Sunday Opinion: Guaranteed

A garden comes with no real guarantee of success-just like everything else in life.  Gardeners buy plants-some work and take hold, some fail.  Some succumb to poor placement.  Some lack for water too long, and die.  Some rot and keel over from too much water.  Some cannot handle that once in ten years and especially vicious winter.  Some languish on for years, and finally give up.  Some plants die for no reason that you or I, or any other good gardener can figure out.  Some relationships just do not work. 

 A tree that is planted too deep will never grow out of that insult.  A maple in the right of way might take 35 years to die from girdling roots, but die it will.  A black walnut in a neighboring yard, 80 feet away from your spruce, is an unseen threat to your spruce.  Japanese beetles can defoliate your roses and lindens.  Anthracnose is a disease that kills dogwoods, and London Plane trees.  Impatiens downy mildew killed thousands of plants in my area this summer.  More than likely, this fungus will live over the soil where those impatiens were planted.

Late spring frosts, high winds, ice, drought-there are no end of natural conditions that conspire to kill your plants.  A kid rides a bike over your prize lilies.  A tree drops a huge rotten limb on your house-who knew it was rotted?  Disaster can happen in the blink of an eye.  The life of a garden is a big fluid situation for which there is no insurance policy available. 

 The salesperson who sold me my Chevy Suburban in 2004 wanted to go over the warranty agreement-line by line.  I was patient about that time I spent with her, but in my heart I knew it was my responsibility to maintain that truck.  I knew the vehicle would run a long time, provided that I provided the care it needed.  Parts wear out.  Fuses blow.  Electric windows quit working.  Oil leaks out onto the driveway.  All of this mayhem is to be expected.    

Nurseries, garden centers, and landscape professionals all have their individual version of a warranty on plants.  I warranty, and guarantee that I have placed plants properly.  I guarantee the health of the plants at the time of planting.  I guarantee that I have placed plants properly.   I go on to guarantee any situation in which is is impossible to determine what went wrong.  My clients are really great people.  Honoring a guarantee can be a way of saying thank you.  It is a way of saying I am in this with you-through thick and thin.  

I can guarantee that if you plant new trees or shrubs, and do not water them by hand, regularly, no doubt you will have problems.  I can guarantee that the smallest annual and perennial plants require the most attention.  A newly planted perennial lacking one moment too long for water can die.  A big tree, with an appropriately big rootball, might outlast and take hold in spite of intermittent care.    I can guarantee that any garden reads as the sum total of the care given to it.  I can guarantee that if you take on more than you are able to maintain, problems will arise.  I can guarantee that if you run your sprinkler system 2 times a day, and every day, plants will die.  A tree that sheds all of its leaves, or fails to leaf out-you need to call the doctor.   

Guarantees apply primarily to washers, garbage disposals, roofs, bed springs, phones and Chevies-mechanical devices.  Not living things.  Even so, I marvel that any manufacturer guarantees a device that they have no way of tracking.  Your doctor should be a great scientist, and an inspired diagnostitian.  Even if she is all of the above, she cannot guarantee a happy and care free outcome for your health.  No one will ever care about your health, your chevy, your washing machine or your myrtle topiary as much as you do.  Take care of all of the above.  At the first sign of trouble, ask for help.

 As for the garden, I would advise that you take charge.  From the day that landscape or garden is planted.  Clients hire me to design and plant. Beyond that,  I go the extra mile.  I coordinate with the irrigation contractor.  I swing by frequently for a few weeks.  I stay in touch.  I am happy to be a backstop.  Some clients contract for 6 months of supervision.  This says more about their sense of responsibility than their lack of attention to that landscape.  Lots of my clients are very busy people-should they ask for help, I give it.  In the end, most every gardener owns their own problems.  That includes me.  I have many times in hindsight kicked myself for the loss of a plant that I could have easily provided for.       

My advice? Be presidential.  Run your landscape as it should be run.  Self insure-it will free up your energy to do what you love best.  The time it takes to establish blame for a struggling garden is wasted time.  That negative energy-who wants to be stained by that?   Admit your failures, and move on.  Gripe all you want, and apply what you have learned to the next step.  

For sure, no one else will treasure your garden like you do.  Your garden is first and foremost your garden.  Take ownership.  Guarantee your committment.  Guarantee to learn from your failures.  This is what gardeners do.         



  1. Moved my own mature sasanqua. It died. ME, an expert.

    Spoke with a mentor, now 95. She asked if I had put rocks/bricks atop the root ball.

    WTF. No.

    Did anyone ever tell me this? College, books, radio, magazines? NO.

    Loved this sasanqua more than anything. Dead. Ha, it’s still dead. The replacement, out my bedroom window, fine but not the original.

    Moral? Even experts experience plant mortality.

    Learning message? Winds rock new roots. Put rocks or bricks on a transplanted rootball to protect new roots or guy-wires. FYI, I didn’t think this size transplant needed guy-wires. UGH.

    Disgusting, my story is years old & I still regret that ‘Setsugekka’ sasanqua.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  2. Hello Deborah.
    My plans for today have been entirely destablised by the discovery of your beautiful website and blog. Your work is so refreshing. Thank you.

  3. I’m with Rose. Who knew a simple search for Arborvitae Nigra would land me on such a wonderful blog? Count me as a new fan.

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