The Easy Way to Start a Garden

I kid you not. I was a TERRIBLE gardener. What did I know? I was a city kid who lived in a four-story walk-up.

When we bought our first house with an actual back yard, I was in Nirvana, but I was a curse to all plant life from the start. Greg seemed to take to gardening easily, probably because his father put in a garden every year in their tiny backyard. But me? I killed everything I touched. For a while Greg did all the gardening and I stuck to weeding.

Killing was in my blood and weeding seemed a natural vocation for me.

It's hard to explain just how bad a gardener I was. I loved it so much, but I didn't have a knack for it. My biggest problem, as I learned later is that I was too impatient. I was suckered in by all the beautiful photos I saw in magazines, never realizing those gardeners worked years to get that good.

It's kind of like looking at Facebook. Everyone else always seem to be more successful, have more fun, and do more exciting things than I do. Even their dogs are prettier and smarter. Or so it seems.

I started reading gardening books and listening to experienced gardeners. I took classes to become a certified master gardener. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, my skill improved.

Even today, I still kill lots of plants. Some varieties don't work for me. Others require more care than I want to donate. In the end, the best advice I can give is to grow what works for you.

If you like the idea of gardening, but find it daunting, start with one plant. Even a pot of basil will make you feel heroic and virtuous.

• Grow in pots. So many plants grow well in pots. All they need is a sunny window, water and a good potting mix.

• Start small. Even if you live in an apartment, put a couple of big pots on your balcony. Grow a tomato, peppers, or even potatoes if the pot is deep.

• Know your climate zone. If you live in Canada, there will be many things I can grow in Texas but you can't --and vice versa. Cool weather plants do great in Canada. Here, there's only a small window of opportunity if at all. For example: I can't grow rhubarb. Definitely a cool weather plant.

• Enjoy the fresh air. The nice thing about gardening is that you're outside. Breathe and stretch those muscles. It's good for the body and soul.

• Eat what you grow. There's something very satisfying about eating what you grow. (See above about being virtuous.)
Even weeds can be useful.
I grow a lot of plants in pots. In the spring, I do herbs in pots, but in the fall I regularly do several pots of tomatoes, peppers, and beans, even potatoes. Our winters are mild. When it gets too cold I can move the pots indoors and still get home grown food in the dead of winter.

If you have the room, try raised beds. Some people don't like them, but we swear by them. They've been the most successful of all the gardening we've done. They're easier to keep weeded and watered.

Don't get caught up in the magazine version of what your garden should look like. I have weeds and I'm okay with it. Right now I have a cracking good stand of poison ivy on the front walkway. I'll rip them out once my other projects are done.

Why, oh why do weeds always look so healthy?

Do you grow a garden? Flowers? Edibles? In pots or in the ground?

Are you a natural gardener? I promise I won't hate you for being perfect, but I withhold the right to feel gardener envy. You have no idea how much I wish I had a natural green thumb.



So far, I've managed to keep two african violets and and two cacti alive indoors, and some bougainvillea and a sea grape going outside in pots. Okay, my husband takes care of the outside ones for the most part but I cheer them on! :)
Maria Zannini said…
Madeline: Surprisingly, I don't grow many indoor plants. I have an elephant ear someone gave me, but it had so many babies, I'm surrounded by them now.

re: sea grapes
Now I'm going to have to look up sea grapes. I've never heard of them before.
Angela Brown said…
The only plants I can keep alive for more than a month are small bamboo plants and a mother-in-law lily.

I'm encouraging my daughter to enjoy gardening with her after school club friends. It's great to get in the dirt and grow beautiful things.

I commend you for tackling your gardener-killer ways and morphing them into gardener-grower skills :-)
Stacy McKitrick said…
Way back when I was single, I had plants all over the house. But then I was transferred and had to get rid of them. Never did get so many after that (didn't help that the cat liked nibbling on plants). The only plant I have in the house now is a cactus I got as a present.

I am not a gardener. I don't like bugs. We have a pear tree in the backyard, but I doubt I pick any of the pears. It's usually swarming with wasps by the time they need to be picked. That, or the worms have gotten into them (learned that one the hard way). I just figure I have the tree to feed the birds and squirrels! :)
Darke Conteur said…
We did a container garden last summer, but it was so hot and dry . . . not sure about this year. My mom wants another garden again, but with my work hours I won't be able to be out there with her all the time.
Jenny Schwartz said…
Amen! I agree so much - especially with how healthy weeds always look *sigh*

And for anyone starting up their garden, my tip: any plants that more than three neighbours are growing well are probably suited to your area and worth looking into growing. I tend to have "impossible dreams", but you have to adapt to conditions - like you say.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: Oh, please don't say bamboo. Greg has been bugging me to plant bamboo in the field and I won't do it. Bamboo is highly invasive. He thinks we can just mow it down, but the roots spread fast and they're hard to remove once established. Maybe if he wanted to raise pandas too, I'd feel differently. :)
Maria Zannini said…
Stacy: I don't want to know how you found out about the worms. Oy.

I'm not an indoor gardener. I'm terrible about watering on schedule.
Maria Zannini said…
Darke: Maybe you can just turn over the soil for her and let her do the rest. That's what my sister does for my mother. She's too old for the back breaking work, but she loves to putter and weed her little garden. She has a great green thumb. I obviously did not inherit that gene from her. Ha!
Maria Zannini said…
re: any plants that more than three neighbours are growing well are probably suited to your area...
Yes! I have a neighbor that grows 'dusty miller'. I thought our area was too hot for them, but hers spreads like crazy.
lv2trnscrb said…
I'm the perpetual black thumb here myself. Hubby did buy 2 citronella plants to distract mosquitoes. He's doing a great job of taking care of them. I just hope he never has to go out of town for an extended period of time.

Maria Zannini said…
Betty: I've always wondered if citronella plants really worked. My focus is thwarting scorpions. There's an old wives' tale that lavender keeps the scorpions away. I don't know if that's true, but I love the smell of lavender so I grow it for the scent alone.
Mike Keyton said…
I kid myself I cultivate and engineered wilderness. The hedges are rarely trimmed but hedgehogs and birds love them. The Damson (pruned this year :( ) are rumbustious bullies and look after themselves. Geraniums are bought because I can't be bothered to overwinter cuttings, and my success with rhubarb is hit and miss. Grass and weeds are cut to a uniform greenness and that's it. Though I have planted three rosebushes this year which seem to be thriving. I also have a full compost bin which is full of black stuff I haven't got round to using yet. So, all in all, I'm long way off from getting any kind of certificate :)
Mike Keyton said…
Damn. 'an engineered wilderness'
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: I wish I could be more Martha Stewart about my gardening habits, but that isn't me. As long as the weeds don't take over and I get enough food to preserve for the winter, I'm happy.

I'll bet you have a beautiful garden. Everything seems so green in England. I'm watching a British tv show right now called Escape to the Country. I'm jealous of all that greenery. From what I've seen though, homes look a little cramped to what I'm used to here. --and very expensive!
Mike Keyton said…
It is very green. I'm dying to show it you. Ref homes, you're right. We exchanged our wonderful 1908 Edwardian semi - high ceilings and big rooms for what is essentially a modern box. It was for convenience for Bernadette's job and our children's schooling but the house is much smaller. We've extended it via a garage conversion and conservatory, and we do live in country to die for, though that would defeat the objective.