Denali’s favorite roughage

To say I have a brown thumb is an understatement. For most of my life, my gardening nickname could easily have been Queen Black Thumb of Death. My brown thumbs were so bad that I would have these horrible visions of plants cowering in the corner when I walked through the local nursery or The Home Depot—like guppies recoiling from Ursula in The Little Mermaid.

My husband at one point forbade me from bringing home any new victims; the physician in him probably couldn’t handle the plants’ slow decay.

Case in point: In our last home I had a paddle plant that on a daily basis attempted to commit hara-kiri on the dusty cactus next to it on the windowsill. It had outgrown its pot and contorted into such a crippling side bend that only leaning on the cactus kept it upright. I still regret not photographing that co-dependent pair before we left…

But I digress.

My point is that I’m in a new place with new goals, and if I can’t grow a garden in California, then, hell, I’ll never succeed in growing a garden anywhere. I’m not ready to throw in the trowel just yet.

With trepidation, I think I’m seeing some small green shoots of hope.

Shoots of red Russian kale

Corners of the garden are flourishing; others look more lackluster.

Fennel, arugula, and nasturtium 


When the snap peas catch mildew, and the cucumbers detest the fragrant herbs next to them, and my dog persists in nibbling leaves off my sunflowers, I continue to find encouragement in what a wise man once said:

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

— Albert Einstein

So as a gardening freshman I’m granting myself some grace. Other newbies, take heart! We can make blunders together—or if the first frost has hit where you live, I can make the blunders now, and you can do better when spring planting season rolls around.

Also, since I know there are some veteran gardeners in the crowd, I want to capitalize on your collective garden-smarts.

Seeds for fall and winter

Granted I realize that for most of the country November is an unusual time of year to be discussing gardening. Western Colorado already had its first snowfall. In Arlington, the modest skyscrapers of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor will be funneling icy gusts up from the Potomac River within a month’s time. Seattle is no doubt settling into its damp overcoat.

California, as usual, likes to be contrary. Here the growing season is hitting its stride. What Northern California winter growing conditions lack in daylight hours, they make up for with milder weather and precipitation. There’s a reason all the strawberries available in your Safeway come from the Golden State, right?

So here’s my first burning question: How do you plant your radish seeds? In rows? Scattered about? I planted mine too shallowly on my first attempt and need some help on the second go. Thoughts? Tips?