Nice to Meet You, Gardeners

During the interviews for the position of editor for Northern Gardener, the committee from the Minnesota State Horticultural Society asked me how I would establish my credentials as a gardening authority with this very savvy gardening community. Good question. I thought about it for a minute. “I would just tell them how many things I’ve killed,” I said.

Cynthya Porter in her garden

Cynthya Porter, in her garden in Winona, MN, isn't afraid of a little dirt.

I mean, let’s face it—if you are a good gardener, you were almost certainly once a bad gardener who killed countless helpless plants by virtue of inexperience, bad luck or just plain wishful thinking. Take Shasta daisies for example. There are 69 cultivars of this sunny little flower at last count and I’m pretty sure I’ve killed them all. “Oh, you like moist, neutral soil and full sun? How about this dry, acidic spot under my cedar tree?” I think we can all guess how that worked out. “And you are reliable to Zone 5? Well, I can practically see Zone 5 from my house, so you are going to have to suck it up, red hot poker.” No sucking up happened, of course, and I’ve had plenty of patches of bare earth that mocked me in silent punishment for straying outside the bounds of smart planting.

No matter how much I wanted that gorgeous dianthus or those hybrid coneflowers or the gaillardia – any kind - to work, well, they are just plants without any kind of willpower at all, and all the pep talks in the world weren’t going to get them past the impossible conditions I’d put them in. Oh, and I definitely gave them pep talks because…well, I was desperate.

I finally broke up with foxgloves because three tries left me foxglove-less the second year. Heck, they didn’t even try to grow. I admit it – I was a little bitter. If plants could talk (wait, they can’t, right?), I’m pretty sure they would have said, “It’s not us, it’s you, dummy.” Good point. How can I be mad at a row of hollyhocks because I didn’t know better than to splash water on their leaves and make them die of rust? What right do I have to resent six potted tomatoes for dying because they were in the dripline of a garage that had a black walnut branch hanging over it? Achillea, Astilbe, Dragon’s Blood Sedum, spiderwort—I’m sure there are plenty of plants that would have dug themselves up and escaped from my yard if they could have managed a trowel.

But being bad at it is eventually what makes you good at it, and my yard is looking an awful lot better than it was 20 years ago. Make no mistake—I still kill things, most recently a two-year-old stand of innocent garden phlox that put on a nice show last year and this year turned brown and died before my mystified eyes.

Ah, yes. Gardening is a perpetual learning curve, and I don’t care who you are—there is always more to learn. Sure, there are advanced topics in horticulture, but what most of the gardeners, even master gardeners, I know need is a community of answers and inspiration. Northern Gardener and its parent, the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, are that community, and I am so happy to be here. How will I demonstrate my qualifications? By listening to so many pearls of wisdom in the thousands of nuances of gardening that can be found here. One person can’t know everything, but all of us together? We just might.


Cynthya Porter is the editor of Northern Gardener magazine. A professional writer, photographer and editor for 20+ years, she's freelanced for USA Today, Huff Post, AAA Living, Minnesota Monthly, Midwest Living and more.

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  1. Gayle Chatfield on July 24, 2022 at 5:49 pm

    I enjoyed your essay. I will share a favorite quotation by the inimitable J.C.Raulston: “If you aren’t killing plants, then you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener.” I keep this posted at home!

    • MSHS on July 25, 2022 at 3:30 pm

      Yesss! Words to live by. Thanks for sharing, Gayle.

  2. Gail Tilsner on July 25, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    Love! Thank you for being honest. So reassuring that one is not alone on this journey.

    • MSHS on July 25, 2022 at 3:33 pm

      We’re growing right alongside you here in the North. Lean on us for tips, tools and support anytime.

  3. Bond's Los Angeles Landscaping Pros on July 27, 2022 at 7:09 am

    Thank you for sharing this informative article. I hope a lot of landscapers who are inspired by landscapes in their homes could read this wonderful article.

  4. Janet Poore on July 29, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    I love a funny, make that hilarious, gardening writer. More please!!

    • MSHS on July 30, 2022 at 3:07 pm

      Right? Same here — Cynthya, we love your style!

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