Gardening Tips from Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Mary Mary quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells

And pretty maids all in a row


I am a terrible gardener. More to the point, I’m a reluctant one. I find people and animals more rewarding than plants, so it’s hard to make myself pay the attention necessary to keep them alive. My mother is always trying to encourage me to plant things, but I always say the same thing,

“It doesn’t work.”

But she buys me plants which I promptly kill. I like gardens, but they’re for other people. I imagine those people are also great at craft projects and make their own sausage. I picked my creative outlets, so I had to think of this from another angle. I like practicality, so I decided to try practical gardening.

So I tried this year to keep a small herb garden. I cook a lot and I was tired of throwing out unused fresh herbs. At first it worked rather well. I cheated and bought one of those already started herb gardens which all sit in the same pot from the farmer’s market. After watering them for a few days I caught the planting bug and bought a few more. Then a vacation dawned and I actually worried about their well-being without me there to care for them. I bought those water globes, but there weren’t enough at the store for all my plants. So, I consigned the un-globed to Mother Nature and hoped for the best.

I returned to a still thriving garden. I was surprised and even more surprising was how much I cared. So I kept watering and tending. I even started snipping some for dishes that needed fresh herbs. I felt smug—the way you do when you buy all organic and free trade—and planned for more plants.

Then the inevitable happened. My cutting had damaged them. It kept raining, so I reasoned I didn’t have to water them as much. The purple basil lost its purple. My tarragon wasn’t growing any leaves. I started to lose interest. And then two incredible things happened.

Garbage flower

Random plant growing from dead bulbs


First, the sunflower seeds I leave out for the birds and squirrels had been planted and I had a surprise sunflower blooming in my garden. Then a blub I had thrown in an old garbage can because it had died began to grow. It made me think of the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary because if you looked in my old garbage pail you’d find a light bulb, shriveled tulip bulbs, and kitty litter left by the previous owners to keep the pail from tipping in the wind.

My planned garden was dying, but a new magical one was flourishing. The sunflower already had its “day in the sun” and now the garbage plant is flowering. Hubby wants to kill it because it brushes against the car when we leave the garage, but I refuse. It’s become my affirmation. All summer I felt guilty because I wasn’t able to get my writing done. But now I know it was lying dormant, just waiting for the right time to flourish.


Plant growing in a garbage pail

Flourishing plant growing by itself

2 thoughts on “Gardening Tips from Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

  1. I love this! I am a self confessed serial killer of plants…even artificial ones whimper as I pass them by in the store. They are afraid they will have to go home with me…my Mother has a beautiful green thumb and has always encouraged me to try to keep a plant alive. i never could. In my defense I did have 2 beautiful children that I managed to feed, water, and love and care for. They are thriving! Great story hon! I enjoyed it so much!!

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