A Gardener's Guide to "Distance"

It’s once again time for a lesson on the language of gardeners.

Today’s lesson is on the terms that experienced gardeners use for “distance” and what they really mean.

We will begin with three terms used for distances within the garden and conclude with one term used for distances outside of the garden.

As deep as you can dig

For most bulbs planted in the fall, the instructions indicate to plant the bulbs at a depth that is two to three times the height of the bulb. Sometimes they’ll say to plant the bulbs four to six inches deep. What this means to gardeners is to dig as deep as you can so that when you plant the bulb it will be covered with dirt, and that’s deep enough! This is especially helpful for those who have hard clay soils or lots of roots to dig through. Note, results are not guaranteed when you plant "as deep as you can dig”, but sometimes that is all the deeper you can dig.

A little closer

Most gardeners tend to space their plants a little closer than the directions, if there are directions, might indicate. We set all the plants out where we think they should be and then decide “a little closer” is better. Or at the very least, if a tag says to space the plants six to eight inches a part, six inches is better, or maybe a little closer for good measure. In some cases, this achieves that “fully planted” look sooner; in other cases this means that the plants get crowded out and some may have to be removed or trimmed back. Even experienced gardeners have to be careful with “a little closer”.

Dang it

“Dang it” is the term gardeners use when they discover that their garden hose is not quite long enough to reach that furthest corner of the garden. We stand there, with the hose stretched as taunt as possible and say “dang it”. Then we drop the hose, which of course lands on the sprayer handle and shoots water up like a fountain, soaking us in the process, and go get a watering can, which we have to fill multiple times to reach that one spot that the hose won’t reach, dang it.

Not very far

When a gardener decides there is a particular nursery, garden center, garden, or garden event they would like to visit, the distance to it magically becomes “not very far”. For example, as it turns out, the first garden bloggers’ spring fling in Austin, Texas, was “not very far”, just a quick plane ride to St. Louis, then another plane to Austin and I was there. See, not very far. Ditto, it was not very far to Chicago this past spring for the second spring fling, and it is not very far to Buffalo, NY for the next fling in July 2010.

I would advise anyone that when a gardener coaxes you to go with them to a garden whatever that is “not very far”, make sure to go to the bathroom before you get in the car, pack some provisions including an overnight bag (just in case!), check to see that the gas tank is full, and then relax and enjoy the drive because though it’s “not very far”, it might be further than you imagined and then a few miles more.

New gardeners, I hope this was helpful, as helpful as learning about gardener’s terms for “time” and “quantities” and that you are beginning to finally understand the language of gardeners.

Perhaps you are even gaining enough understanding and confidence to use some of these terms yourself?

I hope so!


  1. LOL...all so very, very true! Love what you wrote about bulbs. I'm in the process of planting mine and find whatever depth I can get them too is just right! Great post.

  2. Carol,
    Dang it is tame ... I think sometimes stronger cursing is necessary when my hose gets kinky on me.
    I love what you said about the driving... very funny. It's all TRUE! Clever lady!

  3. Dang is a very mild term, but it'll do! Great post.

  4. I seldom say dang it.

    I totally understand the term 'not very far'. I have been trapped in a vehicle for many hours going 'not very far'.

    One term I could add is 'some'. I often tell my Darling something like "I am going to plant 'some' bulbs." He says fine, not knowing that I have either ordered or received 1400 bulbs already, and they are all going in the front garden.

    He does love it when they all bloom.

  5. Another very helpful post. We need to know these things about ourselves.

  6. funny stuff and so true! We gardeners have a warped sense of everything!

  7. I like gardening language cause it covers a multitude of meanings. I say Dang it a lot. I certainly say not very far when telling Mr D we need to go check out a nursery but after 30 years of marriage he's wising up to that, dang it.

  8. Dang it, I think we Southerners are best at describing distance. Johnny Carson said don't EVER ask for directions if you're down South. They'll say " Go down the road yonder and swing a right where the old Saw Mill used to be, except they took it down in '43 .... "

    Over yonder is the best description of distance we have. " Just a hop, skip and jump " is another one.

    When we were young'uns we'd say "by Ned " and " Sugar " a lot to avoid having our mouths washed out with soap.

  9. All good advice for gardeners new and old. I especially liked the deep enough and dang it portions. Been there, done that. Again and again.~~Dee

  10. I remember when I told my son to dig a hole to the depth of the shovel and he thought I meant the handle, too. He was quite pleased to hear he only had to dig to the depth of the blade.

    And in sort of a reverse dang it, I bought a hose hanger that could hold 100ft of garden hose, only to discover that the actual hose was 120 ft. Dang it!

  11. You are always helpful and make me smile, too. gail

  12. Great post!... so helpful!.. thanks for this beautiful post...

  13. I laughed all the way through this post, because it is so true. When I was planting daffodils out along my mother's fence line on her farm, as deep as you could dig was sometimes about an inch. So you'd move over and try to find a place that didn't have so many rocks. That was hard sometimes, given the Ozarks farmer's penchant for throwing rocks off their fields towards their fencerows.

    "Not very far" is another distance I am quite familiar with. After reading on Gardening Gone Wild about a really cool prairie nursery up in southern Illinois, I made a day trip up there and bought plants home. I have the defense that my mother needed a ride to St. Louis where she was attending a convention, so I was already more than halfway there. Let's not talk about the fact that the plants had to live in our hotel room in St. Louis for two days, okay?

    These great posts are why I keep coming back and coming back. I always enjoy my visits to May Dreams.

  14. Oh, my goodness, you crack me up! Why didn't I find this blog sooner?


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