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What is this To help gardeners understand which plants will grow well for them, the entire USA has been segmented into ‘Plant Hardiness Zones’.

May the Best GardenFail Win

boot stepping on flower

We experimental gardeners know that the next #GardenFail is always underfoot...

If you never try, you’ll never gardenfail, which also means that you’ll never learn! So, wear it loud and proud, Gardener, because as far as we’re concerned:

Failure in the Garden = Knowledge in the Garden

What exactly is a #GardenFail?

A #GardenFail is a blunder, misstep, or error in the garden that leaves you with an entirely different set of results than you were hoping for.

It can be as simple as mislabeling a flower or as disastrous as planting your entire collection of heirloom roses on your neighbor’s property. Oops.

And why do we want to celebrate them?

We think that #GardenFails, like all failures, are enormous opportunities to learn, grow, and explore (gardening) on a deeper level. Which is why we think that they deserve way more attention than they’re normally given.

While we may whisper our mistakes to a friend or neighbor, our Pinterest boards and Facebook feeds are much more likely to showcase our successes in the garden.

But why not take pride in your failures? Would it help if we sweeten the pot a little?

This week, we are offering a $25 Gift Certificate to the best #GardenFail!

To enter, share your best (or rather, worst) story in the comments at the bottom of this page.

To get the ball rolling, here’s Jenny, one of our Gardening Experts, sharing her most recent #GardenFails:

1. That ain’t Calendula.

Over the past several years, I’ve allowed a favorite variety of calendula, Strawberry Blonde, to freely reseed itself in one of my garden beds. But this year, I needed to move things around to better suit my overall edible landscaping plans and my beloved calendula desperately needed a new home.

flowering campion

I'm still unsure if the plant on the far right is White or Starry campion. But I know one thing for sure: That's no calendula.

So, I tenderly dug up several seedlings and moved them to a spot where they would complement my red Poppies, purple Salpiglossis and perennial Horseradish. I was excited to see how this combination would look - you could even say that I was feeling proud of my design chops. Calendula and horseradish, side by side? Just brilliant, Jenny.

Strawberry Blonde calendula 

Until I noticed that my Calendula were growing a bit funny. They were way taller than normal, which I attributed to not having thinned them out early enough; this can make plants get pretty lanky and leggy, as they have to fight their way upwards to get their fair share of sunshine.

Eventually reality set in. I had actually dug up and lovingly spaced out a common weed called Campion among my flowers, not calendula. Oops. Gardenfail.

The Upside? Campion roots can be boiled for making a soap substitute. If I'm ever really in a bind, this could come in handy.


2. Floating Squash Plants

One of my biggest, ongoing #GardenFails has to do with the way I sited my garden, way back when. Generally speaking, my yard is really flat, except for some shallow depressions. While this may not read like much on paper, these low spots can hold water for-ever on top of my clay soil.

I went so far as to try and correct this issue by renting an excavator and ordering several piles of ingredients to blend together, including sand, compost and mulch. In my own head, once I replaced the dense clay soil with my ‘special recipe’, water would drain like a charm and I would no longer need to drag out the wet-vac for siphoning standing ponds out of my garden after big rainstorms.


Even though these squash plants floated in water for about three days, they still produced beautifully.

Seven years later, I can assure you that my efforts were a waste of both time and money. Whenever it really rains, any plant in the area has a choice: Sink or Swim. Gardenfail.

The Upside? I have successfully bred a “Swimming Squash” by growing out and saving seeds each year. Climbs and vines, thrives in wet soil; a real natural swimmer. Delicious roasted with butter and salt.

3. Oh Rats - this one might just be an unsolvable #GardenFail

Brace yourself, things are about to get really real, really fast, because I have rats. And trust me when I say that even if you call them “Garden Rats”, most people will still think that you are a filthy, dirty human for allowing rats to remain on your property.

The reason I have rats, btw, is that I have chickens. We've struggled with storing their grain in truly rodent-proof ways. In fact, the first time that I realized we had a rat problem, was when they chewed through our awesomely-designed trap door pulley system, which allowed us to lock our birds in snug with their food, water and warming lamp on cold winter nights. All we had to do was pull the rope to raise the trap door and then leash-clip it in place to keep our babies locked in with the heat and away from predators.


Our chicken coop has a trap door, a flip-up screened window and a sweet & cheerful flower box.

We felt that we had gone to great lengths to secure the grain away from rodents, but rodents, as it turns out, are wicked smart. So, how do you outsmart one?

During my very first go-round with rats, I did something that I’m really not proud of. I poisoned them.

In addition to the heartbreak and horror of watching them die slow and painful deaths (I will never do that again), I also experienced another huge downside. Before succumbing to the poison, they had stashed as much of it as possible deep into my compost pile. Not good. Not good at all.

Later, I learned that rat poison often makes its way up the food chain, as birds of prey will eat a poisoned rodent that has slowed down under the poison’s early effects, making them easy hunting.

Today (as in literally today), I’m a HavaHart trapper. I’ve read over and over again on the internet that live-trapping any animal is inherently cruel, as relocation itself is most often a death sentence. However, I’m not yet ready to move on to snap-traps, which are arguably the most humane solution to any rat problem as they offer a quick kill. I'm simply terrified of accidentally baiting and killing the wrong animal.


A Red squirrel eagerly awaits his release after eating a delicious donut. After our quick photo shoot, he skipped away, back into the garden.

So far, I’ve only caught two rats in my HavaHarts. I’ve also caught two squirrels and a chipmunk - which makes me extra glad that I didn’t use a snap trap. On many occasions, I find the traps upside down, on their sides, or locked shut with no prisoner. The bait is always missing. Gardenfail.

Yesterday, after thawing frozen dough and allowing it to rise for twelve hours, I baked irresistible chocolate croissants for my rat friends. Today, I plan to stop for some Kentucky Fried Chicken bait on my way home.


Using warm KFC to snag a garden rat in the veggie hoop house. Potatoes on the right, tomatoes on the left.

Did I mention that rats are wicked smart?

I’m unsure how much of a #GardenFail this is in my own eyes, but I can assure you that my neighborhood sees it as top-of-the-list material.

Nobody wants to be the Rat Lady or to live at the Rat House, but if all of my rats were chipmunks (also rodents) would anyone bat an eye? I might even hear the occasional “Aw… it’s got an acorn!” while I’m out weeding my beds.

My gut is telling me that I should just learn to live with my garden rats. I'm too soft-hearted to kill them or to rip them away from the only home they've ever known, especially based on a social stigma. But, I still have some tough questions to answer. Like, how many rats is too many rats?

The Upside? Our local predator population is growing in size. The fox, coyote, weasels and Osprey are incredibly grateful for my 24-hour all-you-can-eat rat buffet. At least they'd better be.

As foolish as every gardenfail has made me feel, I learn something every single time. So for now, I'll keep trying, failing and learning with pride! I hope that you'll join me this week and take some time to celebrate your #GardenFail with us.

How to Enter Your Best #GardenFail to win a $25 American Meadows Gift Certificate:

Now it’s your turn! What’s your #GardenFail? We’ve got a $25 American Meadows Gift Certificate to give out to the best story! Simply share your #GardenFail in the comment box below.

8 thoughts on “May the Best GardenFail Win”

  • chuck patch

    my garden fail this year is :.
    every year i bag my grass and mulch tomato plants ,this has been a go for me for years,when i mulch them they respond in two days and look like they have really grown a lot, and look so much healthier,well this year we got down pours of rain actually 4 " in two days,well all my mulched tomato plants rotted off just above the ground,no not cut worms rot from mulching tight to their stems and at least 6" deep of grass clippings,lucky enough i had 24 extra plants from left overs from my green house ,so got them replanted 3 days later ,so they look ok now ,but learned a valuable lesson here ,extra work ,can't beat it or can i ??

    • Jenny

      Chuck - oh no! That's terrible. I had the same thing happen to the two rounds of sunflowers that I planted from seed. Bummer! Hope the rest of the garden goes better for you - Jenny

  • Kevin Ann

    Well I just want to cry. Planned a 1.5 acre meadow at new home in Chapel Hill. Read everything I could find. Land was old tobacco farm and mix of loam and clay. Put in a very large 6000 gallon pond first and staged rest of land as a meadow. Ordered over $1000 of deer resistant, drought resistant perennial seeds from American Meadows. Tilled the soil in fall and pulled up all the large clumps of crabgrass and other weeds as well as used an organic weed killer. Put down 50 yards of compost. Tilled again in early May (no weed killer or compost) and seeded land using seed mix with sand. Set up 16 hoses and a complicated watering system when we did not get rain.

    It is now July 1. All I can see is crabgrass and Bermuda grass. Is awful after all that work. Think I am out about $6000. I do see some infrequent annuals (I added these to the mix to see if anything was going to grow this year). I just do not know what to do.

    We are on well water and have now 100s of small toads and frogs hopping around. Cannot use chemicals to kill these weeds. Guess I need to start all over and pull up all this weed grass by hand? I will be 60 years old before this happens. What can I do? Please help.

    • Jenny

      Kevin - this is a heartbreaking story! I encourage you to call us at (877) 309 - 7333 so that you can speak with Mike, one of our owners and our resident wildflower seed specialist. You can also reach him at mike@americanmeadows.com. - Jenny

  • Elaine

    Late last summer, I purchased several bags of Wildflower Seed to spread as a border to the wooded area at the end of my sloping back yard. We don't have much in the way of color down there because it is usually pretty damp at the bottom of the slope. I created a border about 2 feet wide and went about 30 feet along the edge of the woods. I spread the seeds, tamped them down and was anxious to see what my efforts would produce. 2 days later, we had a rain storm unlike any other in the area. There were imprints in the soil where the river of water had washed away pretty much everything in it's path, including all of the wildflower seeds. I figured all was lost and I would just wait until spring and try again. Well, some of the seeds took root and I do have some poppies that have grown in the prepared area, but much to my surprise, we now have color popping through where the tall grass is just beyond the woods edge. Not where I initially planted but those seeds that were relocated by the washout are doing great!

    • Jenny

      Elaine - well there's a silver-lining story! I hope that you get a chance to try again and get to see your flowers blooming right where you had planned them. Happy Gardening - Jenny

  • Kathy

    My worst mistakes have led to a constant nightmare in my garden. We bought our house with Bishop's Weed - very common among all the village houses here - planted alongside the house. In my early ignorance of this obnoxious weed, I actually propagated a patch alongside our then deck. I thought, great, ground cover! Ground cover describes it mildly. I now have this weed all over my garden and it is impossible to get rid of without killing the ground and everything in it. Oh, but no, I didn't stop there! I planted a blue spruce tree that came with a "lovely wild morning glory." Since I had a chain link fence at the time that I absolutely hated to look at, I decided to plant the "morning glory" alongside it to grow up it and cover it up. The "morning glory" is known as Field Bindweed. I now have a monster of Bindweed growing throughout my entire garden winding around all my precious plants and it is nearly impossible to get rid of. With roots that reach up to 20 feet (!) and seeds that last for 20 years (!), I doubt I will ever see the extinction of this weed. I am great at creating my own problems, apparently. Perhaps I should just let it go and see if the Bindweed chokes out the Bishop's Weed or vice versa?

  • Amy

    so my silly garden fail was when I thought I was so smart. It was raining a fine beautiful mist. (In Santa Fe,NM this is rare and very exciting-which gave you the feeling that anything is possible). I had gathered many wildflower seeds over the year-some bought others collected and was planning what to do with them. My great idea was to run out in the rain and spread my many bags of seed all over my eroding hillside. I ran out in the beautiful rain and ran up and down my hill gleefully dancing around sowing my treasures in the mud. I came in the house covered in mud exhlilarated and content that I had just created a masterpiece on my hill. Then I heard my phone ringing both home and cell at the same time. My neighbor was on the line "Amy! I dont know whats happening but you need to look out at your hill! It is covered and I mean covered with birds!

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