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Garden Plotting: Go Ahead, Kiss My Aster!

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At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, one of our state's greatest Agriculture schools, they teach "Learn by Doing." That's when you get a bunch of type-A, 3.9 GPA college-y kids not used to failure and you get them out there and make them start shoveling shit (that is the word, it's not compost straight out of the cow). They learn "organic means lots of extra work" that way. Chemicals work too, but organic often mean mammals (us) are doing it. Then you let those same kids loose in a greenhouse where they proceed to propagate salvia stem cutting upside down and then forget the labels. After two weeks an instructor goes back, looks at a tray of unmarked death and then the lecture begins. "Did you label the varieties?" Did you use rooting hormone?" Did you keep track of what end of the stem was up?" At a college, school garden, or your patio, that's: learning by doing.

As a gardener and writer for you I'd add "learn by killing pansies." They deserve, it. Oh, my dad was talking about me, but you get the point. The biggest failure on your "balcony Rancho" would be to NOT try. Be fearless (and take notes). I have no less than a half-dozen stellar gardeners like @anarchygarden @edenmaker @bill_rosendahl committed for this upcoming Garden Plotting installments. Draw from their desires; try your own.

I myself have been a farmhand and migrant picker both. That's where I learned a lot of this "greenthumb stuff." I've built a few gardens at homes and schools in Los Angeles... a few. At six I was emptying my beloved Dayton-born/Kentucky bred, real-life Rosie the Riveter grandmother's ashtray on the tomatoes because she said, "Little shit, did you put the ashtray on the 'maters?" The ashes, it seemed, repel bugs. Since listening to her was better than the alternative, the switch, the garden thrived with a really effective, yet gross "organic" control. You don't have a switch to motivate you (that's another column), but we are adults right, so you'll have to trust me when I say: go fail. You, grasshopper, will have your own learning curve to being a better gardener.

Our third contributor to the Garden Plotting series is a pro at killing plants with flair, Little Miss @KissMyAster herself, Amanda Thomsen of Horticulture Magazine. She's an expert at "Plants that Suck" (her blog title) plants as she knows well that half-the-sucking is the plants fault and the rest is the gardener who picked them. By her own magazine editor's admission admission her writings have alienated/enraptured dozens. Count me in on the enraptured part. If she wasn't already pollinated herself, I'd volunteer. Yes, we love her. You will too.

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Amanda Thomsen's 2011 Kiss My Crops List

My main crop for 2011 is a little girl due in May- right when I should be wreaking havoc in the planting beds. So I’m scaling back and using containers even more than I have ever before.

Space is a premium and the sun is practically only available on the black market here in my old-school bungalowed ‘hood due to the mature trees and closely spaced houses. Everything I grow has to do at least double duty. Pretty, edible and not fussy... people come to see my garden and have expectations to see something fairly rock n’ roll... bun in the oven or not.

My seed set-list for this year includes-

1. Charlotte Chard- I love chard and this color reminds me of something Manic Panic makes...
2. Tiondo di Parigi Carrots- These pudgy little carrots don’t require too much soil primping
3. Sport Peppers- Not a typical garden staple, but a Chicago hot dog staple, for sure
4. Rose Orach- Because I can’t pull off lipstick in that color, but I like it in salads....
5. Russian Red Kale- The Levis jeans of the garden- tough, tasty, decorative and looks great with everything.... I toss the seeds down and it grows.
6. Spaghetti Squash- A meal in a squash. A perfect food. I’ll surrender part of the driveway to it and eat like royalty off of one plant.
7. Bronze Fennel- I don’t care if it seeds out everywhere, I can’t get enough. it looks so lovely growing amongst the Nigella...
8. Spacemaster Cucumber- Perfect sized slicer for small spaces
9. Tall Telephone Pea- Trying this in containers this year, growing it on old wreath forms and other weird objets d’art. It sounds too good to be true, with it’s high yields and heat proof ways.
10. Malabar Red Stem Spinach- I could evangelize this plant all day. A dream “spinach” for small spaces, it climbs all over the place and is as cute as a button.
11. Tomatoes: Each year my green thumb is bigger than my garden and I choose 4 or more kinds of tomatoes to grow. This year, I’m only trying Soldackis- because they are big, fast, pink and Polish.
12. Lettuce: I’m really random about lettuce, I’ll just toss some whatever in an empty spot here or there. I love all lettuces so why be choosy?
13. Potatoes: Whatever I find in the cupboard that looks like it’s ready to plant.... Plus maybe some Cranberry Reds for some added pink in my life.
14. Nasturtiums: I’m such a tart for Nasturtiums! Any color, any kind. I just toss them around and see what happens. I’m always overjoyed with the results...

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How can you not love a gardener that matches her vegetable colors to Manic Panic hair dye? Amanda is mosdef one of those gardeners that likes to EAT. Spaghetti squash is a personal fave as well, and see how she lets little details like SPACE get in the way. Bronze fennel is not invasive here... so go for it. I don't know her tomato variety, Soldackis, but I too am a fan of things "big, fast, pink and Polish." The nasturtiums, a year round LA self-sowing annual, repel some bugs like gramma's ashtray. Tart it up. Frankly, Amanda's cooler than us. Catch her and the garden world's social media diva Jean Ann Van Krevelen @jeanannvk on their podcast: Good Enough Gardening. All around Amanda on the far end of the learning curve and you won't find a better guide on your own. As her own email signature quotes Yoda: do or do not, there is no try.