Get this: a garden, by definition, is a planned space set aside for the display, cultivation, and enjoyment of plants and other forms of nature. And a gardener, by definition, is someone who tends and cultivates a garden. So, if you are growing plants, whether in a raised bed or a couple pots of herbs, guess what?
You’re a gardener!
Whether this is your first year or your fiftieth, you are a gardener, my friend. You don’t need to have a perfect horticultural record (I don’t) or know everything about plants (I don’t), and you don’t need to have a huge “planned space.” This is the beautiful thing about gardening and our lives: you don’t need to be an expert or have a flawless growing history or be greatly experienced to cultivate good things. (I have an entire two pages in my upcoming book about all the plants I’ve killed as proof!)
So, hello my fellow gardener. It’s nice to have you here.
(Go, ahead… say it a few times to let it sink in: I’m a gardener. I’m a gardener. I am an imperfect excited plant-loving GARDENER. )
Welcome back for part 2 of Gardening 101! In case you’re wondering, it’s not too late to start your garden. In fact, it’s way too early to plant things in most parts of the country. You’re right on time. Here are the first two posts in this three-part series, if you’re just joining us:
In part 1 we made our dream garden lists, and in part 2, we considered several factors that helped us to pare down those dream lists. Here’s my final roster of garden goodies for 2017. The circled items are new for us this year (I’m excited about trying peanuts and cotton!).
Okay, so you know what you want plant, but where do you plant it all in your garden space? First, take a look at the different heights and sizes of each plant when they reach maturity. You’ll find the height information for each plant on the seed packets and in garden catalogs.
If I were to put all the tall things in the front, the tall plants might shade the shorter ones–and I wouldn’t be able to see the shorter things. If I planted something that grows on a vine, like cucumbers, in a tiny space with lots of other things, those cucumbers are no doubt gonna take over the space.
Our garden planning sketch from a couple years ago. Love that book on the top there!
So, when I am sketching out my garden, I think about space and size of what I want to grow. A great garden structure is not only essential for plants to have room to flourish, it’s visually appealing, helping you to enjoy the space more.
Make a list of the sizes and structures of what’s on your list. Here an example from my garden plans.
Tall stuff: tomatoes, corn, tall varieties of zinnias
Medium: peppers, carrots, peanuts
Short and sweet: marigolds, small varieties of zinnias
Vines: cantaloupe, watermelon, and pumpkins need a spot in which I know they will be able to spread
Space suckers: zucchini (our zucchini plant took over almost an entire 4′ x 4′ garden bed last year).
A peek inside my Joyful Garden Planner – I clip the pics of each thing I’m growing from various seed catalogs.
A note on herbs: I keep all of my herbs in pots because some of them like to grow big and fast, and who needs more than a few sprigs of oregano every season? I also like having them as close to my kitchen door as possible for rainy or cold days when I need to clip something for dinner!
Our garden plan for 2017: While the babies were napping this past weekend (I know they are both 1 now, but I’ll forever call them the babies), Grace and I broke the colored pencils out and sketched our garden plan. Remember, don’t compare your garden space to mine right off the bat! I have a lot of space (that expanded over time) and I’ve allocated time for tending to this space. Grow whatever is right for you in this season of life.
Now, if you are like me, it’s entirely possible your plans will change once you start planting. Many times, I get all my seedlings and seeds together and I end up shifting things around as I go. But, this plan helps me to prepare well and have an idea of what it might look like.
Companion planting: If you want to get fancy, look up companion planting (here’s one simple article and another list that’s helpful). Companion planting is like putting two great friends together to work for a common goal–two are better than one and can help each other to be more fruitful. I plant marigolds at the base of my tomatoes and peppers to keep pests away (and because they are so pretty!). I also pair carrots and tomatoes together.
Look at those sweet “married” carrots near my feet!
If I was starting from scratch and had one 4′ x 4′ raised bed (or two larger trough planters), here’s what I would grow and how I would arrange it. I hope this sample starter veggie garden plan helps to get your garden wheels turning. (If you grow this particular arrangement, be sure and email me a pic–I’d love to see it!)
I chose these plants because they grow well together (and taste great together too!), the shorter items are in the front with the taller items in the back, and this is a great garden plan to try if you have kids! The tomato spot in the back left would be great to fill with Sungold’s or Sweet 100’s (Josh and Grace looooove to pick these off the vine and snack on them). Be sure to give your tomato something to climb like this.
If you choose the cucumber option for the back right, be sure to give it something to climb on too. Here’s a great structure, but even three bamboo poles put together like a teepee would be a welcome climbing gym for some pickling cucumbers.
Our lemon cucumbers made for great pickles a couple years ago!
What I love most about this sample garden plan is that it’s packed with flowers too! Marigolds are a great companion to peppers and tomatoes, and they come in beautiful colors. You have an option in the center for either marigolds (I usually buy mine at a local nursery–they are very inexpensive), shorter varieties of zinnias (like this favorite of mine or this beautiful mix), or chives (if you like them). If it were me, I’d probably go for the zinnias because I just can’t get enough of them. And if you do the zucchini, give him some space to spread. As previously mentioned, one small zucchini seed grows fast and wide!
Now that I’ve written about this sample garden design, I’m tempted to do this in one of my beds too! I’ll keep you posted.
Gardening with kids is one of my greatest joys. Grace has learned so much from the garden! One of the best ways to create a kid-friendly garden is to think on their level (literally). What can you grow that will be easy for them to pick? What would you not mind them touching or plucking often (rose and raspberry bushes, for instance, are not a good idea)? What would they most enjoy nibbling on? We have a mint garden just for Grace to munch on, and it grows with zero maintenance. But, a word of caution: don’t plant mint in your vegetable garden. It will take over and you will never be able to get rid of it! We have ours planted at the base of a tree in the front yard where it can spread out as it pleases.
Our tomatoes and pepper crop one year. So pretty and yummy!
I purposely choose to grow what I call “snacking tomatoes” like Sweet 100’s so Grace and Josh can pick and eat them. Herbs are also fun and totally harmless if your little one sticks a fistful of basil in her mouth! But, don’t do hot peppers within reach of little fingers and mouths. This all seems like common sense but it does take some forethought. If you want to get your kids to enjoy the gift of gardening, create a garden in which they can fully immerse their five senses–with nothing off limits.
Grace loves picking marigold petals to throw in the air in celebration, and I don’t hinder her from doing it. Grace also has a little “fairy garden” in one of the flower beds where she plays make believe, and Josh has a dirt patch that he loves to dig in. I let her water the plants, prune with her little craft scissors, pick, pluck, eat and dig as she pleases. And this is growing something wonderful in her–a love and gratitude for cultivating. This garden was meant to be a place of nourishment, play, and wonder!
Photo by Robyn Van Dyke when Josh was still growing in my belly.
I hope you have enjoyed this series, my friend. I have so enjoyed writing this for you, and now for an amazing giveaway! The fine folks at these great companies graciously agreed to give these items away to one lucky winner, and I wish I could enter myself.
Are you ready for this?
This is everything you need to start your own garden–or bless someone else with one!
– Greenes 4′ x 4′ cedar raised bed kit (how cool is this!?)
– A collection of best-selling Burpee vegetable seeds:
Tomato, Gladiator F1
Eggplant, Meatball F1
Tomato, Madame Marinade F1
Pepper, Sweet Bell, Gold Standard F1
Pepper, Sweet Thunderbolt F1
– Gardener’s Supply Company tomato ladders (2) and cages (4) (the ladders are a long-time favorite here!)
– Floret’s Cut Flower Garden book
– Park Seed seeds
– A Joyful Garden Planner from my friend and co-worker, Amber! Amber was kind enough to donate this planner, and give you 25% your order with code “LARA” if you can’t wait for the giveaway results! The code is good through March 31.
Thank you Greenes, Burpee, Gardener’s Supply, Floret, Park Seed, and Amber for being so generous! I love you from my head tomatoes.
Enter below. Giveaway ends April 1st!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I’d love to hear what you are planning to grow this year. Are you excited to give this gardening thing a try? I hope so! Remember, no perfection required, my gardener friend. Get growing!
P.P.S. I had planned to give you a few quick houseplant tips in this post, but I started writing them and ended up with a lot to share. Look for some happy houseplant tips in a separate post soon!