Above: Healthy weeds still count as a successful garden. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

I like gardens. I like them a lot. I enjoy the colors, the smells, the sense of walking into a fantasy world filled with flowers.

The problem is, it turns out I’m not a very good gardener.

Oh, I try. I’ve read the books. I’ve spent hours turning the soil and planting the plants. I’ve been going to garden shows for decades. I’ve wandered nurseries and seasonal plant sales in search of a special tree or flower to decorate my yard.

Years ago, I paid a designer tens of dollars to draw up a garden plan for my yard. I collected the specified plants and carefully placed them in an effort to turn that paper design into a real-world floral wonderland.

I chased away rabbits and chipmunks and squirrels. I pruned. I got lots of exercise. I cursed and sweated a lot.

It wasn’t enough. Plants that were supposed to grow didn’t, or at least not where I planted them. Plants that weren’t supposed to live in my yard showed up out of nowhere, put down roots and prospered like kudzu on a country road.

My back yard looks nothing like the pictures in the books or the careful design I followed. It’s a jungle out there.

On the other hand, the little patch of lawn I carefully tend in front of my house produces a mixture of healthy weeds and dead spots. My grass looks scared.

Still, as long as the rains come, at least some things in my garden grow. So, I have made peace with my not-quite-what-it’s-supposed-to-be yard. It just takes perspective. And you may have to squint a bit.

The other day, while mowing, I thought I should share the hard-won knowledge I’ve gained through these many years of failing to turn my little plot into Yard of the Month.

Here, then, are 15 rules for gardening and lawn care:

  1. Anything you can mow counts as grass.
  2. Grass that turns brown in the winter still counts as a lawn.
  3. Brown spots add color and character to your lawn. Ignore them.
  4. Use native plants in your garden. They’re supposed to grow around here. If they die, you can blame the weather and not your neglect.
  5. Use electric tools, not gas-powered ones. You can say it’s to save the environment (I do) but you also can stop working when you reach the end of the cord.
  6. Irrigation is God’s problem, not yours.
  7. When looking at gardening books, magazines, TV shows and other propaganda from Big Gardening, never assume that the plants you see blossoming beautifully in the photos will grow in your yard. They won’t. Instead, they will wilt and slowly die just to mock you.
  8. When you’re working outside, stay hydrated. This is very, very important. Don’t wait till you feel thirsty to have a glass of water or a cold beer. Your body needs liquids constantly. Especially the beer.
  9. Lawn Mower Beer is the cheap stuff you keep in the back of the icebox so you’ll have something to drink quickly when you need to rehydrate and you’re too hot to taste it.
  10. Lawn Mower Beers contain no calories.
  11. Don’t hire a lawn service until you’ve tried and failed miserably as least three times. OK, four.
  12. Gardens always look better from a distance. Don’t let visitors out of your house.
  13. There’s nothing you can do about plant damage from squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, deer, coyotes, wolves, passing teenagers and other varmints. They’re the curse we incur for living in a “city in the woods.”
  14. Composting leaves, grass clippings, food trimmings and dead varmints is worthwhile, but if your compost heap grows taller than your children, you should take a break. Besides, you probably need rehydrating.
  15. If all else fails, try again. Just not as hard this time.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.