Neil Sperry

Here’s my list of gardening wishes that I would like to come true

A great garden in a small space

Jake and Sharyn Schaffer's patio garden in San Luis Obispo makes the most of the small landscaping space.
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Jake and Sharyn Schaffer's patio garden in San Luis Obispo makes the most of the small landscaping space.

A genie in a bottle. A four-leafed clover. A wishing well and a handful of pennies. Wouldn’t it be nice if all our wishes could come true? We’d hope for health and healing, peace and harmony, love and gentleness, and time to enjoy them all. And we’d remember to give thanks for all of our blessings.

I have my own set of wishes, and as always, mine pertain to gardening. I’ve been flailing my arms for most of my career trying to shout these messages out like that weird guy on the street corner, but they just aren’t being heard, so I guess my first wish is going to be for a magic wand that will make them all happen. That said, here is my list.

No more unbelievable ads. Trees that grow really fast – and that are good! Those two things just don’t go together. Fast growth brings with it short life expectancies due to all kinds of troubles. Nope. No more of those. And no more ads for the miracle grasses that grow in the shade and never need to be mowed. How naive do those ad people think we are.

No more quack products. Not in my perfect world. No extravagant claims that soils will be forever improved and plants will grow miraculously better. Our legislators will develop laws that will require proof of those claims, and we gardeners will learn to look for bona fide university research to back up or refute products’ advertising statements. Millions of dollars have been wasted using products that have nothing good to offer the plant people of Texas. My magic wand would put an end to all of that nonsense.

We would learn the importance of experience and training when we went garden shopping. You can’t beat local independent retailers who have been in the business for years and who know North Texas gardening inside and out. Look for Texas Certified Nursery Professionals, International Society of Arboriculture certified arborists, licensed turf irrigation contractors, registered pest control applicators, and so on, down the line. You look for the best possible help in other parts of your life. Do so in gardening as well.

We would all have plans for our plantings. We’d know how tall and wide each plant would grow, and we’d plant only those types that would fit into the spaces we had available for them. Nurseries would only sell plants that would perform heroically for us, and we’d all live happily forever.

We’d all prune with a purpose. We’d have reason for doing each type of trimming, and we’d do it at the best time of the year. That requires a little study beforehand. You certainly can’t count on watching what others do, because that’s the monkey-see mentality that gets crape myrtles topped every year when there is absolutely no justification to do so. It’s what gets spring-flowering shrubs and vines pruned in the winter (worst possible time), just when they’re setting their buds for spring bloom. Study the details before you put your hands on the shears. I’d guess that 90 percent of the pruning I see people doing (a) is done wrong, (b) is done at the wrong time, or (c) wasn’t needed in the first place.

I’d use my wand to get rid of the insects and diseases that are doing so much harm to the plants that we love. Oh, we can cope with things like grasshoppers and armyworms. It’s the microscopic, wind-borne mites that carry the fatal rose rosette virus, Emerald ash borers that are apparently going to overtake all of our ash trees, Seiridium canker that is ravaging cypress trees of all kinds – those are the problems I’d hope the wand would eliminate. We have no prevention or cure for any of those issues, and the list seems to be growing with each passing year. Let’s hope the magic wand arrives soon.

Uniform weather. Why don’t we ask for that while we’re at it? We might as well shoot high. This nonsense of record cold winters and extreme heat in the summers? No more of that, please. We plant xeriphytic plants from West Texas one year when it’s dry, only to watch them float away in drenching rains the next spring or fall. And the plants from wet Southeast Texas struggle with dry soils, water curtailments and low humidity. What’s a gardener to do? When all else fails, pull out the wish list.

So as I typed all this out, one thought kept coming to mind. What we really need is common sense in all our gardening affairs. So much of this could be put aside if we’d rely on good instincts – if we’d find good resources and turn to them when we’re unsure. That help is readily out there. Those people do want to help. Those products were placed on the shelves in the hopes that you’d pick them up. Those plants were grown and shipped in in the hopes that you’d stop by and choose them.

Put that common sense to work for you starting immediately. Gardening will then become the wonderful hobby we all hoped it would be.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at and follow him on Facebook.