Garden Chronicles

ALOHA FROM JENNIE aka Novice Gardener: This page was started to support newbies who wish to take up gardening. The National Gardening Association reported last year that one in three U.S. households have a food garden, and 63% of millennials now garden. 

Surely all these people must find some fulfillment in gardening, I thought. There must be more to life than enjoying mangoes from other backyards, or marveling at the beauty of cut floral arrangements. Thus, as I enter my fifties, I begin my journey to make things flourish with Mother Earth. 

My hope in chronicling our (mis)adventures is that we can chuckle together, and with any luck, lure the many green thumbers out there for whom gardening is a passion to take pity on us and share their tips here. Welcome to our online gardening community!


Sucked in by an 88 Cent 'Annual'

My decision to take up gardening was not a planned one, although it was inspired by constantly being in the company of our seniors involved with this website. After many months photographing their beautiful gardens, watching them share cuttings and stories, and compiling videos of orchid club exhibits, it seemed natural to take advantage of the year round island weather around me.

My last hobby a few decades ago involved saltwater aquariums, and I enjoyed the serenity of a tank, creativity in sandscaping, and vividness of the colorful marinelife. However, it was a timeconsuming and expensive passion—those beautiful fishes are not cheap.

Gardening to me always seemed like hard work, and I viewed greenery as inanimate objects with little personality. One day, as Linda and I walked by the local Lowes garden center, a large rack of colorful potted flowers jumped out at me, with the ’88 cent annuals’ signage. Hmm, I thought—you can’t even get a guppy for 88 cents, what could I lose? All I need to do is throw a little water on it now and then, and it’ll add color and cheer to my bare second story patio (aka lanai in Hawaii).

Well, within a week, the beautiful flowers shriveled up, and all I had left were sickly leaves despite daily water spritzing. Here’s the beautiful ‘before’ and dismal ‘after’ photo. After some research, I now know that ‘annuals’ are plants that live for only one season. They quickly grow from seed, to plant, to flower, and then they die (though technically they can leave new seeds to start the next generation). I console myself that my plant reached the height of its beauty and growth which meant it was all downhill from there, through no fault of mine, and maybe that’s why annuals cost 88 cents.

I also learned that ‘perennials’ are the plants that I always envisioned, living for many seasons, hence the consistent foliage and flowers reappearing throughout the cycles. ‘Biennials’ take a year for the plant to get off the ground, and then it regresses, but during the second year it picks up where it left off and truly flourishes.

So in the spirit of instant gratification, here’s my little flock of ‘annuals’ for a total cost of less than $5. I’ve learned to pick plants that still have some unopened buds, so that we can have longer quality time together.

Plastic Greenhouse for Seedlings

During that first trip through the garden center, I also picked up some potted herbs, namely spearmint and lavender, again being surprised at the low $2 cost. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to make plantation iced tea without having to buy mint sprigs at the market? And aromatherapy articles tout the benefits of lavender. To my surprise, these two plants flourished, that is, they didn’t shrivel up and die. In fact, the mint branched out and the lavender is now fuller, and both seem to enjoy their daily spray bottle showers.

Encouraged, I roamed the Walmart garden center, thinking that perhaps vegetables are to be my niche. I see kits for growing seeds, each box costs $6. Geez, you can’t even buy a fish tank for $6, how cool is this? A stand of seed packets is conveniently displayed next to the kits. I pick out asparagus (a neighbor has a cluster in her yard), sunflowers and tomato.

The kit turns out to hold three dozen dehydrated soil pods. When you line up the pods in a square plastic tray and pour in warm water, you end up with moist rich soil pods wrapped in a thin fabric mesh. You can now drill a little hole on top of each pod and insert your seeds. I only activate a dozen pods, and insert a small amount of seeds in each. A clear dome cover fits over the tray, creating a little plastic greenhouse.

After several days indoors, near a sunny window, the sunflower and tomato seeds begin to sprout, and arch towards the light source. I keep on rotating the tray in the hopes of getting the plants to grow upright without curving. The asparagus takes a week and a half before appearing.

I show my masterpiece to one green thumb senior, who pronounces the seedlings worthy of a petri dish science experiment. A week later, another senior viewed the seedlings, and gently advises that two thirds of them could really be weeded out, and only the sturdiest plants with at least four leaves might be salvaged. From their feedback and further garden center explorations, I realize that you can inexpensively buy fully formed seedlings which have a much better chance of survival. I gained some insight into this growing ‘from scratch’ experience, but am now happy to leave the seeds to experienced farmers. 

Seedling update: Here are the final candidates in the 'survival of the fittest' group after two weeks. Even though these seedlings were all planted at the same time, their growth has differed, I assume because they haven't gotten the same amount of water or sun.

Two week old seedlings

Newbie lesson for me, it might be a good idea to label seedlings, especially if one transplants them numerous times. Hopefully these will grow to a point where we can tell the tomato plants from the sunflowers! If I were really compulsive, I would have taken photos of each plant along with their descriptive 'cards' and store them in a software notetaking application like Evernote, which would perform OCR recognition on the plant name along with care instructions so that the text can then be easily searchable for future use. Geekdom and gardening can be a good team!

Garden Inspirations

As the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain, Kauai receives the most rainfall, and is known as the Garden Isle. The humidity creates a lush environment that bromeliads thrive in, as you can see from these beautiful photos--the plants grow in the wild, even making their way up palm trees, without any intervention by gardeners.

I recently re-potted my two bromeliads after realizing that their root systems can't sit in moist soil, apparently the bulb rots easily. Their preferred media is peat moss and bark chips so that the water will quickly drain. I also learned to put a little water in the base reservoir where all of the leaves overlap to form a rosette.

One of our seniors brought back these photos during her recent swing through this tiny island, and I'm inspired by the use of natural materials in landscaping gardens. Here's a lava rock creation with an Asian garden flair, and an orchid showing off its beautiful colors and delicate petals. 

Isn't it fun to see ultimate gardens that we can work towards?