I re-connected to a girl friend of mine from high school through Facebook (gotta love social media)! She posted some gorgeous photos of her garden last year and I asked if she might be willing to co-host a gardening post and share some photos on DKGstyle. Well, you are in for a treat because not only do I have some beautiful photos of her garden, but she did a full write up on gardening 101. Considering it’s a struggle for me to keep house plants alive I am going to hang on every word she says. I hope you enjoy!
First off, the reason I love to garden is because I’m passionate about food. I love to experiment in the kitchen and it brings me great pleasure to share great food with the people I love. Growing a portion of what we eat, and harvesting fresh vegetables and fruits right from our backyard, deepens the connection I have with great food.
The most important thing to realize about gardening is that it’s important to start with great soil. You can’t be a successful gardener if you skimp on the soil prep. Amending your soil with compost will help retain moisture and will attract worms and other beneficial microbes into your garden. This will help soil structure and create air pockets. Both of these things will allow the roots of plants to penetrate deep into the soil and it will also provide a nitrogen source for your plants.
The other item you need for great soil is a balanced organic fertilizer mix. If you’re just getting into gardening, ask someone at your local nursery (not the big box stores- you know the ones I’m talking about) to recommend an all purpose organic fertilizer. Apply both the compost and the fertilizer according to the recommendations on the packages/bags based on the area you plan to garden.
My husband and I have a big garden. It is approximately 1,000 square feet in the backyard, 250 square feet of raised beds in our front yard and 600 square feet of “orchard” (consisting of five fruit trees) in the unused city right-of-way behind our back yard. I also mix edibles with ornamentals throughout our 1/6th of an acre lot.
If you’re getting into gardening for the first time, my recommendation is to start small and build on your success. A couple bags of compost and a box of organic fertilizer might be enough to get you started.
Deciding what to grow
The next thing to decide is what do you want to grow? Start with things that you and your family like to eat. Some things are easier to grow than others, so my recommendation for new gardeners are:
If you enjoy growing the crops above you can expand from there. I don’t recommend starting your first garden with eggplants or peppers. Both of those crops are heat lovers and in my area (PNW) they take a lot of attention and TLC in order to thrive. Personally, I like to support local farmers when I need heat loving crops.
Seeds want to grow!
I think a lot of people get the impression that growing something from seed is difficult, but I’ll give you a tip: seeds want to grow. If a seed is given water, soil and sunlight it is almost certain to sprout. Just think about those potatoes in your pantry that are spouting “eyes” or the garlic that’s been left a little too long that is growing a green sprout. Those things haven’t even been given the basics, and yet they’re trying to grow.
Now try planting some lettuce seeds in the garden bed you’ve amended with compost and a little fertilizer. Lightly cover the seeds with soil and gently water the area you’ve just planted. If you come back in a week, you will likely see tiny little lettuce seeds sprouting. All the information a plant needs is contained in that tiny little seed. Watching a plant grow from a seed, into a vegetable you harvest, and prepare to eat is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.
If you’re not ready to start some seeds, then I’d suggest heading to your local farmers’ market and buying starts there. At the farmers’ market you’ll be able to chat with an expert and get some tips on transplanting, growing and harvesting. It’s good to build relationships with the people who are growing your food. Maybe over time you’ll be the one growing a portion of your diet, but in the beginning it’s great to have someone who can offer some support. Here’s another tip: gardeners love to talk about gardening! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most gardeners are more than happy to talk your ear off about gardening.
Gardening with kids
If you have kids, or if you have friends or relatives with kids, teaching them about where their food comes from will likely help them become more adventuresome eaters. For example, lots of kids love carrots. If you can get a child to help you plant some tiny carrot seeds and watch the seedling slowly sprout (they can take 2-3 weeks so don’t check every day to avoid discouragement), then watch them grow over a couple months, I suspect that child will be pretty excited to pull those carrots *they grew* from the ground. And they might eat their carrots with pride because they grew them, not to mention the fact that they taste so much better than any carrot from the store.
Making it pretty
Gardening is a lifetime learning process, but I’ve learned some basics over the last few years. One thing I love about gardening is the creativity involved. Instead of working on a painting or sculpture, I can play with a living art project. A lot like putting together an outfit, in the garden I have fun playing with color, texture and contrast.
One of my favorite things to do is plant different varieties of lettuce alternating the rows by contrasting color. My favorite lettuce is a chartreuse heirloom variety called Black Seeded Simpson. The vibrate shade of these ruffled lettuce leaves looks amazing with a dark burgundy variety like Red Salad Bowl. I also like to plant in a checkerboard pattern or plant on the diagonal.
It’s fun to mix edible flowers like nasturtiums at the base of a taller plant like broccoli or asparagus. Not only do the flowers provide “pops” of color in your garden or a salad, they also attract beneficial insects to feed on pests.
Most of all have fun with what you grow. Each year is different and you can learn from previous seasons by building on past successes and failures to make your garden more creative and productive the next year.
Thank you Brittney for all of the great tips and for sharing these photos of your gorgeous garden. Now all of you are equipped to start or expand your own, very stylish garden.