In 1999, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman turned prevailing management theory on its head with their book, “First, Break All the Rules.” Their conclusion was simple: Abandon the time-honored report card and performance review practice of identifying “areas for improvement” and focus solely on maximizing strengths.
This applies at home, too. If you are good at baking and not great at housekeeping, make more cakes and hire someone to scrub the tub once a month.
If you don’t enjoy digging in the dirt, for heaven’s sake resist the pressure to grow your own food. Even if you plant in straw bales or pots, there is still a lot of outdoor work involved. That perfect Brandywine tomato won’t taste as luscious if you feel you missed summer fussing over it.
Fortunately gardening is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There is a happy middle ground between a grass-only lawn and a 62-straw-bale plot (I know, last count was 52, but I felt a need to expand the cantaloupe section.)
If you want the satisfaction of growing something without the toil, I have a special category of foods and flowers for you. I call them the Magic Seeds, because they deliver Jack-and-the-Beanstalk results with minimal effort. They are fun for kids because they grow so fast, changing every day, and few adults can resist their charms.
All the Magic Seeds on my list, except moonflower vine, are easy and fast and possibly give better results grown from seeds than from transplants. If you don’t want to mess around with keeping the soil moist until the seeds germinate (usually four to five days, but could be up to 10), get transplants instead. You can start them all as late as May 31 and get good results. All need a lot of sun to thrive.Gourds
Gourds come in many bizarre shapes, colors and sizes and are fun to grow precisely because they serve little purpose. Native Americans used them to make bowls, ladles and musical instruments. Crafters make birdhouses from them, but I like them purely for entertainment value. Gourds need strong support, so grow them on a fence or sturdy arbor. Apple, dinosaur, swan and extra long handled dipper are fun shapes to try.Giant pumpkins
This is another personal favorite that I grow for spectacle, not food. I grow four varieties of pie pumpkins — smaller and sweeter — but I can’t resist giving one corner of the yard over to my version of Linus’ “Great Pumpkin.” Choose a sunny spot where the plant can eventually cover a 12-by-12-foot area, dig a bucket-size hole and fill it with good soil and aged manure. Plant several seeds and thin to the biggest plant.Watermelon
Watermelons offer the best of both worlds — fun to watch and delicious. Moon and Stars gets bonus points for unusual markings.Giant sunflowers
Like pumpkins, sunflowers come in regular varieties that are colorful and beautiful in vases and giants grown for the sole purpose of having your photo taken next to it when it gets taller than you. Grow these once, and your children will remember it forever.Moonflower vine
These vines take awhile to get going and won’t make flowers until August, but the show is worth the wait. Just before sundown each evening, mascara-tube-size buds unfurl while you watch, opening into saucer-size white flowers that perfume the yard all night with a fragrance similar to jasmine. In the morning, the flowers close and drop off, with new buds appearing by afternoon.
The vines can be hard to grow from seeds, so buy a small pot with several vines and plant them together — if you try to separate the vines, you’ll disturb the roots — at the base of a trellis. If you have a porch that gets sun, you can train them up twine attached to eye-hooks for a beautiful and sweet-smelling privacy screen.