The 9 Secrets to Gardening That Nobody Tells You

1. Plants die and it’s not always your fault

I always thought it was my fault plants die. I started gardening back in College, not extensively, but more like buying one of those “gardening packets” from Barns and Noble kids section, and wanting to grow elephant ears. I really hope I am not the only adult who did that. Some of those sprouted and I was watching them so closely everyday that they might have just died from over-exposure of my burning-eye-contact, as if I could see them growing visibly by staring at them. Well, they didn’t survive.

Then I moved on to planting roses in the front garden for my host family, without knowing there are many kinds of roses, and the long-stemed red roses sold in a bouquet is probably one of the hardest things to grow. Also, I bought them from Walmart, not the best source for plants as they may have transported a long way, from somewhere else where the climate is totally different. Well, surprisingly, out of the three, one of them still survived until my host family sold the house last year. 

Since then, I moved to California, and killed many more succulents. I blamed myself for them as people told me “succulents were the easiest to take care of.” Well that is another lie (see point #9). 

Eventually I moved to Arkansas, and planted an orchard, started my vegetable/herb garden and grew garlic, kale, tomatoes, carrots this year. I realized that plants die sometimes, and it’s not really your fault. It could be many things that kill the plant: pests (like aphids, these green little tiny devils, caterpelers, bright colored and with horns), fungi (like fire blight, what a horendous name!), rodents (those squirrels who ate my sunflowers), drought (sometimes no matter how much you water, it’s not gonna save the plants), soil (bad soil could make it hard or almost impossible to grow), temperature (too high, too low, too humid). 

All of that to say, it’s not you! Sometimes it’s simply not the right environment for the plant. I used to beat myself up for it as if it’s my fault. Now I take the Darwin approach – stay back and observe, may the strongest plant survive. I don’t stress about watering my plants in the morning anymore. Surprisingly, gardening became more enjoyable because everything that actually survives and produces are cherry on top. 

2. Plant a lot of backup seedlings

Now that we got the biggest one out of the way, the rest are how to deal with the fact that not all plants will survive. The easiest solution is to plant a lot of seeds. This is why one plant/flower produces SO MANY seeds. Because they know nature works in a way not every single seed would survive and sprout. So now, I sow multiple seeds in one pod, and I sow more than what I would transplant into the garden. This way, I have some “spares” if something doesn’t turn out. If certain seedlings are weaker, I can swap it out with a stronger plant as well. 

3. Buy from a local/semi-local seed company

Don’t buy seeds from Walmart, Home Depot, or worse, Barns and Noble. Try to find a seed store that’s local (as in either the seed is from this local farm, or they obtained their seeds from somewhere that’s in the region). This will give you the highest chance of these seeds sprouting in your region (zone) AND survive. I buy seeds from Southern Exposure, and I look for the little sun icon to make sure that it’s especially well-suited to the South East region. For example, citrus trees, something that grows well in California is never going to survive in Arkansas.

I also bought a pack of carrot seeds from Home Depot once at the beginning of my gardening journey, and none of them sprouted. So, I thought carrots were hard to grow. This year, I decided to give it another shot, and bought seeds from Southern Exposure, they sprouted beautifully and this year I have tons of carrots to eat. It makes me wonder how long ago those Home Depot seeds were collected & kept in the store? Seeds do expire (die) after a while – they are less viable year after year. If you haven’t had success with a specific plant, try another source of seeds from a local company.

I also bought two paw paw trees from our local Arkansas orchard: Ames Orchard & Nursery last year and they’ve been surviving so far even though I haven’t babied them much. Having plants that are regional/local to your area would increase their survival and decrease the time spent tending to them. 

4. Spiders and snakes are your friends!

Yellow Garden Spider, we named “Aragog.” There is another orb weaver spider that comes out at night and we call her “Charlotte”

Well, maybe not the ones you hug and cuddle with. But they keep the pests away. I have learned to speak with them like we are in the same platoon fighting the war against pests that invade my garden.

I got this big gal (see left) earlier in the summer (and she used to be a smaller gal until she caught a giant caterpillar and divoured it in a week). I looked up this type of spiders online and found they are not venomous. They are surely scary looking though!

I also found a garden snake a couple of times chilling underneath cardboards. I am not sure if it’s the same snake, but I call it “Nagini” 🙂 I find giving them names make me less afraid of them, and I realize they are important guests of my garden eco system!

5. Plan Plant Planogram

I learned from one of the gardeners either from youtube or spotify podcasts that they draw out their garden in advance, and plan out where all the crops would go, when they would be replaced by the next season crops. I started doing it this year, and it has greatly helped me realize that I need to lower my expectation of how many plants can be planted in one place. It also allowed me to have some room for their growth. 

6. Be a laidback gardener

I used to stress out about my garden when I go on vacations. I feel anxious because I feel like everything would die and I would have come back to a dead backyard. It turns out plants are quite resilient. Sometimes, I even luck out on having more yields because I let the plants be. This year, I had to leave the house from May to August, and did not spend as much time tending to my garden. It definitely became a little unwielding when I came back, but it was not as bad as I imagined in my head. I still enjoyed plenty of harvests, including 5 lbs of garlic, with almost no effort at all. So why stress? Gardening is supposed to be fun and relaxing.

7. Experiment with homemade compost

Good soil is expensive, yet good soil is one of the biggest factor of successful gardening. The best way I’ve learned is to make homemade compost (whether with a tumbler, bokashi, or have a 3ft cube yard waste pile)

8. Collect seeds, even if it’s not heirloom

Heirloom – plants that are heirloom, meaning the seeds they produce will grow the same plant/fruit, are considered more desirable in the gardening community because you are saving tons of money every year by collecting your own seeds instead of buying new ones. However, for a beginner gardener like me, I haven’t kept track of things that are heirloom. Even with seeds that are not heirloom, it would be fun to plant and see what would grow! 

Collecting seeds are great fun as I started to learn what each plant seeds look like as well. For example, I would’ve never knew calendula seeds were this jagged horseshoe shaped alien looking parts of the flower.

9. Succulents aren’t that “easy” depending on where you live

I now have grown a lot of vegetables out of seeds but I still struggle keeping succulents alive. The other day I inherited a bucket of succulents from my friend who’s neglected them for 3+ months and some of them were on the brink of death while others thrived. It occurred to me that a lot of the big box stores combine different types of plants together such as aloe that needs a decent amount of water with other succulents who only needs water once every month or so. No wonder some of them died while others thrived in the neglect. 

What are some of the less-talked about gardening knowledge you’ve learned?

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 7/29/21
  • The Psychology of Money, recommend borrowing from your local library

Wow. It was a beyond fantastic book about wealth and greed. My favorite part of the book was the postscript on “a brief history of why the U.S. consumer thinks the way they do” which I quoted at the very bottom of this post the ending of that history to present time. Housel really boiled the truth down to very simple observations. It is fascinating to read.

  1. We all do crazy stuff with money because we’re all relatively new to this game and what looks crazy to you might make sense to me. But no one is crazy — we all make decisions based on our own unique experiences that seem to make sense to us in a given moment.
  2. Your personal experiences with money make up maybe 0.000000001% of what’s happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.
  3. Bill Gates experienced one in a million luck by ending up at Lakeside Highschool (a U.S. high school that has a computer curriculum in 1968). If you give luck and risk their proper respect, you realize that when judging people’s financial success—both your own and others’—it’s never as good or as bad as it seems.
  4. Be careful who you praise and admire. Be careful who you look down upon and wish to avoid becoming. Some people are born into families that encourage education; others are against it. Some are born into flourishing economies encouraging entrepreneurship; others are born into war and destitution. I want you to be successful and I want you to earn it. But realize that not all success is due to hard work, and not all poverty is due to laziness. Keep this in mind when judging people, including yourself. Therefore focus less on specific individuals and case studies and more on broad patterns.
  5. The hardest financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving. Know when it is enough.
  6. Social comparison is the problem that makes you want more.
  7. Good investing isn’t necessarily about earning the highest returns, because the highest returns tend to be one-off hits that can’t be repeated. It’s about earning pretty good returns that you can stick with and which can be repeated for the longest period of time. That’s when compounding runs wild.
  8. Getting wealthy vs. staying wealthy: money is about survival. You will get the biggest return if you are able to stick around long enough for compounding to work wonders. Optimistic about the future, but paranoid about what will prevent you from getting to the future – is vital.
  9. You can be wrong half of the time and still make a fortune:
  • You could invest $1 a month from 1900 to 2019 regardless of market – you will end up with $435,551
  • You could invest $1 in the stock market when the economy is not in a recession, and save your monthly dollar in cash, and invest everything back into the stock market when the recession ends – you will end up with $257,386
  • Or it takes a few months for a recession to scare you out, and then it takes a while to regain confidence before you get back in. You invest $1 in stock when there’s no recession, sell six months after a recession begins, and invest back in six months after a recession ends. You will end up with $234,476.

The moral to the story, don’t time the market.

  1. Controlling your time is the highest dividend money pays. Money’s greatest intrinsic value – and this can’t be overstated – is its ability to give you control over your time. Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of wellbeing than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered. More than your salary, more than the size of your house, more than the prestige of your job.
  2. No one is impressed with your possessions as much as you are. You might think you want an expensive car, a fancy watch, and a huge house. But you don’t. What you want is respect and admiration from other people, and you think having expensive stuff will bring it. It almost ever does — especially from the people you want to respect and admire you.
  3. Spending money to show people how much money you have is the fastest way to have less money.
  4. Building wealth has little to do with your income or investment returns, and lots to do with your savings rate. The value of wealth is relative to what you need. You can save just for saving’s sake. And indeed you should. That flexibility and control over your time is an unseen return on wealth.
  5. Reasonable > Rational: Aiming to be mostly reasonable works better than trying to be coldly rational.
  6. History is the study of change, ironically used as a map of the future. The most important part of every plan is planning on your plan not going according to plan. Harvard psychologist Max Bazerman once showed that when analyzing other people’s home renovation plans, most people estimate the project will run 25% – 50% over budget. But when it comes to their own projects, people estimate that renovations will be completed on time and at budget. Oh, the eventual disappointment.
  • The biggest single point of failure with money is a sole reliance on a paycheck to fund short-term spending needs, with no savings to create a gap between what you think your expenses are and what they might be in the future.
  1. Long-term planning is harder than it seems because people’s goals and desires change over time. We should come to accept the reality of changing our minds. The trick is to accept the reality of change and move on as soon as possible.
  2. Everything has a price, but not all prices appear on labels. Every job looks easy when you’re not the one doing it because the challenges faced by someone in the arena are often invisible to those in the crowd. We are not good at identifying what the price of success is, which prevents us from being able to pay it.
  3. Beware taking financial cues from people playing a different game than you are. When a commentator on CNBC says, “you should buy this stock,” keep in mind that they don’t know who you are. Are you a teenager trading for fun? An elderly widow on a limited budget? A hedge fund manager trying to shore up your books before the quarter ends? Are we supposed to think those three people have the same priorities, and that whatever level a particular stock is trading at is right for all three of them?
  4. Forecasts of outrageous optimism are rarely taken as seriously as the prophets of doom. Pessimism just sounds smarter and more plausible than optimism.
  5. The more you want something to be true, the more likely you are to believe a story that overestimates the odds of it being true.

The summarized notes on Money

  1. Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong.
  2. Less ego, more wealth – saving money is the gap between your ego and your income, and wealth is what you don’t see.
  3. Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep at night.
  4. If you want to do better as an investor, the single most powerful thing you can do is increase your time horizon.
  5. Become ok with a lot of things going wrong. You can be wrong half the time and still make a fortune.
  6. Use money to gain control over your time.
  7. Be nicer and less flashy.
  8. Save, just save. You don’t need a specific reason to save.
  9. Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it.
  10. Worship room for error. A gap between what could happen in the future and what you need to happen in the future in order to do well is what gives you endurance, and endurance is what makes compounding magic over time.
  11. Avoid the extreme ends of financial decisions. Everyone’s goals and desires will change over time, and the more extreme your past decisions were the more you may regret them as you evolve.
  12. You should like risk because it pays off every time.
  13. Define the game you are playing.
  14. Respect the mess. Smart, informed, and reasonable people can disagree in finance, because people have vastly different goals and desires. There is no single right answer; just the answer that works for you.
  • Independence, to me, doesn’t mean you’ll stop working. It means you only do the work you like with people you like at the times you want for as long as you want.
  • True success is exiting some rat race to modulate one’s activities for peace of mind.
  • Good decisions aren’t always rational. At some point you have to choose between being happy or being “right.”
  • How Morgan Housel invests: we invest money from every paycheck into these index funds—a combination of U.S. and international stocks. There’s no set goal—it’s just whatever is left over after we spend. We max out retirement accounts in the same funds and contribute to our kids’ 529 college savings plans. Effectively all of our net worth is a house, a checking account, and some Vanguard index funds.
  • one of my deeply held investing beliefs is that there is little correlation between investment effort and investment results. My investing strategy doesn’t rely on picking the right sector or timing the next recession. It relies on a high savings rate, patience, and optimism that the global economy will create value over the next several decades. I spend virtually all of my investing effort thinking about those three things—especially the first two, which I can control.
  • You can scoff at linking the rise of Trump to income inequality alone. And you should. These things are always layers of complexity deep. But it’s a key part of what drives people to think “I don’t live in the world I expected. That pisses me off. So screw this. And screw you! I’m going to fight for something totally different, because this—whatever it is—isn’t working.”

Housel’s summary on most recent events, Trump, and the future.

The unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in decades. Wages are now actually growing faster for low-income workers than for the rich. College costs, by and large, stopped growing once grants are factored in. If everyone studied advances in healthcare, communication, transportation, and civil rights since the Glorious 1950s, my guess is most wouldn’t want to go back.

But a central theme of this story is that expectations move slower than reality on the ground. That was true when people clung to 1950s expectations as the economy changed over the next 35 years. And even if a middle-class boom began today, expectations that the odds are stacked against everyone but those at the top may stick around.

So the era of “This isn’t working” may stick around.

And the era of “We need something radically new, right now, whatever it is” may stick around.

Which, in a way, is part of what starts events that led to things like World War II, where this story began.

History is just one damned thing after another.

On Local Community

I hated having to find a contractor when I first moved across the country to Arkansas. It wasn’t the first time I moved across the country and I know how it works. You pack up your stuff, label them on the box, put the new address into GPS and start driving.

I guess I don’t need to mention Arkansas is different than L.A., in the most obvious ways.

Arkansas does not have the beach, the sunshine, boba teas, acai bowls, or Ahi Pokes. L.A. has Trader Joes & In & Outs, and Arkansas has Walmart & Chick-fil-a. Even the smallest thing like finding a vet was difficult. My L.A. greyhound vet always told me, greyhounds process anesthesia differently, and they will not put her under while cleaning her teeth. Arkansas vet told me they MUST put my dog under regardless of breed when they clean her teeth. I still absolutely hate this.

When I first moved here, it was exhausting having to find a new grocery store that sells ribs and will cut them for you. People here don’t understand that Asians like having shorter pork ribs (so you can fit these ribs in a pot, duh!). I had to find a new dog sitter, a new car cleaner, a new mechanic, a new vet, a new apartment, a new doctor, a new dentist. In L.A., those things are easy. You just go on google or yelp and find the highest rated business nearest to you. Thousands of reviews detailed to the last review left only 5 minutes ago. If you ever felt like their service was not up to par, a 3-star could get everything fixed real quick. Arkansas was like a different country, one that was left behind by the world. Yelp only has McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Chick-fil-a. Google reviews were non-existing. People don’t use Meetup; they use Facebook. At the beginning, even my apartment, built 2 years ago, was NOT on google map. Imagine that. I had to put a pin and tag this pasture on google as “home” to get directions.  

Last month, I started renting my house on Airbnb while living in a rental. The day the first guest was arriving, I went over to the house in the morning to turn on the AC for her. And that was the first time this year I turned on the AC. I turned it on and left. A couple hours later around noon, I checked the thermostat temperature on my phone app. I realize it had gone up instead of down. My first guess was the thermostat must not be updating since I am not at the house. Well, you guessed it. There was nothing wrong with my thermostat; my AC was broken, dead, in the middle of a heat wave. 

That week the temperature was record high in Arkansas; temperature went up to 105 F at one point during the day. My airbnb guest surely isn’t going to pay $150 a night to be stewing in their own sweat. I called one of the AC companies from google search of nearby AC professionals, and the receiptionist immediately stopped me as soon as I said I needed someone to come and look at the AC. “We are at least a week and half out,” She told me. “Everyone is booked solid since it is so hot.” I took a deep breath trying to calm down and scrolled through my phone for other AC professional contacts in my phone.

Then I realized that there was an AC guy, David, I used for the barn. He came and connected the mini-split for the barn earlier this year. Someone from a Facebook group of local moms had recommended him (the group’s name is “Bentonville Moms in the know”, which I quite enjoy the blatant cheesiness). So I gave him a call but his receiptionist told me the same thing, everyone is swamped, but she gave me a list of other AC guys around the area to call and try my luck, and promised to put me on the waitlist for David. 

About 30 minutes later, after being rejected by probably the entire AC professionals in town, sitting in my living room, I finally broke down and started balling in tears. That’s when David called back. He said he remembered me, remembered coming to connect my barn, and he will be finishing up his work at 5pm but he understand it is urgent so he will come over on his way home to take a look. I was so thankful. It feels like someone has got my back, and wouldn’t leave me completely alone, stranded in this humid house without AC. 

David came as promised, a little after 5pm, he called and told me he was on his way to assure he was coming. When he showed up at the door, I could see there were little salt marks on his face from the dried up sweat. I can imagine he probably just got down from someone else’s attic and drove to my house. David smiled a little, took his glasses off and wiped his forehead with a hankerchift, and put his glasses back on. “Trouble with the AC, I see?” He walked in and put down his tool belt by the AC & Furnace and started working. 

I have dealt with my fair share of contractors while renovating my first house. The industry is male-dominated and with my look and my height, I felt contractors would try to upcharge because they think “this little girl doesn’t know what’s going on but she will pay us. Let’s charge her extra.” Perhaps it is cinicism, maybe there are some truth to it. Or maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know. But I’ve always been extremely cautious with contractors.

David told me that the coil for the AC was broken. I knew he was right because last year, the same thing happened but the prior AC guy pumped some freon in, and told me the leak was fixed. David asked if I knew the AC was under warranty. I said, yes I registered it myself. He was very relieved. He said, “I ALWAYS register for my customers because it saves them tons of money when parts break like this.” He said, “don’t worry, I’ll pump some freon to get you going for now and that will last you a good few weeks. And I’ll order the parts, we can schedule some time when you don’t have Airbnb guests, and fix this. My estimate of the whole thing including my labor would be $xxx.” And actually, his final numbers (he gets paid by the hour) was a little less than his estimates but almost spot on.

The entire time David was working, he hummed a very quiet and joyful tune. The fact that he wasn’t stressed made me feel like there’s hope, and that he would be able to fix this in no time and life would go back to normal again. Sometimes he stops to push his glasses back up his nose. He would walk in and out of the house frequently to get yet another gadget I can’t name, but he always closes the door behind him, to make sure he doesn’t let cool air out (not that there was much cool air to start with). He would wipe his shoes on the door mat every single time he comes in, and at the end, he took a papertowel from his truck, and wiped the dust off where he was working.

That’s one of the first times I felt Arkansas wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t so bad that Arkansas is 10 years behind the time. Because behind L.A.’s convenience, best services, best reviews, and most innovative products, much of human connections have been long lost. There is nobody like David in L.A. Everyone is out for themselves and if you want something you MUST pay. I didn’t value the community and connections when I was in L.A. because I never understood fully what it was like to have neighbors you can rely on to watch over your house, to have contractors who become friends, and friends to look after your dog when you go out of town. I was very self-sufficient in L.A., but also alone. I had to be. I have no one to rely on. Strangely in Arkansas, I can trust almost complete strangers and become friends with them. 

This is when I realized I would probably never move back to L.A. I was building a career back then in L.A., but now I am building a life.