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Mary Lowther column: Gardeners learn especially from failures

How we discover that some things aren’t worth learning how to grow

By Mary Lowther

My first attempt at gardening involved hauling a pile of dirt from the side of the road into a clearing in the woods. I bought a few packets of my favourite vegetable seeds and planted them all in that four by four foot wide pile, anticipating an abundant harvest. I figured Mother Nature would do the rest and we’d be eating carrots in a month or so, and thus was greatly disappointed when nothing even remotely edible resulted.

David was marginally more fortunate when his neighbour, Mr. Schram, lifted him over the back fence at four and taught him how to plant peas. The next morning he learned that it was not necessary to dig them up daily to check on their progress. David clearly remembers not understanding why his mother was so amused while Mr. Schram explained the importance of patience.

We’ve both learned a bit about gardening since then, but aside from patience the most important things are retaining curiosity and experimenting, which is how we discover that some things aren’t worth learning how to grow. Pomegranates, for example, are a waste of time. Sure, the juice tastes good but the fruit is mathematically impossible: 120 per cent seeds! For all the effort, time and expense it takes to grow a pomegranate tree, one would be farther ahead with grapes, raspberries or strawberries.

Having also grown eggplant and okra, and faithfully tried the many recipes available, I worry that my palate may be culturally insensitive because I feel sorry for those folks whose ancestors had a diet so restricted they had to learn how to pretend they liked it.

Durian, however, is the extreme example. Having been exposed to this product at the grocery I am forewarned, but still baffled. How could people possibly acquire a taste for smelly socks? Are there orchards of durian trees somewhere in Asia, or is this a joke too subtle for Occidental palates to appreciate? I bought a package of wafer cookies made with durian once, hoping it would taste better than the fruit. It didn’t.

Another experiment I plan not to repeat is barefoot gardening. It was nasty enough stamping on a slug after forgetting I had no shoes on, and digging beds with an unyielding, sun baked shovel but the last straw was being eaten by tiny, angry ants that I hadn’t noticed before. I guess they didn’t like the smell of shoes but thought bare feet and ankles were fair game. Gardening may be good for the soul, but soles are good for the gardener.

Breathing with my mouth open while gardening is another thing I learned to avoid early on; once you inhale a daddy long legs or two you learn to keep your mouth shut. I know there are some out there in the food community who are actually advocating insects as a food source, but I doubt even they suggest we consume them raw.

Experimentation is always a gamble, but I think the moral of this column is that we often learn more from our failures than our successes. Success, however, usually tastes better, although ripe durian might have value in close combat.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.