A little shifting of the pot ghetto yesterday revealed one too many plants happily rooted in the soil beyond their pots.

It is good soil certainly, and I do not blame them, but the discovery is an inconvenient one.  I have been quite content to believe that a healthy three foot dawn redwood was satisfied with one gallon of cheap potting soil for the last six months. To find it was quietly looking elsewhere is a slap on this gardener’s wrist. Holes will need to be dug today to placate drying roots, but where?


Perhaps if I arrange them differently they’ll look better.


Yes.  The raison d’etre of the Pot Ghetto. As answer to the eternal question, ‘Where indeed?’

After the un-earthing, I stood there for a while surveying this collection of pots, flats, five-gallon buckets and old dishpans filled with bog plants for which there is no bog, and considered the folly of it all – past and present.

A shameful pattern

Just two weeks ago I went to a plant swap with the firm resolve to bring home no more than one plant for every one I brought – seven in all. Or better yet, to sit on my hands and watch other weak-minded gardeners make fools of themselves.


Even my potting bench was full this season.


However (and there is sadly always a however), there were many leftover plants scratching like orphans at the window and I was encouraged by my wicked host to take more.  I did, and the number will not be revealed in this particular column – but I’ll share with you the shaming.

As the swap was conducted at a private home with a narrow circular driveway, we lined up our cars at the end of the day to grab the plants over which we’d just wrestled.  I knew the driver behind me – a Master Gardener whose garden I have visited and enjoyed, and a woman who had just shown an outrageous amount of self-control in the face of excellent plants going begging.

I helped her with her few treasures and then proceeded to block her in for about ten minutes as I ran back and forth throwing

[yet more] pots into the back of my dusty Subaru.

Just when she thought she could finally release the handbrake and go, I would head back to my stash and return with another flat of something wonderful, or a cast-off fountain, or a garden cart of all things. On the ninth trip, all the while cringing to the very soles of my muddy boots, I realized there were other amused witnesses watching me with empty arms and wise eyes.

I mumbled something about having a lot of space to fill, wrenched my back in my haste to make the whole embarrassing spectacle come to an end, and drove home wondering what evil demon had invaded my body and once again smothered all pretense at resolve.

We always have a good reason

We know we want these plants. We know we won’t find them again a) at this price or b) in this season.  We know we’ll only be visiting [insert city name/famous garden/rare nursery] once this year. We also know (all too well) that we haven’t a staff – a kindly old gardener with a canvas apron who takes the pots from the car, tips his hat and says “Where do you want them ma’am?” (Preferably in a West Country accent.)

We weigh these things one against each other, make strong promises to ourselves and our spouses, and thirty shameful minutes later we’ve got Daphnes and amorphophallus getting cozy in the back seat.

Perhaps it’s because there are moments when it all works – when the 36 quarts of dwarf mondo grass you bought for a dollar each suddenly become the answer to ‘what to do with the walkway under the pergola.’ But for every story of successful plant hoarding, there is an equal and opposite story of guilt, of death by neglect, of unsightly clutter….of picking up that dawn redwood after six months and feeling the soil under your feet give slightly.

If you suffer from the same weakness, the only answer I can give you is one I occasionally utilize to rein in both my plant hoarding and my life-long Doritos craving: a total lack of access.

No access – no problem.

When one is not physically faced with one’s addiction (Lowe’s death racks, Big Bloomers Nursery in North Carolina, rare plant swaps and Cool Ranch flavor), one cannot partake. One cannot miserably fail.   This means never entering a big box store from any door other than the front entrance, always taking one’s husband to North Carolina with one, and never hitting the snack aisle in the grocery store. Believe me, it works – it kept both my fingers and my driveway clean last year.

But one must turn one’s back on so much.  So so much.


My personal nemesis: the death racks at Lowes (particularly at this time of year).


I have of course fallen off the wagon in both cases, but yesterday the rooted redwood told me that it’s time to address the plant hoarding.

Damn I’ll miss those winter sales.

These moments of clarity – however fleeting – can cut down on the clutter in our lives if we give them the attention they deserve.  And we are all the better for it. Guilt weighs just as heavy on the shoulders as Doritos weigh on the hips. – MW