Room For Improvement: Plants Never Lie

By Teo Spengler | February 25, 2021
Image by Ulrika
by Teo Spengler
February 25, 2021

As a novelist and author, I have a close circle of “first readers” who critique early drafts and offer their opinions on what works in the book and what doesn’t. Sometimes I go through several rounds of these reviews before I’m satisfied that the novel is as good as I can make it. 

My plants give me feedback in the same way. It’s just not in oral language. So, to my mind, that’s the real talent you have to develop while gardening: learning to read your plants’ critique of your performance. 

I would hope my plants, under cross examination, would say that I make mistakes but manage to catch them most of the time. I hope they would say that I am paying attention.

Plants Tell It As It Is

I guess it is presumptuous to say that plants never lie, since I haven’t met all of them. But this much I know: my plants, including garden crops, never lie to me. They offer constant feedback that allows me to adjust the care I offer them if I am paying attention.

I have to say right up front that the vast majority of my ornamentals are rescues, and therefore start out very happy with anything I give them. Yes, I’m that person who picks up plants put out with the garbage on Monday mornings. I’m the one on the motorcycle who swerves over to the curb when I see green leaves peeking out of throw-away piles.

But rescues or not, all plants need appropriate care. And sometimes I fall short or just get it wrong. And they can be counted on to let me know.

Listening to Plants

Listening to plants doesn’t usually involve your ears. The other senses play much more important roles. Sight, touch, even taste can sometimes play roles. 

When I forget to water, my plants droop. When I overwater, they rot. When I don’t give them enough sun, they are spindly and the leaves pale. When I give them too much sun, the leaves turn brown and crisp. 

Each type of plant has its own language. Succulent foliage thins down drastically during a drought as they use the water stored in their stems and leaves. My Myer lemon tree drops fruit left and right if it doesn’t get enough sun. Kale grows sparse and meager if I don’t add compost to the garden soil before putting it in. 

I try to listen and like to think I do a pretty good job. What would my plants say about that? They would probably say that she tries hard but there is still room for improvement. I can live with that. 

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