When A Gardener Interprets Song Lyrics

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when your sittin’ at the table.
They’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.”

Many people think these lyrics, from “The Gambler” by Don Schlitz and performed by Kenny Rogers, are about, well, playing poker. But we gardeners know better. We know this is a hidden message for all gardeners about managing plants in your garden and about buying plants.

“You got to know when to hold ‘em” refers to knowing which plants are keepers in the garden. These are the plants you love. They make you happy to have them growing and flowering in your garden. You can’t wait to see them flower the first time. You may not love everything about them, but you love enough about them that you would miss them if they were no longer in your garden. Crocuses come to mind.

“Know when to fold ‘em” refers to knowing when it is time to remove a plant from your garden. Maybe it is underperforming, just not living up to your expectations. Maybe it just sits there doing nothing but being green. Now being green isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but maybe it was supposed to flower and never did. Be brave, get rid of those under performers. You know which ones they are, and find some new plants to take their place.

“Know when to walk away” is about shopping for plants. When you see plants in a garden center that are poorly cared for, under stress, pot bound or just flat out over priced, you should keep on walking right past them and go to someplace that cares about the plants they are selling and is offering them for a fair price. You want value for your money, not plants you have to nurse back to health, that might turn out to be under performers for a long time.

“Know when to run” is about going out shopping for plants and finding some that you know are invasive in a bad way. Oh, they might have pretty blooms on them, but you know deep down that they are trouble. They will lead to nothing but heartache, and backache and knee pain, as you spend hours on your knees, bent over your flower beds trying to contain it. Run away as fast as you can.

“You never count your money when your sittin’ at the table” is about looking through plant and seed catalogs. Sure, mark up all you want, even fill out the order blank if you want to. If you are going to dream, dream big! It’s fun, it’s exciting! Lush blooms, new varieties, dozens of different peonies, hostas, daylilies, and roses all call for you to want them, to list them on your order form. Go ahead and do that. Make a big list, no harm done if you don’t actually buy all of them.

“They’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done” is about facing the reality that you can’t afford everything in the catalog or the garden center. Once you add up the total, you’ll have to mark some of the plants off the list, put some back at the garden center. It’s not easy to do, but you can do it. You can console yourself that you didn’t really know where you were going to plant them, anyway. And that’s probably the truth of it.

And that’s what I think these lyrics mean…

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when your sittin’ at the table
They’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.”


Couldn't have said it better myself, Carol. That country crooner surely sounds good but we gardeners all know that he wasn't talking about gamblin'.
Cynthia said…
Oh my goodness!!! Such a cool post, and a good song as well :-) Love this post
Jeannie Hanson said…
I love it...that's all. So true!
Unknown said…
Perfect! I do agree, some of these are hard to do though!!
Carol, a lovely post, I do agree with you. This is some good advice or reminders to us all.

Best wishes Sylvia
PS I have a new guest post at www.tulipsinthewoods.com
Meems said…
Well done, Carol. Interpreted like a true gardener would hear those words... couldn't agree more.
Gardening is the most gambling I ever do now that I think about it.
Meems @ Hoe and Shovel
Laura said…
What an insightful interpretation! I never would have equated gardening with that song; of course, in my family, we play poker every Friday night!
Sunita Mohan said…
Fantastic post! Now you've got me thinking which other songs are actually garden songs in code language :)
I bet the song writer wasn't thinking about plants when he composed this song. I think you have figued out its true meaning though.
Carol, what a fun interpretation to a fun song. Janet
Gail said…
Excellent Carol...and so true. Gambling is a fantastic metaphor for gardening; especially during these late winter/early days of spring and deciding if it's safe to plant! Gail
That's poetry for you, the reader (or listener) finds his or her own meaning. There are truths hidden in many unlikely places. I love your interpretation.
Oh so true! Good advice for the novice gardener and a good reminder for us old folks!
Anonymous said…
You crack me up.~~Dee
Anonymous said…
I have to agree with Meems. I think the reason the lyrics are so meaningful to us gardeners is that gardening is a giant gamble. Some seasons we're dealt a winning hand and some seasons nature cleans us out. Maybe that's why gardening is so addictive. Pay your money. Take your chance.
HappyMouffetard said…
What a clever post. I shall be listening to lyrics more carefully from now on!
Anonymous said…
For me the "Know when to walk away" is particularly meaningful. It tells me I shouldn't keep trying to grow pumpkins every year here. They won't grow big enough before the vine borers get them. I should just walk away. I'm trying to this year.
Commonweeder said…
My son is a poker player, but he never told me this advice was good in the garden. I am taking it to heart. Especially 'know when to fold'em". that is my weakness.
Carol, I completely agree with Meems and mss @ Z. gardens. Gardening is a gamble, and that is why your interpretation of this great song rings so true! I never thought of it that way before, and now I will never be able to hear this song or play poker without thinking about holding daffodils, and running as fast as I can from Showy evening primrose and sitting at the table making long impossibly expensive lists of what I want.

Am I the only gardener who looks at catalogs and sometimes wishes to send in an order that says, "Just send me one of everything hardy in my zone, please."?
Carol Michel said…
Thanks all for the comments and compliments... there is another verse that applies to gardeners...

"Now Ev'ry gardener knows that the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
'Cause ev'ry plant's a winner and ev'ry plant's a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to plant in your sleep."

Those hidden meanings are there, if we just look!
Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Pat said…
Coming in late, just to say -- what a wonderful interpretation of a classic song. And so good to know that it's alright to pull out a plant, even if you paid good money and it's been there for years. I just folded on a big Knockout rose, because it doesn't do anything for me and takes up valuable sunshine but I was feeling guilty. Now, I'm not.
Cindy, MCOK said…
Leave it to you, Carol, to discover the secret meaning behind the lyrics. I look forward to your unlocking the secrets of other songs in the future!
Anonymous said…
Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.
Jamie said…
This is too funny! I think we've all been there, especially "countin the money when the dealin's done!"
Unknown said…
LOL! Great post as always, Carol. And I LOVE the little white crocuses coming up through the little sedum foliage. That's brilliant--I may have to try that next year.
Dreamybee said…
Wow, my entire mental video for this song has to change! Knowing when to fold 'em and when to walk away-I need some work on those parts.