant.

Seeing her interest, I gave her another surprise package. This time she immediately started taking care of it herself.

Soon Jeannie learned from the foliage that the first plant was a gloxinia.

When buds appeared, she spent several anxious days until she joyfully saw that they had opened into beautiful velvet red bells.

Not long after, her second plant, a tuberous begonia, blossomed. I had given her other surprise packages containing amaryllis, geraniums, and several African violets by this time.

I discovered Jeannie preparing the ground for a flower bed in the spring. I gave her my scrapbook of plant articles and some of my gladiolus bulbs.

By watching beautiful flowers grow from tiny seeds, Jeannie had something else to think about instead of her troubles.