Never in my life did I think I would be writing a series on my blog about GARDENING. What is happening here?!

nrp-olivia-swfruitfulsummer-1113In the garden with Josh by Olivia of Nancy Ray Photography.

Friends, I am an unlikely gardener. I have killed a lot of plants in my life! For the majority of my existence, I didn’t understand how people loved spending time with plants or getting their hands dirty. My mom and grandfather were always out in the dirt, but I just didn’t get it!

And then something unexpected happened. Here’s the very first peek at my upcoming book, Cultivate (comes out June 27th!):


Gardening seemed like a gentle hobby for those who had more time on their hands. Yet here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type, much less live: God was transforming a plant killer like me into a gardener.

Gardening was not a hobby I randomly picked out of thin air; it was a craving. As my life was being changed by God’s grace, my hands followed. I began to feel an insatiable desire to nurture what I had been given—and even more than that, to grow things I never imagined wanting to grow!

One spring day, I decided to get my garden growing. I stood in the yard and opened a pack of yellow pear tomato seeds. As I unsealed the packet, I steadied my hands. If you’ve ever enjoyed an heirloom tomato in the summer, you may have noticed the seeds. They are tiny and delicate. I reached into the packet and touched one with my pointer finger. It grasped onto me as if I now held some responsibility for its life. I could choose to cultivate it or let it remain dormant.


Inside a seed is something powerful: potential. And potential is scary, isn’t it? It calls us to grow—to take action, to become, and to step forward in faith.

Lifting the fragile seed carefully out of the packet, my breathing slowed.

Planting seeds is risky. It’s putting our trust in something bigger than us. It’s optimism and faith. It requires letting go, and I don’t like letting go. I like being in control. I like efficiency, security, routine, and predictability. I like having a plan.

As I looked down at the seeds, I knew I held possibility in my hands.

What do I do now? How do I plant this? When is the right time to plant tomatoes? How deep in the soil do I plant them? How much should I water them? How many seeds do I plant at once? What if I don’t do this perfectly and it doesn’t grow?

I had a choice: risk imperfect progress to grow new life or regret not growing anything at all.


What do you think I chose? It will surprise you! You’ll find out what happened with that little seed in June when the book comes out. : )

But, I did, in fact, start a garden.

Or rather, it started me.

lara casey gardenGracie is so little here! Watering the pineapple sage by Faith Teasley.

I get asked a lot of questions about this gardening thing (step inside Gracie’s Garden here on Instagram) and let me first tell you: I am no Master Gardener. I’m just a gal who happens to think growing things is the greatest thing ever. I have learned a thing or two, and I love seeing friends discover that they can learn to garden–no previous green thumb required!

So, let’s start with some basics. This is part 1 in my Gardening 101 series, with much more to come!

sJEddEmZbLzsgRoIzgFSa4WrmRpB8t0uqD45jpiXg-EOur zinnias (my favorite) by Emily March

1. Define why you want to grow things. What kind of garden do you want to grow, and why gardening in the first place?

For food? If so, what do you like to eat?
For teaching? This is why I first started our garden. I wanted Grace to experience the miracle of growing things–from start to finish–and all the garden has to offer!
For fun? My grandfather loved growing the weird things: pineapple sage (we love growing it too!), huge tomato varieties, and unique hybrids.
For beauty? Maybe you love the idea of creating a garden space as an environment to enjoy.
For filling vases? We love growing several flower varieties just for cutting and sharing with neighbors.
For attracting butterflies, birds, and bees? This is why we plant zinnias–the pollinators that love them help to grow all of our veggies.

What is it for you? You may have one reason or 10–there are no wrong answers here. List your priorities and it will help you determine what to grow, and what not to grow.

Maybe you are living in an apartment and only have space for a few pots by the windowsill–that’s great! Maybe you have just enough space for containers–that’s great too. Maybe you prefer low-maintenance air plants or you only want a few great house plants–wonderful. Or maybe you don’t like to eat veggies and you just want pretty flowers–that’s awesome too! The bottom line here: use what you have, and use it in a way that’s unique to you.

‘There are countless ways to grow a garden, just as there are many ways to grow an intentional life. There are kitchen gardens, vertical gardens, cottage gardens, raised beds, roof gardens, square foot gardens, window boxes, rose gardens, wildflower gardens, container gardens, terrariums, herb gardens, water gardens, butterfly gardens—and the list goes on. No two gardens are exactly alike. Imagine your life as a garden. Unique. Purposeful. Unlike any other.’ – another little snippet from Cultivate : ) 

2013-08-29 18.42.00

2. Find out your growing zone.

Like learning your Myers-Briggs personality type, this is very helpful information. Essential, actually. Knowing your growing zone will allow you to know what types of plants might thrive in your area in each season. This is like knowing the gardening language that allows you to read seed packets and plant labels. Most plant labels and seed packets have recommendations based on each growing zone. Look yours up here!

Lara Casey GardenSpotting seedlings growing (with Josh growing in my belly at the time!) by Robyn Van Dyke

3. Find out your ideal date to plant, and put that date on your calendar.

This tip is going to help you cool your jets about gardening for a bit, and help you to plan well! Unless you live in Florida, it’s not time to plant things in most parts of the country. You are not behind if you are just getting started on your garden dreaming–you have time. If you are going to garden outdoors, you’ll need to know what the last date of expected frost will be in your city. Find out here. For us, the ideal date to begin planting is not until after Tax Day – April 15th! Now, let me tell you, I have ignored this recommendation several times. And every time I’ve regretted it. In our area, the weather gets lovely in late February and March is magical, and it makes everyone want to plant things right away. But, wise gardeners know to be patient. I’ve gotten over-eager a time or two and planted tomatoes in March only to have to dig them out before a freeze and give them a temporary abode in my kitchen. Be patient in planting, my fellow gardeners. You’ll be glad you waited. You can also find a full list of exactly when to plant different varieties in your location on the Old Farmer’s Almanac site. Here’s my list for Chapel Hill! So helpful.

img_7959My mom and Grace planting our winter garden this last year.

 4. Go ahead and do a little Garden Dreaming. Knowing why you want to garden and when you can plant things in your area and zone, it’s time to start dreaming about what you want to grow. We’ll get more in-depth on this next (what grows well with what, etc.), but for now, start browsing seed catalogs and making your dream list. Grace and I did our Garden Dreaming a few weeks ago. We broke out all the seed catalogs (I love Park Seed, Burpee, Floret Flower Seeds, David’s Garden, Renee’s Garden, Botanical Interests, and the Southern Seed Exchange Catalog), and we circled and chatted and had a ton of fun making our dream list. Later, when we sketched out the garden (coming next), we paired down our list. For now, get garden happy and write out all the things you’d love to grow–what you would love to eat, share, or cut–depending on your answers to question 1. We’ll work through our lists in the next post. I can’t wait to hear what you’re dreaming of! : )


5. Repeat after me: you do not have to know everything about horticulture to grow a garden. Every year, some things grow and some things don’t! I still kill plants. I sometimes forget to water. I sometimes don’t weed. And you know what? My garden still grows! Even though I am imperfect, I am a gardener.

(And for some reason, I couldn’t help the tears typing those words.)

You can be a gardener, too, my friend. I’m excited for you!

Next up, we’ll tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on simple garden supplies, fun with seed starting, how to make your own raised beds if you’re interested, and the five things you need to consider before finalizing your growing list: money, time, space, sun, and soil. I have some great (and simple) info coming for you!

Till then, it’s your turn! I’d love to hear your answers to what we just chatted about–and let me know what other questions you have too.

With love from my head tomatoes,
The Unlikely Gardener : )

23 Show Comments
  1. Maggie

    Loving your posts, Lara! I had always wanted to plant a garden. I love planting things…flowers, vegetables, trees. My dad was a farmer and we live on a ranch, but I never thought I had time to tend a garden between work, family, kids, etc…My husband finally plowed a spot for me after I kept talking about it all the time. The kids talked about it too. It was just the push I needed. We’ve had it for two years. I’m not really very good at it either, but I realized I just had to start. It took less time to manage than I thought, and I actually made time for it once we started planting. Getting started is always the hardest for me. Thanks for your constant encouragement to cultivate what matters in our lives.

    • Lara

      This is exciting to hear, Maggie! How wonderful! I can’t wait to see what you grow this year : )

  2. Kristin

    Thank you for doing this series, Lara! Your Gracie’s Garden account is actually how I found your book and other amazing resources, and it helped inspire me to begin gardening with my two little girls too. Thanks for including which seed catalogs you use in this post, I found your list incredibly helpful. Also am very much looking forward to reading your Cultivate book, can’t wait for the release! Happy garden planning!

  3. Laura

    I can’t wait to learn more! I’ve been looking for info and tips everywhere. I’ll be planting our first garden (veggies) this year, and doing raised beds. Excited but terrified. We also moved into a new home on an acreage last May, so naturally, I have so many plans and dreams.

  4. Emily Enockson

    YAY! I can’t tell you how much this post makes me smile. We had three glorious days in WI this week and I was craving the fresh start of Spring. I’ve still got a few months until it’s safe to plant outside. So until then, I’ll dream of sunflowers the size of my head, vine-ripened black cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, strawberries still warm from the June sun and tiny fairy tale eggplant <3

    • Amy

      Yay! I live 30 miles west of Green Bay! I want spring to come too! Roads are snow covered and ice covered now. Ugh.

  5. Robyn Van Dyke

    This post made me smile and miss you so much!! I think of you often as gardening has suddenly become such a source of joy in our new home! (Just pruning and tending to flowers for now but I look forward to veggies one day!!)

  6. Jess Bulloss

    I’m so excited for this series!! I just planted seeds today (indoors)!! I’ve never kept much alive so it’s good to hear from someone who didn’t start out with a green thumb!!!

  7. Erin (thismommywrites)

    Well, first of all, I am relieved to hear you too are a plant killer :-} because maybe there is hope for me yet! As I wrote in one of your other posts, my house is where plants come to die. Gaaah!! We dont have outside space here BUT we will be moving to a new house -fingers crossed- this spring and I want a SMALL (aka fewer items to kill) garden for my girls and me to work on. I was thinking some veggies like carrots, peas, tomato and perhaps some colorful flowers! Something manageable and small for our first go-around! So any advice is welcomed….also, how do you protect your garden from animals eating it all?!? Looking forward to this! P.S. Saw your hiring post and will be tossing my hat in the ring :-} YAY!

  8. Morgan

    I have been wanting to start a garden for THREE years now. I’ve been hesitant to do it with starting a family at the same time. I worry that I may not have the time needed to get things growing. This year we’re expecting our second little girl at the end of May but I have decided to do it anyway! Thank you for the push! I can’t wait to see what the Lord teaches me through gardening.

  9. Amy

    This is great! Thank you for all the helpful links and tips! I love gardening except the weeding part

  10. Quincy

    I am so excited about this!! I started gardening two summers ago, my first summer married and with my own home. I have gotten so passionate about it. Something about sitting on the ground, feeling the sunshine warming my skin, and the cold dirt in my fingers makes my heart skip a beat! I’ve also learned so much from my gardens. I can’t be blooming all year long. Sometimes I have to do the dirty work of growing through the soil, and sometimes it isn’t my blooming season. It is my resting season, but it is just that, a season! Blooming will come again!

  11. Harley

    I can’t believe I missed this series! I am living under a rock (called tax season!) I have had a dream of having my own garden for years, but I’ve killed cacti and air plants so I am not sure how it’ll go. It’s a goal that I’m going to work towards when this season of my life is calmer.

    The main reason I want to grow a garden is because the majority of my food expense is on fruits/vegetables and they are so hard to find FRESH. I would love to be able to grow what I need and eat them fresh for the price of seeds & my time. I love grapes, strawberries, kiwi, bananas, apples, spinach, carrots, celery, bell peppers, and potatoes!
    I know my daughter would enjoy helping me and would love to have flowers to see butterflies, birds, and bees… well, maybe not bees. Lol.

    I’m in zone 7a, though I’m not sure what that means other than I need to go look at seed packets. Lol. I’d love to plant this year, but after my semester in grad school, I’ll be putting together a garage sale, then cramming and passing all 4 of my CPA exams, but next year – I am determined to start! Probably after tax day like you, since I’m a tax accountant! Lol.

    I’ll do some garden dreaming when I’m not at work. 😡

  12. Barbara Burks

    You know what’s weird? Just this morning I was thinking about planting a garden…not a lot of things since, I, too, am a killer of greens…but some tomatoes, wildflowers, and herbs. Then I opened my email and this was in it! I’m committed now!

  13. Elizabeth Logan

    I’m planning to grow not just tomatoes (my faithful stand-by) but also flowers this year b/c after dreaming about it for the 10 years we’ve lived here-its time to make it happen! I’m in zone 5-6 and have a mid-May frost free date. Wishing I lived in a warmer climate-I’m anxious to get started!

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  15. Ruth Ann Moss

    Love this series! So helpful.

  16. Jennifer Caldwell

    I’m loving this series! Is there a book that you would recommend for beginners? Thanks!

    • Lara

      I did a little research for you, and I think any of the books I listed would be great for a beginner, but you might also try “Vegetable Gardening for Dummies.” As silly as that may sound, they do make very easy-to-understand books with excellent tutorials! : )

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  19. Cindy Keller @ MyGardenGifts

    Such a refreshing write up on gardening and the way it works for Lara! Gardening is such a fun activity – it relieves stress and the greatest joy I have when gardening is to have my own vegetables to use for the table. Thanks for this wonderful write up!