Whom can you trust?


I once had a neighbor who earned a Master Gardener title by attending a series of classes. She had never grown a single broccoli plant, but she was quite free with gardening advice. After one annoying visit, I never invited her back.

Alas, the world is full of books, magazines, websites, and social media, all claiming  to tell gardeners the right plants to grow in our vegetable gardens and the right way to grow them.

It’s not that the ocean of garden advice is ill-intended; even my annoying neighbor meant well. But there are reasons to take all garden advice – including what you find here – with several grains of salt.

Most garden publications, on all platforms, are not written for our climate, which is similar only to those of certain regions of Japan, Korea, New Zealand and England. There are arguments about other places, like Bilbao, in the Basque country of Spain, but the point is that no nationally published book is likely to get things right for us. Planting times will be off; recommendations about what to plant will be too.

Some garden advice is just impertinent. Planning guides, such as “How to start a vegetable garden” in the Farmers Almanac, will try to tell you exactly what to grow. The Almanac writers think you should have five tomato plants, 4 zucchini, 6 peppers, etc. And you should grow marigolds to discourage rabbits. Personally, I have never known a rabbit to be that easily discouraged.

And the plant list is just silly. People should grow the vegetables they like best, in my obviously not very humble opinion. If you’re not crazy about zucchini, why grow them at all? In my old neighborhood, my garden mentor grew too many one year, so he snuck around at night putting zucchini on people’s porches. I think that might be a common practice.

(A digression: One early morning in Rome, in a neighborhood near the Vatican, I walked past several handsome, formally dressed waiters sitting in front of a restaurant. They were gathered  around a big basket of fresh zucchini blossoms, stuffing each flower with some wonderful Italian stuff – ricotta, basil and possibly parmesan is my guess – and I fell in love with all of them at once. The next spring I planted too many zucchini.)

But as to the list . . . some will argue that the list is not all bad, because it omits kale, chard, and kohlrabi. I will simply stick to my opinion that prescribed lists of what to grow are a bad idea no matter what’s on them. The highest and best use of garden space is to grow food that pleases you and yours, even if that means an entire garden planted to carrots and cucumbers. Or kale.

So who can you trust for good advice? There are a few good books written for our climate.  There are also good books about native flowering plants that do well in gardens. 

But really, though I enjoy reading certain garden authors, if I were a new gardener, I’d go visit people whose gardens are thriving. If you’re polite and respectful, the pea-patch at Panorama can be wonderful. It’s important not to be intrusive, but people gardening there have miles of experience and are more likely to invite you in than to chase you off.

Any other pea-patch in town will also have some stand-out plots, and even if their gardeners aren’t around, you can learn a lot by looking and comparing.

In the garden world, we need less writing and more looking, talking and doing.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com


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