I stopped to get my morning coffee at a little place not far from home. Sharing the same parking lot was one of the big home improvement stores. You know the one, a cavernous place with lots of pallet racks and forklifts. So, with my coffee in hand, I took a walk.
Just inside the entrance to the garden department was a display of vegetables. As I'm sure you know, vegetable gardening is the fastest growing segment of gardening. It seems everyone nowadays, from Michelle Obama to the guy next door, has at least a few vegetables tucked somewhere in the garden.
Ah, the vegetable display. There's something soothing about peeking through the little vegetable starts early in the morning. Let's see what I should be planting this weekend. My choices today were seven different varieties of peppers, a large medley of about 20 varied tomatoes, two eggplant selections, a cucumber, both pole and bush beans, a couple of squash options, a melon, corn and a whole lot of basil.
"Hmmm, I think I'd better write a column about this," I thought to myself, as I stood there in dismay.
Here's the problem: In the past year or two, legions of nongardeners have taken up growing vegetables. These people are new to gardening; they're novices to shovels, soil, hoses and growing plants. These beginners need a few positive experiences in order to sustain their enthusiasm, to keep them planting, and to expand their gardening activity into other areas of the landscape.
As I stood reviewing the offerings, a lady came through the front door and immediately made a left turn directly to the large vegetable display. She was clearly a busy person, probably a mom. She knew her way around the department and certainly had been there before. With an empty shopping cart, she began her selections — some peppers, beans, a couple of tomatoes, a basil or two, and several other vegetables.
I imagined that soon she would be home, with gloves on and spade in hand, planting her new crop. She would then spend the next few weeks tending to her young transplants, waiting for the bounty of healthy, fresh, seasonal vegetables for her and her family to enjoy. Maybe the children would help a little too, getting first-hand experience about the joys of gardening.
Of course, she was doomed to failure.
Missing from her shopping basket were any lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, beets, peas, onions, radish, fava beans, carrots, cauliflower, chard, romaine or Brussels sprouts — the vegetables that should really be planted at this time of the year.
This young gardening newbie was headed toward a disaster in her garden; certainly she would be frustrated by the results of her efforts and her wasted time and money. Would she abandon vegetable gardening altogether?
Maybe. I hope not.
But, this scenario would be played out over and over again by anyone who visited this display.
Not a single vegetable in the display was appropriate for a fall-to-winter vegetable garden in Southern California. She couldn't have possibly succeeded with the choices she was offered.
If this were an automobile repair shop, the state attorney general's office would have shut them down. If it were a pet store, PETA would be picketing on the front sidewalk. A restaurant and the county Health Care Agency would close the doors. But it's just plants; plants that are out of season and doomed to failure.
A waste of money. A tragedy.
I should have said something to her, but I didn't. Perhaps I'm just as guilty as anyone. But what would I have said? Here's this stranger, with a now cold cup of coffee, lingering in front of the vegetable display, giving advice. I can imagine the conversation.
"You know, these vegetables are all out of season," I would say.
"Who are you?", she might have asked, startled by a tall stranger in shorts and an old shirt.
"Oh, I work at another nursery," I could have responded.
Then there would have been this awkward pause, after which she would have probably called over the department manager.
So I said nothing, she checked out, loaded her car and drove away. Maybe I should have said something. I didn't.
I wrote this column instead.
RON VANDERHOFF is the nursery manager at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar.
Could you let me know when the best time to plant a dwarf lemon tree is? I am thinking about a whiskey barrel that could be the home of a Meyer lemon or something like that.
Karen, Newport Beach
Meyer lemon is a great choice; in my opinion it's the best of the lemons for home gardeners. We are fortunate in coastal Southern California to be able to plant citrus just about year-round. So, if you're anxious and just can't wait, go ahead now. Nonetheless, the absolute best time is during the spring or early summer. Since citrus are subtropical, they love warm months and planting at the beginning of this period is perfection.
In a container, I suggest using an especially fast draining, porous soil. Either mix 1/3 pumice into a high-quality potting soil or buy "cactus mix," which will be about the same thing.
ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger's Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Plant Talk at Roger's Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.