Wintertime Ruminations: Gardeners and Instructions

In the beginning, many people diligently read the instructions and carefully follow them as they sow and plant. They try to get the spacing just right, the depth just so, where conditions will be optimal, all according to the directions.

They must think as they garden or they don’t think it is right.

Then one day, they realize they aren’t so tied to the instructions. They sow and plant and never think about reading the directions on the seed packet or the plant tag. They do what feels right, what has worked before, all according to their experience.

They can garden with a sureness and a feeling that they are doing it right.

And when they do this, their minds wander and they think of many other things while they garden.

It’s not always easy to identify when a person goes from following the directions to just doing what they feel is the right thing to do. One day, they just realize they aren’t even looking for instructions.

Is that the moment when most people who garden are willing to call themselves “gardeners”?


  1. You know, I vacillate between doing things by instinct and experience, and doing them by the directions. It just depends on what it is. With bulbs, for instance,I've not planted enough of them in the past to feel certain of what I'm doing. So I find myself checking online for information on height, planting and spacing to make sure I situate them correctly.

  2. Yes, I do most of my gardening by instinct. I think it is a better way.

  3. I think you're probably right. I really enjoyed this post - it reminded me of something I wrote a ways back...

  4. This is also the difference between cooks and bakers. Precise instructions vs vague. I planted bulbs today( in late december) and paid no mind to spacing. I want them close... if they do not grow--well... then I will try again next year :) Fabulous post!

  5. Thought-provoking post. I love it when I am gardening on instinct, going with the flow, but each time I tackle something new in gardening, whether growing chillies from seed or planting Dahlias, I seek guidance and feel almost feverish about "getting it right". Of course then everyone disagrees with one another and in the end you just have to get on with it. The odd plant might die but you learn and the new thing becomes an instinctive thing instead. I just hope I always remain open to tips and tricks from others rather than getting locked in to "my" way of doing things, because that way I will stay flexible and keep learning.

  6. It is when we go from the uneducated human to the instinctive animal, like the birds knowing how to build their special type of nest with no instruction. A good thing!

  7. When instinct kicks in... I think that's the day quite a few of us start feeling like true gardeners. When we 'know' what the plant needs -- even if that's slightly different than what the little plastic tag tells us.

    Merry Christmas, Carol! And, thanks for keeping us all together for Bloggers Bloom Days. I've met so many wonderful gardening friends through your meme.

  8. I do remember Carol, but couldn't tell you when it was...actually it has occurred several times with various aspects of gardening. It is a comfortable place to be. H.

  9. I have found that when I "baby" something, it never does as well as it does if I just sow it and let nature take it's course. This year, I will be doing more wintersowing because this coming spring will be my first spring to be living on actual acreage, therefore giving me the luxury of growing much more than I ever have before. There's really nothing magic in wintersowing. It's just that the containers prevent the seed from being eaten by birds or getting buried too deep, or drying out in the middle of germination.

    My sister, who was married to a man who worked in his family's greenhouse at the time, said that the instructions on the seed packet were just so the seed company could claim you didn't follow the instructions if the seed didn't germinate. Heh. Not sure that's the case, but I do find them to be rather generic. Now, all I really care about is knowing what conditions things grow best in -- sun or shade? moist or dry?

  10. Yes, I think's also about that same time that I began to think of myself as a cook...when I didn't really care what the instructions said! Merry Christmas!


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