I have chatted with many growers over the years and there are some particular characteristics that keep coming up over and over. These characteristics aren’t necessarily bad, but when they are allowed to drive ALL of a gardener’s decisions, they can seriously hold them back. My hope in devoting some time to talking about each of these characters is that you will see the strengths and weaknesses of each one, possibly see yourself in them at times, and recognize what natural tendencies of yours you can better keep in check to help you achieve more success in your vegetable garden.
After you've been introduced to each personality, be sure to let us know which gardener personalities match you the best with our
The nine characters I will cover in this post are shown above. Scroll down to read the names and descriptions, and I challenge you to find the one or two that match you the best. Take note of the "Fatal Flaw" of each character and beware of that tendency lurking beneath the surface. Most importantly, make sure to read the description of the last character, the Master Gardener.
Personality Type #1: The Alchemist
Characteristics: Central to the Alchemist’s belief system is that there is some concoction they can brew up to solve every problem in the garden. They generally have a reactive rather than preventative approach to solving problems. Got an insect infestation? Brew up a slurry of hot pepper and garlic in water and spray it over all of your plants. Got powdery mildew? Dissolve baking soda and soap in milk and use it to coat the top and bottom of every leaf. Got poor soil? Just mix crushed egg shells, fly blood, and worm poop in the horn of an ox, let it sit for a year, then sprinkle it throughout your garden. There are few quick fixes in the world of organic gardening, but the Alchemist somehow retains hope that they simply have yet to discover that magical cure all. As a result, the Alchemist forever searches for one secret formula after another.
Fatal Flaw: The Alchemist’s infatuation with the promise of these miraculous concoctions draws their attention away from simply mastering the fundamentals of vegetable growing and getting to the root of each problem so they can better prevent it in the first place.
Personality Type #2: The Dreamer
Characteristics: My dear Dreamer, you’ve got big ideas don’t you. You’re going to grow all of your family’s food for the whole year. You’ll fill your pantry with jars of preserves just like your great grandmother. You’ll pick fresh vegetables from your garden every day and make your meals from scratch. You’ll hardly ever set foot in a grocery store again. You have bought some supplies. Maybe you start a project or two and even plant something, but then what happens? Well, life happens of course. You remember you have a job, that the bills keep coming, and someone needs to take your kids to soccer practice. These things are important too, and so Dreamers continue to shelf their long term plans in favour of immediate pressures. There’s always next year…
Fatal Flaw: Dreamers fail to consider the time and energy that it takes to achieve their goal and as a result their dreams fail to come to life. They take too much enjoyment in simply talking about their ideas, and then wait for the stars to align before they take action. Unfortunately, that’s not typically how change happens. The reality is that everyone has a limited amount of time in a day, so until they sit down to make a solid plan and decide what they are going to give up in order to reach their goal, Dreamers will only grow more dreams.
Personality Type #3: The Engineer
Characteristics: Engineers are always thinking about better ways to do things and they look to technology and their own creativity for the solutions. They love to automate systems, acquire the latest gear, and build whatever structures are necessary to enhance their vegetable growing operation. Why water your plants by hand when you could have an automated drip system to do all the irrigation for you? Why grow strawberries in dirty soil when you could grow them hydroponically in vertically stacked eavestroughs? Why bend over to work in your garden when you could build a collection of waist high raised beds? Why subject your plants to outdoor weather extremes when you could grow everything indoors and control every variable? These are the types of questions that continually tempt the Engineer in the garden.
Fatal Flaw: There is no doubt a benefit to a certain level of technological aid in the garden but an Engineer not kept in check will quickly conjure up unnecessarily complex and costly systems. Engineers can easily get lost in the world of technology and abandon the perks that the natural world provides such as biological pest control, moisture and temperature regulation, and the priceless value of a healthy soil food web. Without due caution, engineers will end up with an empty bank account and a growing system far more complicated and less productive than they initially imagined.
Personality Type #4: The Gambler
Characteristics: Gamblers think growing vegetables is just like rolling the dice. “I just have bad luck with carrots, spinach, …and peas… and radishes.” That’s the kind of line you’ll hear all the time from Gamblers, because they attribute failure and success in their garden to good or bad luck. Some years the rain may come at the right time, the temperature trends may cooperate, and the Gambler may do enough things right that they have some harvest to enjoy. Other years can be a complete disaster. Whatever the result, the Gambler will brush it off and be back the next year to roll the dice again.
Fatal Flaw: Success in the garden depends on an understanding of the science, not a gardener’s luck. The Gambler’s carefree approach to vegetable growing will always lead to unpredictable results, but they fail to recognize this. They experience just enough random success to keep using bad luck as a scapegoat when things don’t work. “Well, my peas came up this year. I guess all those other years, it wasn’t my fault after all!” they say. Perhaps the Gambler takes some pleasure in that game-like unpredictability, and maybe they are just as happy to go buy all of their food when their crops fail, but I say, as Kenny Rogers taught us all in The Gambler, "If you're gonna play the game boy, you gotta learn to play it right.”
Personality Type #5: The Earth Fairy
Characteristics: Earth Fairies attempt to model their vegetable gardens after nature using the patterns and biodiversity they see in the natural landscape. Every plant and insect in their garden serves a role and is a valued part of their little ecosystem. An Earth Fairy stands out in a crowd with their bare feet, their obsession with companion planting, and their talk of spiral planting formations. What are they working on in their garden today? It’s hard to tell. They might pull up a few of the large weeds growing among their vegetables, but only if they really seem to be in the way. They will likely glean anything edible including the aforementioned weeds. They will probably wander around a fair bit wondering what happened to the herbs they planted next to the squash. And of course, they’ll always stop to enjoy the flowers.
Fatal Flaw: The aim of crafting a landscape modelled after nature is a noble one. In nature, each species fills their niche perfectly and at a glance the finished (but never finished) product is amazingly complex, beautiful, and productive. The problem is that our natural landscape has been formed over millennia and Earth Fairies attempt to apply these standards in weeks, months, or a few years at best. Earth Fairies also forget that the vegetable collection we humans enjoy today was crafted by breeders over thousands of years and these carefully selected varieties now require human care to flourish. These refined plants will not compete with weeds, power through drought, or yield consistently with improper spacing, but they will produce abundantly with the right management. Until Earth Fairies acknowledge their role in bringing order and sustenance to their garden, they are going to spend most of their time making messes and cleaning them up.
Personality Type #6: The Failure
Characteristics: If you’ve grown a garden, you have had something go wrong. There are many logical reasons for your vegetables not to grow well, but when things go poorly for the Failure, they take the blame upon themselves. “Woe is me”, they say, “I have a black thumb. Nothing I do in the garden works. I kill everything.” This reasoning leads the Failure to believe that they just shouldn’t garden anymore, so after a couple of failed attempts at growing, they quickly surrender their vision of a dream garden and hang up their tools. The gardening career of a Failure is not long.
Fatal Flaw: Growers with the Failure mentality aren’t literally walking through their garden and killing their plants. Poor performance or even death in the vegetable garden is always related to variables like light, spacing, temperature, soil quality, water, and pest protection, and these can all be controlled. The fatal flaw of the Failure is their belief that they simply aren’t a good enough human to grow a garden. This is false. The truth is that they just need to try again and modify their gardening practice a little to achieve better results. So if you’re feeling like a Failure in the garden, consider this an order to pick yourself up and try again! We’ve all been there. The trick is to pay attention along the way so you can soak up the lessons that lie within each experience of failure.
Personality Type #7: The Penny Pincher
Characteristics: Penny Pinchers are looking to cut corners whenever it comes to a purchasing decision. Oh, how much better their gardening results would be if they could just open up their wallet a little wider. They know that a lot of people use proper grow lights to start seeds indoors, but they just start their seeds by a window instead. They have dreamed of having a nice irrigation system one day, but a simple oscillating sprinkler and hose is just so much cheaper. It really would be ideal to have a temperature controlled cold storage room for their harvest, but they make do by setting their produce in their garage. Old pallets, tires, toilet paper tubes, and plastic bottles area few of the classic gardening/building materials of the Penny Pincher.
Fatal Flaw: There are times to save a few dollars with a DIY solution and times when a big purchase upfront is really the best decision in the long run. Penny Pinchers fail to realize the true costs of not having the right equipment so when they apply their penny pinching mentality to EVERY decision, they end up wasting a bunch of time and it’s much more difficult or even impossible for them to achieve the results they wanted. What’s that you say? “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” Well, if you’re enjoying your penny pinching endeavours and actual food production is not a big priority, dabble on my gardening friend. When you’re serious about growing food for your family and getting consistent results, be prepared to spend a little to gain a lot in return.
Personality Type #8: The Vacationer
Characteristics: Vacationers can get their garden off to a great start in the spring, but when summer arrives, the garden has to compete for their attention with trips to the lake, afternoons in the park, and countless summer festivals. These other activities can keep Vacationers away from their vegetables for extended periods and each time they return for a visit, they are blown away by the amount of work required to recover. Plants are overgrown, giant weeds are taking over, and optimal harvest periods are missed. Therefore, to make it to the end of the growing season, vacationers must motivate themselves to apply large bursts of labour to their garden each time they make an appearance.
Fatal Flaw: Extended absences are the Vacationer’s worst enemy. When you are simply present in your garden on a regular basis, so much improvement happens either from the lessons you learn, the small acts of maintenance you do, or the slight changes you make to the growing conditions. Until a Vacationer learns to tend to their vegetables more frequently, gardening will always seem harder and less productive than it actually is. The best fertilizer after all is a farmer’s footsteps.
Personality Type #9: The Master Gardener
Characteristics: Ahh, at last we have the Master Gardener who brings balance to the force. Are they the perfect human being? Heck no. The Master Gardener actually possesses all of the characteristics we have covered. They have just learned to keep their temptations in balance.
Like the Alchemist, the Master Gardener is open minded enough to experiment with gardening remedies once in a while but only when the science makes sense and their core strategy for success remains rooted in gardening fundamentals.
Like the Dreamer, the Master Gardener starts with a vision every season, but they also commit the time and resources needed to seeing this vision through to the end.
Like the Engineer, the Master Gardener harnesses the power of technological systems to make growing easier and more productive, but only when these systems are economical and beneficial to garden life.
Like the Gambler, the Master Gardener takes chances, but always with a notebook in hand to learn from the experience and make improvements next time around.
Like the Earth Fairy, the Master Gardener recognizes the importance of the interrelationships between all living things, but they still don’t hesitate to take control of their garden space.
Like the Failure, the Master Gardener makes mistakes, but they bounce back and don’t label themselves as a black thumb for life.
Like the Penny Pincher, the Master Gardener has a knack for saving money with DIY solutions when possible, but they also know when it’s in their best interest to splurge for a high ticket item.
Like the Vacationer, the Master Gardener takes breaks from their garden to recharge, but they do so strategically at the best times of the year and with systems in place to keep things in check during their absence.
How's that for tying things all together in the end! The Master Gardener shows us that these characters all have strengths too, and success in the garden depends on a balance of all of these characteristics. Regardless of your dominant gardening personality, there is something we can learn from each of these characters so if you skipped any, be sure to go back and read them all,
...and now that you've met all the characters,
which of them best match your gardening personality?
Here are the survey results to date: