If you sprinkle coffee grounds around your roses every morning or offer them eggshells and banana peels, you’ve fallen under the spell of an urban garden legend.
Don’t feel bad for succumbing to this common horticultural myth. It’s happened to even the most seasoned gardeners, says garden writer and radio show host C.L. Fornari. “It doesn’t do much good, but people have placed their breakfast remains around roses for decades,” she says.
Fornari, who hosts the weekly radio show, GardenLine, covers the faulty logic behind many garden myths in her new book, Coffee for Roses… and 70 Other Misleading Myths About Backyard Gardening.
“One of the hardest myths to kill is the idea of putting a layer of rocks in the bottom of pots ‘for drainage.’ This is something that even confirmed, experienced gardeners have done for years without questioning the practice,” she says. “When I say it’s unnecessary, a nuisance, and most importantly bad for plants, they can hardly take this in. Yet when I point out that no commercial grower does this and potted plants they buy never contain any rocks or shards, they nod in recognition.”
Garden myths featured in the book run the gamut, from those that sound plausible to odd and quirky myths that make you chuckle. “Three of the myths I find silliest are trying to propagate moss by putting it in a blender, using chewing gum to get rid of woodchucks, and planting peppers with matches around them,” she says.
So where do these myths come from, and why do we fall for them? “Many of these myths arose in the 20th century, which was a time when we came to believe that anything could be made ‘easier.’ There was the rise of fast food, instant coffee, and time/work-saving devices. It was also a time of great advances in medicine, and there were a number of landscape remedies developed that seemingly offered painless control of any number of pests.”
Today gardeners realize that those miracle “cures” cause problems of their own, and that for most problems there is no magic remedy, says Fornari. “It’s nice to think that one simple trick or product could make all our garden troubles go away, but in our heart of hearts, we know that life and the natural world is complex and much is out of our control.”
It used to be that garden myths were passed like gossip over the backyard fence, in the local supermarket, and from friend to friend or parent to child, says Fornari. “Now it happens on a grand scale because that backyard fence is Facebook and emails are forwarded to family and strangers alike!”
While some garden myths are harmless, others are harmful, which is why it’s important to sort fact from fiction in the garden.
“We waste a lot of time and energy on remedies that cure nothing at all,” says Fornari. “The fact is, everything is connected to everything else, and as gardeners we have a responsibility not to harm the natural world. One of the best sources of information is Mother Nature herself. If she isn’t going to the blender to spread moss, or reaching under the kitchen sink to control insects, then we probably shouldn’t be either.”
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