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Marigolds with Black Eyed Susans near Birdhouse

May The Best Garden Fail Win

By Jenny

How Failure IS Success In The Garden 

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.

Foot stemping on Marigold flowers
We experimental gardeners know that the next #GardenFail is always underfoot...

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?

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.

Red flower blooming in garden
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.

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.

floating squash plants and the yeild it produced
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.

Chicken Coop light up in winter
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.

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.

Red Squirrel caught in box prior to release
A Red squirrel eagerly awaits his release after eating a delicious donut. After our quick photo shoot, he skipped away, back into the garden.
garden rat caught in veggie hoop house
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.

Wildflower Seeds For Planting