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Valuable Lessons from the Garden

Lessons from the Garden are Lessons for Life

By Shannon De’Anna Billings

EEEEEKKK!!!  The seed catalogs are in and I could not be more excited!

Gardeners, farmers, flower enthusiast, newbies, and wannabes alike all know the little flutter you get in your stomach as you open that little book of hope, adventure, and excitement.  We’re just getting over the stressful holidays and have that window of time to plan for next year’s growing season.  I get chill bumps of pure joy just thinking about it!

As I go through the magical pages I have three highlighters.  Pink for “must-haves”, green for “I want”, and blue for “one day”.  After flipping only halfway through, I notice that I already have dozens of things marked in pink…..dozens.  I realize it’s time to remember my most valuable gardening tool and implement it right now.

I grab my gardening journal, a simple one-subject notebook. That’s not my most valuable gardening tool, but it does contain it.  I start at the very first page, “Goals”.  This page lists my long-term goal of a mostly sustainable lifestyle.  It also lists my short-term goal, “Shannon’s Sweet Tooth Farm”, along with a few shorter goals.  All are the planned pavement in my road of life.  Of course, you can’t always pave a road where you want to and have to adjust your plan along the way.  So, I go through my journal page by page,  which I only started keeping 4 years ago.

As a self-taught gardener/wannabe farmer it was crucial to start keeping a journal.

The first three years were remarkably successful.  A few difficulties were noted but my yields were high enough to sell a few leftover veggies in my second season.  My third season produced a profit of about $100.  I used that money to take a beekeeping class and buy seeds.

Order Plants with Multiple Purposes

Reading my journal entries I can see I was equally excited last year about my seed catalogs and ordered dozens of plants, bushes, seeds, and trees.  I was practical and maintained some focus and ordered mainly things that had multiple purposes.  Most perrenials also double as bee food and triple as medicinal herbs for teas.  My blackberry bushes and peach trees are essential to my plan.

Start with Good Soil

I go to my journal entries before planting.  My soil was perfection.  It took several years to get that right as I had heavy, red clay soil. My soil is perfect for for making pottery, but very poor for gardening.

The lasagna gardening method is beneficial for building up poor soil, and also hugelkultur, which is especially helpful if you live near woods.

With perfect soil, I predicted my yields and began planning and planting. Although we had an unusually wet spring so I adjusted my yield predictions to be much higher than expected as we’ve been in a drought for several years.

My Most Valuable Gardening Tool

Ahh, there it is!  My most valuable gardening tool.  Right there on page 36 of my journal.  Written in black and white, with utmost astonishment, was my most valuable gardening tool.  My Failure.

Yes, that’s right, my most valuable gardening tool is failure.  Despite having what I thought were perfect conditions, the majority of my vegetable garden failed.  My poorly thought out over-wintering method (right concept, wrong method, again see lasagna for the correct method), combined with excessive rain was a perfect nursery for bugs that decimated my garden.

Despite having what I thought were perfect conditions, the majority of my vegetable garden failed.

After implementing my tool, I decide that I need to SLOW DOWN.  It’s time to focus on my priorities and learn from last year’s failure.  I had too many new gardens going on that my old garden suffered.  I was too focused on my new gardens that I didn’t take the time to identify and correct the plethora of bugs munching and breeding in my garden all spring and summer.


I closed my catalogs and opened my Amazon app.  I ordered some beneficial nematodes and a bag of Diatomaceous Earth (DT).  I will go to the feed store and grab a bag of buckwheat seeds to throw into the empty lot next door, and call this year’s planning stage complete.

I’ve learned more from failure than I ever have success.  I do not welcome or even like failure, but it is most important when trying to teach yourself.  I also highly recommend going to your local agriculture center and join an online group, such as GardensAll and Planting for Retirement on Facebook, so you can learn from others failures and successes also.  As my Pop used to say:

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

For an inspirational garden journal with images and quotes by members of the GardensAll community, you may enjoy The Wisdom Journal.

Contributing Writer, Shannon De’Anna Billings: 

Hey y’all, I’m Shannon, sassy southern gal with a love of gardening and a dream of a mostly sustainable lifestyle. The more I learn, the more I want to learn!

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