Care for your garden takes seasoning -- 10 seasons' worth, maybe

If you wish success in a garden, experience is crucial. The way to get it is to start right in digging, planting, watering, weeding -- in short, the more involved with the earth and plants we become, the more experience we build up. Also, it figures, the more joy we get.

This year, after 10 round-the-year seasons in the same garden, I am at last able to feel confidence in what I am doing more times than not.Just as important , I have learned to expect the best of my garden, even though from the first it had only a few thingg going for it.

My garden faces the sunny south, it lies next to the house, where it's easy to keep a watch on it, and it has a good fence around it. Everything else, it seemed, was against it.

The soil is transitory, leaching in feathery drifts through the gravelly earth as if through one large, hungry sieve.

As a result, there are two things that you have to do right at the start; (1) bolster up the soil with some kind of boundaries (a rock wall is best) to try to maintain the precious soil from washing down the hill; and (2) feed it.

Building the soil is a continous effort. To aid in the job, make compost. Never waste anything that will decompose into humus. Consider it pure gold.

You would probably never buy an elephant, even if you loved elephants, because of the job of feeding it. Some gardens seem to consume hay, dry grass, compost, and all the rest as fast as any elephant. I suggest, therefore, that you hunt out, collect, and haul in any and all types of mulch makings, whatever you can find or can persuade your friends and neighbors to save for you.

Actually, what many of us have is space. It's up to us to make the garden in the space that we have, and many gardeners have proved that it can be done.

Satisfactory, even wonderful, gardens have been made on old hard roadways; in clay, sand, or adobe soil; over and around tree roots; and on steep hillsides.

Once such a garden is built, however, the gardener cannot go on from there as if he had a piece of ground that was 40-foot-deep loam built over the centuries by nature.

The ground will not let anyone forget that this is "made" ground.

The gardener, for instance, cannot stop feeding it, caring for it; and taking from it but not returning substance to it. If he does, he will soon use up everything that was added to the soil and be right back where the land was when he found it.

I have learned a bit about weather while working in my little garden. In a typical year we may have from 48 to 50 inches of precipitation. Thus, If I need to get into the garden to tie up a straggly tomato vine, plant seeds, or set out a plant, I have learned to lay down boards on which to walk.

Longtime gardeners will tell you that walking on the soft, wet ground, besides muddying up your boots, can cause irreparable damage by compacting the soil.

It didnt't take me long to find out that you can't put a net over plants such as cucumbers and squash, so as to keep moths from laying their eggs on them, because the vines have to be pollinated by insects. A net, however, works fine for cabbage and Brussels sprouts, among others.

I also have second thoughts about using hair for much, as advised by some writers, because it takes too long for the hair to break down into useful fertilizer.

Experience will tell you that a garden can be built and maintained in the most unlikely places, if you have the desire -- and plenty of mulch.

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