Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to start gardening

My passion for gardening was uncovered during my three years of homeownership. While I have always had indoor plants in my home, I tried edible container gardening once and was dissatisfied with the results. With the ability to shape the landscape around my house and the raised garden bed on the west side of my home, I began to ask "what did I want?" One advantage I had was the landscaping was haphazard. There were some Korean boxwoods along the driveway, a poor choice for something that would always have snow piled on it in the winter, Juniper bushes along the front of the house and some orange daylilies on the southwest side of the foundation. There were two raised garden beds, one 3 feet by 3 feet with a Stella d'Oro daylily planted and a 9 feet by 9 feet bed with some nonproductive strawberries, a white phlox and lots of weeds. The property was topped off by a mature Green Ash tree on the southwest corner of the house.

I started with what I did not like, the juniper bushes, and had them ripped out. My first full winter demonstrated that the Korean boxwoods were ill suited for their location; I gave them away. My second year found me uninterested in the orange invasive daylilies so I gave away all of the roots that people could dig up.

My next step was to plant what I wanted. Summer demonstrated a single tree on the southwest corner was little protection for the east and southeast of the house. So I chose to plant more shade trees on the east, southeast and west sides of the house. I also chose native trees to plant with the exception of the park row tree. I also planted what I thought was pretty like pink phlox, red and purple daylilies and tulips. I make mowing around my mailbox more manageable by surrounding the area with pavers and planting tulips and crocuses. I moved the lone Asiatic lily from a shaded area where it was unable to bloom to full sun where it both bloomed and produced more lilies. I filled in empty areas around the foundation with hostas (and bleeding hearts) because they did well in partial to full shade. The former location of the juniper bushes became a bounty of native bushes and flowers. Other people gave away their landscaping or split off their plants so I could add variety to my own property.

I tried my hand at growing edibles in the large raised garden bed by planting what I liked (corn, onion, rhubarb, lettuce) and had a tiny harvest because I failed to test my soil. The next year, I fought fewer weeds and grew more food because the soil was heavily amended. I experimented with growing new things like cucumbers, beans, peas and carrots. I added a raised bed to grow strawberries and built raised beds to grow more vegetables. All the while I was planting and experimenting, I intended to put in two rain gardens and have not started one.

What is the moral of this story? Just try planting something. Like with my juniper bushes, it can be easier to figure out what you do not like than what you do. Start small, just a 12 inch square patch and toss in some tulip bulbs or set in a daylily. These are plants that are fairly easy to care for and add a lot of color and vibrancy. If you want to eat something, try beans or lettuce or even herbs. Grow for beauty, grow for food or grow for wild life. All are wonderful choices and add much to your life. There is something revitalizing and fascinating about green growing things, and I get excited as they grow and mature and flower.

Whether you start with a small patch of dirt or a large garden spread, the growing venture will reward you in both tangible and intangible ways. I rarely started my gardening knowing exactly what I wanted in a particular spot. I chose what I liked and hopefully was well-adapted to my property. If not, I either fixed the problem (e.g., amending the soil with the right nutrients) or tried again with a different plant.

What are you growing this year?


  1. So far, all I've done are those nasturtiums. They're looking pretty good, I transplanted the sprouts into pots. They spend the days outside and I bring them in at night, I can't wait to see how the flowers look! My landlady has a great flower garden, so I'll have plenty of colour this summer. I still haven't started the herb garden, it's on the list!

  2. @Rain,

    I am still working on having blooms throughout the summer. When planting what I like, I did not take blooming time into consideration. However, I hope the more different items I plant, the greater the spread of flowers and colors!

  3. Pinks and purples are pretty, but I'm a fan of oranges, yellows and reds! At least that's what I imagine in my dream garden! (Oh, and lots of green too!)