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Monday, October 26, 2009

A Gardener's Guide to "Quantities"

I thought it might be helpful to provide a gardener’s guide to “quantities” to help new gardeners speak the language of gardeners with more confidence.

Here are six ways gardeners describe “quantities” and what they mean.

A couple

When a gardeners say they want to get "a couple of" fill-in-the-blank, as in “I think I’d like to get a couple loads of topsoil”, this actually means that they would like to have upwards of eight loads of topsoil or some other quantity that is well more than two. By the way, two is generally not a number that most gardeners understand in buying anything gardening related, especially plants. We are always told to plant in three’s, and two is never enough to do that.

Not too many and not very many

When a gardener says “not too many” in response to someone asking her how many of something she bought, such as flats of annuals, this actually means that she bought one less than she really wanted to buy but way more than any non-gardener could even imagine, but she thinks she can handle the quantity she bought. The same applies to buying not too many seeds, not too many bulbs, not too many hoes, or not too many gardening magazines. Note, “not very many” is often used instead of “not too many” and is in fact often preferred because it implies a lesser quantity but may in fact be the same amount as “not too many”. It’s a subtle difference to keep in mind.

A few

What a gardeners say “a few”, in reply to a question like “how many bulbs did you buy”, they deliberately leave off a vital piece of information, “the what”, because a vague answer takes far less explaining than “a few dozen” or “a few hundred”. So keep in mind that “a few” always refer to another larger quantity amount like a dozen, a hundred or even a thousand.

Not as many as I wanted to get.

We all know that “not as many as I wanted to get” generally refers to a quantity that most non-gardeners would not understand so again, most gardeners make no attempt to further explain it. For example, if a gardener runs into a big sale at the garden center and there are, say, seven plants available, she will want all seven, but will just buy six… see above about three being the lower limit for plant purchases. Then when asked how many she bought, the correct answer is “not as many as I wanted to get”.

A little and not that big

When gardeners say, “a little” as in “I think I’ll enlarge this flower bed just a little”, it generally means that they are going to double the size of it. And double the size often means triple the size of it or increase the size of it until some natural or unnatural barrier, like a property line or fence, stops them.

If asked how big they are going to make a new flower bed, most gardeners will reply with “not that big” which means that they are pretty sure they can dig it up themselves without renting a backhoe, but it is entirely possible that once they get started, they may have to get a backhoe to finish the job.



I hope this was helpful to those who are trying to learn the language of gardeners to become better gardeners themselves. The more we understand, the better we garden, right?

And yes, there are some advanced quantity definitions not included above such as “a good start”, “I didn’t get all of them”, and “look, over there, isn’t that an ice cream truck”, but we’ll save those for another time.

(A special note to new gardeners: Welcome to the club. We trust you with this information! It goes without saying, please do not share these definitions with non-gardeners because it would just confuse them and many of them would simply not understand.)

37 comments:

Diana said...

Oh, Carol, so you mean I bought a few daffodil bulbs, but not too many or more than I can handle? And I'm planning to fill in a little space with them? Is that what you mean? BTW - you are giving away ALL our secrets!!! Great post.

Jo Ellen Meyers said...

You make me laugh. Out loud, even. Just a little.

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

I tend to buy in quantities of "not as many as I could have" or "I left SOME for other people". !!!

Kathy said...

I thought people had to be initiated into "The Society" before they learned this stuff!

David Perry said...

I feel as if I've just been 'outed'.

Susan said...

you said one has to stop expanding the garden due to pesky things like property lines. Not me--the vegetable garden goes well over into the neighbor's field (with persmission). It helps to live out in the country. However, I do plant perennials on MY side of the line!

heather @ what's blooming this week said...

Too cute - one thing I know is there's "never enough" of your stories.

Sunita said...

You forgot "just a bit" as in "I'm going out to do just a bit of gardening". Nothing much, just maybe as long as daylight lasts and till the mossies start attacking.

janie said...

This is so funny, and so true!

Mary Delle said...

All just what the outsiders need to understand. Now if I could just get my fiancee to understand these things.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

ROFL...This is a good one Carol.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

And then there's my personal favorite "I'll be right in," which actually means in an hour or two.

Jenny said...

Oh my gosh that was hilarious! I once bought a 60-gallon Texas Sabal to plant and when asked by my guy how big it was before he went to pick it up, I said, "Well, it's a good size but it's not too big. You and the guys can totally handle it." It's been three months and they still hate me.

The Impatient Gardener said...

Probably my favorite post of yours yet. All so true. If my husband read it he'd be shaking his head!

Carolyn gail said...

Whoa! I think you just gave away the best kept language of gardeners everywhere , Carol. As it is I have to sneak in a few new plants every so often , even though I'm confronted with " you don't have room for one more plant. " Ha ! They didn't see that empty spot in the corner.

And when I hear new gardeners brag that they've planted over a hundred bulbs I'm thinking Honey that won't even make a dint.

I know you meant to be helful to new gardeners, Carol, but they need to go down the garden path that we have before they can comprehend quanties and what they mean.

Pam/Digging said...

Ha! I'm still trying to finish enlarging a bed "just a little" and think I can get it done without a backhoe. But then again...

Leslie said...

I enlarged my front garden beds just a little a couple times and now the lawn is gone. There is also the "I'm just going to putter around a bit" that I say when due to some injury or other I'm supposed to take it easy...but some crucial task needs doing and I'll be darned if a sore back, knee or shoulder will prevent it happening.

Darla said...

I am getting ready to enlarge my full sun garden 'just a little' for the 'few' seed packets I will be purchasing for the spring.

fairegarden said...

HA Carol, backhoes are our friends! Don't forget, one more thing, as in I will come in a fix dinner after I do this one more thing. One is a relative number, er quantity. Loved this, as always, my dear. :-)
Frances

Gail said...

So funny and so true...soon I'll have to plant a few bulbs! gail

carolee said...

I had a garden visitor Saturday who in passing stated "I planted a few varieties of tomatoes this year." Knowing my variable definition of "few" I probbed, and she finally admitted to growing 95 kinds! She said she'd plant a "few less" next year, but wouldn't commit to a number until she sees a 'few" new catalogs she's sent for!

Commonweeder said...

I agree. Never enough. I love these posts so much Carol. You are a total delight.

Emilie said...

I completely agree never say how many bulbs one plants to a none flower gardener When I revealed the number to a friend which was too little for me. My friend could not believe it and just shook her head not understanding that one never has enough

flowrgirl1 said...

Excellant. Yup, its all true.

texasdaisey said...

LoL I think I will be chuckling about that one for quite some time and every time I use one of those terms. So true!
Debbie

Carol said...

Thank you all for the great comments! I'm glad this rang true with so many of you. Watch for a future post on "space and time". And who knows what else!

Rosey Pollen said...

You are a riot! I totally get you. My husband needs to read this. But he wouldn't understand probably.
I think you hit the nail on the head with this post.
Rosey

Zach said...

Oh, that is really funny. I was reading it to my mom, who was in the room, both of us are gardeners. And we both just laughed and laughed though out the whole post. I would really like to put a link to this post on my blog... do you mind?

Wendy said...

This is hilarious - and something every gardener can relate to!!

vrtlarica said...

First I read "time" post and now this one - its all very true!

Have you noticed that we dont use word "enough" when describing quanities?

healingmagichands said...

"Look over there, an ice cream truck!" made me laugh out loud. I need to put that one in the repertoire for sure.

Sue said...

Thanks for the laughs!

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

These are great. I use the "not too many" quantity when explaining how many plants I bought to my husband who thinks we don't have a need for any more plants.

appliances said...

Wow!! This is so funny.. thanks for the laughs!

Jan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chookie said...

Just writing to confirm that these definitions are international and will be readily understood by Aussie gardeners!

gina said...

randomly came across your blog today. I love your explanation of quantities. Although, I always thought we were suppose to plant with odd numbers, 3,5,7,9-- never even numbers. All this time, I've been confused. ;)