Gardening Failure

I don’t want to have any gardening failure this year. I don’t. But I will. Darn it. I will. Some plants will croak and die. But can I diminish my failures? Yes, by learning to learn from each and every snafu.

As I work to create my 2015 garden plan, I face three BIG questions: what, where and when.


What plants?

Where to place each plant?

When to plant the seeds for each plant?

I call the what, where and when questions BIG because answering each requires me to be courageous. Why? Because the answers are strategies that I have to engage, strategies that might not go well. As in all of life, if you want to diminish failures, you must be willing to accept that failure may be involved in what you set out to do. This is important for me to remember as I set out to plan my garden.

WHAT: I might choose a type of tomato that is more prone to disease. WHERE: I might place my cucumbers in a spot that is too dry. WHEN: I might set out my peppers too early when the nighttime temps aren’t high enough. I have to plan my garden. And in doing so, some things won’t go very well. Some of my answers to the WHAT, WHERE and WHEN will fail miserably.

In the failure I will learn. I will learn how to be a better gardener and I will learn how to be a better grace receiver. And both of these things will help me help other gardeners and help me come alongside and simply be present to those who are learning to receive grace in the midst of all kinds of loss.

Failure equals learning. Perhaps you prefer the word mistakes. If so, mistakes equals learning too.

Or better put, failure CAN equal learning. We get to choose. And the choice to set out a plan and to learn from it is scary business.


Failure is not failure if you learn from it. Is this true or is this false? I realize philosophically, that this phrase contradicts itself. Failure is a failure. As a gardener I am learning without shame to say, “I just failed.” But that is scary to say.

I’ve learned how scary this can be from my students at Denver Seminary. As their professor in Mentoring, I teach them how to create learning plans. My students choose either a skill set or a character quality in which they want to grow. The student names her goal and then identifies very specific strategies that will help her get closer to that goal. The student is required to engage her strategies throughout the semester, making adjustments to them if need be.

This is similar to what I do as a gardener. I create my plan and I engage my strategies: the what, where and when. Like my students, I might adjust some of my strategies along the way. For example: I might decide to not plant my cucumbers where I have them on paper now. Or I might adjust when I plant something. But the point is, I set out my plan and I engage it in the context of my garden, adjustments and all. Hopefully, at the end of the gardening season, I can discern what I have learned. This begs the question: Are my gardening failures really failures if I have been able to identify what I have learned? Yes, they are failures. But…..


If my students engage their learning plan and are able to tell me what they learned from what they did, they receive a satisfactory grade. And this is what most students experience. But some satisfactory grades are given in spite of a bomb of a semester. In other words, while the student may have engaged his plan and was able to report what was learned, he may not have moved as close to his goal as he had hoped. But I don’t care as much about this. As his professor I want to know what was learned from what was done. For example, if a student set out to grow in peace, he may have become more anxious. It may be that he is more aware of why peace eludes him and this has caused some anxiety. This could be called a failure because he is further from his goal, not closer.

Is this really failure? In this case, I don’t think so. Why? The student engaged his strategies and he learned from them. His goal was peace. Can he measure growth quite yet? No. Will peace grow in the student in the future? I think so. But my student may need to experience a bit of set back for that peace to be real and true in the future. This can only happen if he learns from what he did (or didn’t do).

So, I take this into my garden. Or maybe what I’ve learned from my gardening I take into my work as a mentoring director at the seminary.

Planning my garden back in late January 2015.

The point is this: We should set out to grow as human persons and as gardeners. Making a plan is a good idea. And we should engage our plans and adjust our strategies along the way. I might also suggest that we employ a mentor or two. I am a woman of Christian faith and in this tradition we are encouraged to invite the Holy Spirit into the process of learning. It may sound odd, but I consider my personal growth plans and my gardening plans as a sacrificial offering. And the key for me in all this is that I MUST be willing to embrace the fact that my plans (my sacrificial offerings) will not go perfectly. I will have failures. And in all this I need to learn how to step back and figure out what was learned (which is why mentors are helpful). In my case, as a Christ follower, I ask my mentor to help me step back and watch what God does with my plan — even my gardening plans.

So as an act of bravery, I want to share with you my gardening plans. Why? Along the way, I want to be able to tell you what I learned from the engagement of these plans. How can I do this if you do not know my plans? I can’t wait to share with you what went well (the victories). It is a tad scary for me to tell you what did not go so well (the failures). But I will share this too. I hope that you can share with me what went well in your gardens and what flopped.

1.  Attached is my seed and transplant planting schedule. Click here: Seed Schedule Laura’s Garden 2015 PDF.  This tells you WHAT I am planting and WHEN. Truth be told, I already made some adjustments to the dates since making this into a PDF two weeks ago. Keep in mind, I am not a professional gardener. But I am a fairly experienced one so maybe this helps you.

2. Below is page one of my garden sketch. This tells you WHERE. You can click on it to open and make larger.

3. Below is page two of my garden sketch. This also tells you WHERE I am planting WHAT.

4. As you plan your garden, take a look at my curated list of online seed planting help. Click here.

I have not included flowers, trees and other beautiful growing things. This is only my vegetable gardening plan.

I am an amateur gardener. I do consult books and websites, but I’ve never had any formal training. I’m not a landscape designer. Thus I did my best it writing it all out. My garden might be WAY bigger than yours or WAY smaller. My goal in sharing all this is to open up the dialogue about our gardening experience this year so we can learn from one another. I am learning right alongside other gardeners like you.

And in our failures we will work to receive the gift of learning so our failures are diminished and life flourishes just a bit more.


Note: It is important to note that while a failure is a failure, it is equally true that when I fail my identity isn’t “failure.”  It is equally true that my goal is not to set out to fail. That would be dumb. But in the failure, I have a choice on whether to learn from it. This is true with moral failures of mine as well (for me that includes when I lie or gossip or….). You can decide what a moral failure is. But even with moral failures, your identity does not have to be in that. I would encourage you to learn from it, choose a mentor, someone who can help you fail forward. I should write more about identity later. But for the meantime, in gardening and in life, a failure does have consequences. If I fertilize a plant with high nitrogen, the blossoms won’t turn into fruit. But in that failure, there is a gift there waiting to be received by me. Will I learn from my failure? If so, I’ve received a great gift.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Barbara Rosa

    I have a lot of shade due to trees. I want to know what grows best in 1/2 shade. Can you help? Colorado is so different from the California Coast and I am having difficulty with flowers living through the season, as well as growing a great vegetable garden. Thank you!

    • laura

      Yes. Colorado is so very different! Let me encourage you to embrace the difference and the challenge of gardening in Colorado. You’ll be glad you did. I lived in Seattle for 7 years and it was hard for me to go from zone 7 to zone 5. I had to learn to embrace the difference. Regarding shade gardening. I too have a lot of shade in my backyard. And my front yard faces north. So I’ve had to do a lot of trial and error. One thing I can recommend without this getting too long is for you to first of all pay attention to perennials for our zone — which is 5-ish on the front range). Then pay attention to perennial for shade/part shade. You will notice that the shade type perennials are more beautiful with their leaves, rather than flowers. Not that they don’t have flowers. But for many of them, the leaves are their main feature. For example: hosta, lungwort, sweet woodruff, coral bell, etc. I have all these growing in my shade/part shade. I’ve had to learn to love the LEAF. My favorite is hosta. Over the years I have added one or two hostas each year. I’ll be sure to make a post about shade gardening soon. It’s an important topic. (Oh and a wonderful annual for shade gardening is coleus. I LOVE LOVE coleus.)

    • laura

      Here is one picture I have (of many). These are hosta and coleus. This is most shade, gets some some. It’s to the edge of my huge ash tree.

      • Barbara Rosa

        Thank you for taking the time! I really appreciate the suggestions

        • Laura

          Your very welcome! Happy Spring!