Gardening for Beginners? It all starts with a sudden, strange urge to get your hands dirty. You’ve had a normal, clean existence up until a certain point and then the potential for a fresh vegetable or bouquet on your dining table beckons and… well, you’re ruined for life.
And all the better for it.
It’s February. I dislike winter, to put it mildly, and yet I find myself in the Midwest. A Midwest Girl at heart. Lake Michigan runs thru my veins.
We’ve had such a mild winter I really should not complain. I simply miss the sun. The constant grey brings me down. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down. And by January 6th when all that’s left of the Christmas season are some cookie crumbs and a dried out tree ready to become goat feed… well… I begin to long for dirty fingernails.
Today I found myself remembering my first garden…
I was practically, or at least by today’s thought, a child bride. Married only 3 weeks after turning twenty. We lived in a little condo with a 3 foot by an 18-foot strip of dirt that ran along the attached garage. It had some horrible, prickly bushes and some hosta. And not the pretty kind.
I wish I could remember exactly how it all started but one day I found myself disgusted with looking like everyone else… AH HA! In typing this it just came back to me! That is sooooo weird!
I just wrote a bit about Door County in my post from the other day but EUREKA! That’s it! It had to have been a trip up north that inspired my mania. The colourful mounds of annuals and perennials everywhere you turn up there have GOT to be what made me wait til the rest of the neighbourhood was in bed, sneak outside and dig like a mad woman pulling those VERY established bushes out of the ground. What a job. And in the dark. Nothing like diving right into the manual labour of gardening. Those things had roots all the way to China… but I won.
Mais bien sur.
During the day, when everyone was at work I dug out hundreds of pounds of white, quartz rocks that had been used as a weed barrier. As I look back I wonder what I did with those things?
I must have hauled them over to a neighbouring field a block away. I must have wanted this little garden something fierce. The time had come. The condo association was undergoing a management change and I knew no one would be around to do their anal retentive inspections for some time. So I “adiosed” those bushes and those lame hosta, hauled those rocks, I put up a little wooden border, went to the nursery for a flat of rocket snapdragons and made plans to visit my Grandma’s farm to divide a few of her perennials.
How I even knew that much is beyond me. It had to be thru osmosis. Drawing on things I had heard my Mom and Grandma say over the years. I heard while growing up that snapdragons were my Great Gramma’s favourite (along with lilacs).
We always had rocket snaps growing up and every September as a little girl I would walk to school with a bouquet for my new teacher.
Those are sweet and gently memories indeed.
At my Gramma’s farm, I dug up what our family calls “ditch plant”. It’s got a real name… valarium or something like that (it’s escaping me as I am writing before the sun comes up and my family wakes up). But perhaps you’ve seen in. Tall, purple and spiky. It’s probably growing alongside a pond or in a ditch near your house. I bet you could get some yourself. I also dug up what we call “yellow buttons”. NOT the correct name but they are wispy, prolific tiny yellow flowers that make their appearance in late May/early June.
That was the extent of my garden. My first garden.
And I relished in it.
I was so proud. Proud to have broken the rules (cause I’m ornery like that), proud to have such a splash of colour, proud to take the first steps of walking in the shadow of my Mom, Gramma and Great Gramma (a theme no-doubt you’ve picked up on if you’ve read my book).
I got fine-threat after fine-threat once the new association came into power but I just dropped them in la poubelle. Instead of tearing my garden out, I doubled down and bought a strand of lights to string from the a tree, some iron furniture and I hand painted a welcome mat, complete with a rooster at my front door. It’s clear I wasn’t cut out for condo life but we lived there for eight years…
Though I have changed so much over the years… apparently, I haven’t changed much at all.
(Above photos from my second garden… my first potager… before our move to farm life)
So, where to begin if you’re wondering about
Gardening for Beginners?
What you’re about to venture into is developing a skill that in some ways is going to become innate. It’s going to become a part of who you are. A gardener.
So read a little, google, rent some books at the library for sure… but don’t get too tangled up in that. It’s just really outdoor decorating, so figure out what you like. I knew I hated bushes but loved snapdragons so that’s where I began.
Learn your zone.
Yeap – for all you newbies this country is divided into “zones” and you’ll use that information in selecting your plants. I’m zone 5b for example. So that gorgeous, bougainvillaea plant that I dream of growing isn’t going to thrive here like it does in say… Saint Martin. (I’d have to dig it up and bring it in every winter and even then it’s growth would be stunted).
Perhaps you’ve wondered why people start certain plants from seed, indoors, in February? It’s all about the zone. They, we, are creating a longer growing season with warm soil. Popping that seed in the ground in May would never give it enough time to become a five-foot-tall tomato.
Find a patch of land.
Southwest exposure to the sun is ideal. No matter how small or big you’ll want to get rid of the grass, weeds, gravel… whatever is in your way and amend the soil. There’s your first fancy gardening term, “amend the soil”. You’re simply giving it some extra nutrition to support your gorgeous plants. You can do this many, many ways and you don’t have to have a pile of composted chicken manure like me. Run to Home Depot or the nursery and grab some mushroom compost and peat moss. Work it into your soil and be proud. Remember, you’re a beginner.
I’m a gardening glove addict. My nails still end up getting dirty but when you have that rubber tipped finger you can get right in there and grab those weed roots, stones. Grab a few pair. You’ll take one off to answer the phone and it will disappear.
Getcha’ some plants and plant those bad boys.
If you’re not concerned about organic flowers then go ahead and Miracle Grow the snot out of your annuals. Really. Every two weeks and your friends will stand in awe of your blooms! For veggies and beginners, I suggest grabbing a bag of fish emulsion.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I’m kidding. Just keep your garden watered. If you’ve got questions the internet is an excellent resource. I’ll hop on all the time for new tips, typing in words like, “How to grow beautiful green beans”. You’ll learn so much.
That’s it. Really. I’m not gonna bog down a post with a ton of information cause I don’t believe that’s what it’s about for a beginner. I believe it’s about falling in love. Falling in love with dirt, with the process, with cloudy, warm days where you can garden without squinting…. there is so much to love, so much to learn.
Is this going to be your year?
I’m a week or so behind but I’m ordering my seeds as soon as I’m done with this post. And it’s time to clean out my greenhouse too. Let the fun begin!!!!
Winter is for planning your garden and reading about gardens and gardening.
Being the book junkie I am, here are just a couple of my favourite gardening books. I’m even dying to write my own. (These are affiliate links. When you shop Amazon thru Parisienne Farmgirl it supports the time invested in my blog and helps me buy tomato seeds. And I thank you:)
About the country estate of Prince Charles. His books about this estate and organic gardening are fabulous. This is just one of them but I discovered it years ago and it is part of my gardening journey.
I rented this from the library as a brand new gardener. It gave me such a vision. The die was cast. It’s still my all-time favorite book about flower gardens.
This little book is what inspired me to go from perennial gardener to vegetable gardener. It’s because of this book that I dug that first Potager at my second home.
You know, some of you blog readers just “get me”. I received this masterpiece of a book last year from a blog reader. It was so lovely. Though I do not have her skills with a watercolour palette after reading this book I am convinced that Beatrix and I are kindred spirits in the garden. This book moved my soul and I’m settling in to read it again this week.
My seeds are on their way. The pages of my favourite gardening books are worn, wine spills, coffee spills, chicken scratch. The words and photos and the warmth of the mere thought of gardening bring a sigh to my chest. I can’t wait…
And if you’ve never gardened before… I hope that this is your year.
Go get dirty.
For more gardening fun be sure to check out my Potager 101 series here.