Category: Gardening

I have been looking forward to sharing this post for months! We talk a lot about embracing slow growth and little-by-little progress in life here on the blog, but, I’ve had to be extra patient as the literal plants in my garden grew this season.

As I shared in my new book, Cultivate, I am an unlikely gardener because I have often caught myself seeking instant results. This gardening thing didn’t come naturally to me, but as God changed me from the inside out, I began to love the process of planting, tending, and watching things grow over time. Truly good things grow over time, not all at once.

There is an in-between stage in the garden that feels a little awkward. There are plants that I’m not sure are weeds or actual plants yet. There are some things that grew quickly, and many things that are taking their time. It’s awkward!

But, there is life happening in the in-between. In what feels undone and imperfect, good things are still growing, even when you can’t see it or feel it.

That said, I’m excited to give you a mid-year tour of Gracie’s Garden today, along with a fun garden makeover reveal. Huge thanks to my friend, Michael from Little Arrow Films, for taking my scraps of homemade video and turning them into this special tour. Michael, you are the bee’s knees!

Ready? Welcome to my garden…

Gracie’s Garden Tour with Lara Casey from lara casey on Vimeo.

One of my PowerSheets goals for 2017 is to cultivate a life-giving home. We have a unique home life here on a day-to-day basis, as my office (with five employees) lives here too. We love this building we call our home and our office, and we make the most of every little bit of space–including the garden.

Photos of the main garden area¬†(you’ll notice I love sleeping bees ūüôā ):

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My rule of thumb is that if there’s dirt, something gets planted in it. We started out with just a few pots of herbs. As I wrote about in my new book, Cultivate, this grew over time to over forty feet of raised bed space and lots of pockets of flowers in various places.

As Grace has grown, she has taken to climbing trees, playing with sticks, and loving the outdoors as I did as a kid. We don’t have an official backyard, so I have been dreaming of a space where she can play and explore without fear of cars coming in and out of the driveway–a space to play and let her imagination to run wild.

There was this awkward space between our bedroom and our garage that basically turned into a weed¬†patch. We tried planting things back here for a few years, but the voles and other critters ate most of it for dinner. We looked into extending our back deck in this space, but that was not a priority in our budget. So, I had to get creative. I’m so grateful and excited to share what it looks like now and how I did it.¬†We often call Grace’s Fairy Garden the “Secret Garden” because I’ve had it under wraps for so long as we let things grow!

BEFORE (and some progress pics):

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The space:¬†The lowest cost option to make this space more usable was to pull the (many) weeds, put down some thick landscaping fabric, and fill the area with local river rocks. We pulled out one of the ligustrum hedges because they are really just too big for this little space. We didn’t build this house, and we’ve been told that the landscaping was done in a way to fill the space quickly with fast-growing trees and shrubs. This is a metaphor for life, my friends! Fast doesn’t last, and in our case, fast growing trees don’t survive in small spaces where their roots don’t have enough space to flourish. So, we took one out to make some room. We left the others though for the sole reason that they are home to two families of birds! : ) We have a family of house sparrows in one tree and a pair of cardinals in another. We love sharing this space with them!

AFTER:

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Containers: The round containers are the Large Viva Matte Self-Watering Rolling Planters and the Small Viva Matte Self-Watering Rolling Planters from Gardeners.com. Josh thinks they are fun to ride in too!

The trough planters are the Terrazza Trough Planters. What I love most about them is that they are long-lasting safe plastic (I love cedar raised beds but we had some signs of termites back here so plastic was the best choice!) and they are self-watering (which means they have a huge water reservoir in the bottom that you fill). Because I needed longer-than-normal planters for this space, I used the Terrazza Trough Extension Kit to connect several planters together. Ari helped me put these together and it was pretty easy. And then there are the hanging baskets! I have never done hanging planters before because our summers are so hot and I feared the plants would die in a day. But, I was really excited to discover the Viva Matte Self-Watering Hanging Baskets because they are also self-watering. My hanging planters look great and stay watered longer!

The fountain:¬†Oh the¬†Copper Lotus Cascading Fountain!¬†This really made the space come to life. The sound of water in the back (and outside our bedroom door) is pretty wonderful. We have two active bird nests in the back (house sparrows and cardinals), and I love that they get fresh water from the¬†garden fountain too. It came with a darker green base, but I gave it a quick coat of white waterproof spray paint, and it matches perfectly now. I love this fountain, and so do Grace’s fairies!

Yellow bench: is the Amalfi bench from Grandin Road.

Fairy garden pieces: Grace’s Fairy Garden trough is from Greenes Fence Company. This cedar planter was so easy to put together and it’s the perfect height for her. The fairies and accessories have come from a variety of places: Amazon, Big Lots, Michaels, and several are gifts from friends. My favorites are the little windmill and barn!

Irrigation: Water, water, water! In these summer months, consistent watering is so important. I’m out in the garden almost every day, but it can be tricky to thoroughly water everything when you have two little ones under two! So, I invested in the¬†Snip ‚ÄėN Drip Soaker System and¬†Waterease Timer and Moisture Sensor.¬†I have it installed on the main garden beds and I love it. I do some extra watering on hot days, or in spots that the soaker hose doesn’t reach as well, but it has been great.

Plants and seeds: I planted most of the garden from seed, with a few starts and plants mixed in! Here are a few of my favorite sources. Burpee:¬†The Strawberry Popcorn, peppers, and several of the zinnias are from Burpee seeds. Floret Flower Seeds¬†My favorite¬†source for unique zinnia seeds, gleam salmon nasturtium, and bulbs.¬†Botanical Interests: I picked up a variety of nasturtium seeds from them this year and love them! Park Seed:¬†This South-Carolina-based company makes me so happy! I love their flowers. I chose the Profusion Double Flowered Zinnia Collection, Hidden Dragon¬†Zinnia,¬†Lemon Sorbet Collection,¬†Lucky Lemon Glow Lantana, Confetti Pineapple Punch, and the Fruit Cocktail Mix from Park’s amazing collection this year. Many of these are sold out on their site for the season, but mark them on your list for next year. I also have the stainless steel potting scoop from Park and LOVE it. It’s huge in size and functional for a variety of tasks.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this mid-year garden tour! The crazy thing is that most things have more than doubled in size since we recorded this tour just a few weeks ago. Needless to say, there will be another garden tour episode coming soon!

Your turn!¬†Do you have a garden? What do you love to grow? Does gardening scare the daylights out of you like it did me at first?¬†I’d love to hear from you–and I’ll give signed copies of my new book to three of you who share your thoughts!

Special thanks to Gardeners.com and Park Seed for gifting me several of the items above in thanks for the traffic they received from my Gardening 101 series. I have been a loyal customer of both companies for years and was delighted to know that many of you readers started gardens with these great resources! 

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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.

Lara Casey garden(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. ūüôā¬†)

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:

Part 1: The Story of an Unlikely Gardener

Part 2: Seeds, Supplies, Soil, and Sunlight

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!).

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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.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 5Our 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).

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 7A 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!

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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.

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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.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 2Look 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!)

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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.

nrp-olivia-designmom-1057We love our Gardener’s Supply tomato ladders! Photo by Olivia from Nancy Ray.

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.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 3Our 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

garden-robynvandyke-5 copyPhoto 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?

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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 Marmande 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. ūüôā

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!

Lara

P.S. Keep up with our gardening adventures here on the blog, on my Instagram account, and on the Gracie’s Garden Instagram.

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I’m so pumped about this series, I wrote you a poem!

Oh, friends, today is gonna be fun!
Welcome to part 2 of Gardening 101.
Here’s part 1 if you’re just digging in.
Today we’re gonna talk seeds, supplies, and sources for your garden.

Well, I may not be the greatest poet, but I sure do love this gardening thing! Today we’re going to tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on basic garden supplies, fun with seed starting, and how to make your own raised beds if you‚Äôre interested. I have some great–and simple–info for you!

IMG_6714.fullGarden planning with my mom and Grace.

In part 1, you made your Garden dreaming list of all the things you want to grow. Grab that list, and let’s work through it to decide what to plant this season.

We’re going to consider these five key things: money, time, space, sun, and soil.

1. Money.¬†You could buy a seed packet for less than a dollar and plant in the soil you’ve got¬†if it’s good soil. Or you could go with a few small containers to start. Or you could try your hand at a raised bed or two, which requires a bit more resources. Decide on a gardening budget that’s comfortable for you. If you need to start small, that’s okay! A little goes a long way, and you can always do more later! Gracie’s Garden started with a few containers and grew over the course of five years. We now have over 40 feet of raised veggie bed space and lots of flower beds. Our garden space and plantings expanded over time, and over that time we learned to care for it all. Choose what works for you in this season of your life.

E087E807-C399-4A48-B8A8-095168AC8B6AA great place to find plants is at the local farmer’s market if you have one!

2. Time.¬†Growing a garden isn’t just about planting things once and never having to touch them again. Depending on what you grow, there’s a lot of ongoing tending that happens–which to me is the fun part! Planting our garden takes a few days, and tending and watering takes me about 15-30 minutes a day. Sometimes it takes much less time during a week when it rains, but there are also times it takes a lot longer, like when I need to prune. Consider the maintenance needed for certain plants. Tomatoes generally require staking and pruning, but they give you fruit over time. Carrots, however, grow, get pulled out of the ground once, and that’s it!

BAFA2723-3DC3-4BD1-BFF6-7F8BED508E96My little gardener giving the plants a drink.

3. Soil. The soil is what sustains the life of the plant, providing nutrients, and allowing deep roots to grow.¬†Good soil is a gardener’s gold. But, let me tell you right now, that “perfect” soil is not required. Here’s a shortcut: call your local garden shop or garden extension service. First, ask them about the general soil in your area. Here in North Carolina, we have clay soil, which means that it doesn’t drain or allow plants to root well. So, raised beds are a must for us. In areas of our yard where I’ve done in-ground planting, I’ve had to dig out mass amounts of clay first to replace it with looser “loamy” soil.

74D94038-A552-4BD0-AA5B-FE5A40EBD0FATomatoes love marigolds and I love them both.

Whether you are planting in pots, or raised beds, or in-ground, you’re likely wondering what kind of soil to use. A reminder: I’m no expert here, and that’s why this series is titled Gardening 101!

Here are some soil basics. Plants need nutrients in the soil to grow, and when you grow lots of veggies and flowers, they suck the nutrients out of your soil. So, each growing season, you’ll need to add nutrients back to the soil to keep everything happy. This is called “amending the soil.” But, how do you know what nutrients to add? My farmer/gardener friends may cringe at this, but I don’t test my soil every year. It’s the only way to know what your soil needs, though. I found this test kit that I may use this year. Once you know what your soil is lacking, take a look at what you’re growing and see what nutrients each plant needs (Do a quick internet search to find that info. For instance, here’s a simple article on soil needs for tomatoes!).

25037B79-9485-4EBD-8A24-202418ADF135Dirt, beautiful dirt! Actually, that’s bags of vermiculite, peat moss, and mushroom compost.

Okay, let’s talk dirt. If you are starting from scratch, what kind of soil should you use? A couple years ago, we tried making Mel’s mix (read about it here) which was super labor-intensive and did not work well in the end for us. We had one raised bed with Mel’s Mix and one right next to it with another combination. Mel’s mix didn’t seem to make our plants as happy. We’ve also used bagged MiracleGrow vegetable bed soil and lots of other bagged soils.

FullSizeRender-10Tilling up the garden beds last year with a baby on my chest. : ) 

But here are our two favorites:

1. A local grower’s mix of organic mushroom compost, crushed shells and vermiculite (helps our soil to drain well), and organic topsoil. Lots of local nurseries and landscape supply places mix their own soil, so do a little research and ask around to find the best! This is the soil mix we started with in most of our raised beds.

2. Black Kow mixed with organic mushroom compost. Grace lovingly calls the Black Kow, “poopy cow,” because…. well, that’s what it is. And it just plain works. Every year, we (meaning¬†me¬†with Grace playing in the dirt while I do this) till up our existing soil with a big shovel and mix a few bags of poopy cow and mushroom compost into our raised beds for added nutrients. So far so good!

557B051B-A71D-465D-94AD-94D9C39784DDHusband of the year here, mixing soil for me and helping construct new garden beds.

What about fertilizer? I haven’t gotten into composting yet, so for now, I’m using traditional fertilizers. I sprinkle some ‘MaterMagic in with my veggie plantings once they have had some time to root. I use Dr. Earth’s fruit tree fertilizer for all the trees a few times a year, too, but the Black Kow mixed into the pots works just as well. For our bulbs, I use Jobe’s Organics bone meal. If we plant beans, I use a nitrogen booster. This all sounds very complex, but so much of what you need to know is easy to Google and, many times, written on the seed packets! : )

17A6D77E-883E-4267-8626-863BA21CEEACThe year we tried Square Foot Gardening.

4. Sun. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of direct sun. My vegetable garden actually only gets about 5 hours of full sun, but somehow it still does well. One end of the raised bed area gets a bit more sun than the other, though, so I purposely plant the more sun-loving veggies there like tomatoes and peppers. On the shadier end, I have some part-sun flowers and creeping vines that like a little respite from the heat every now and then. If your garden spot doesn’t get much light,¬†you can still grow many leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach, but in general, the sunnier the better.

DB388171-E2BB-4ED3-BC44-8CBFA1027BEACarrots, corn, oregano, rosemary, tomatoes and a marigold living together. There might be a couple onions in there too.

5. Space. You don’t need a ton of space to grow a garden. If you follow the Square Foot Gardening method, you’ll be able to pack a lot in a tiny space. But, plants do need room to root and spread out. I made the mistake of planting too much in a small space my first year of gardening, and most of my tomatoes ended up pretty tasteless. Just like our lives, if you grow too much in one space, you won’t have enough nutrients to go around. So, consider your space. Like I mentioned in Part 1, gardens come in all shapes, types, and sizes!

FullSizeRenderI love Gracie’s sweet handwriting. : )¬†

So, what are you going to grow?¬† Let’s look at that garden dreaming list you made from part 1. Considering the five keys we just discussed (money, time, soil, sun, and space), what on your garden dreaming list is a must-keep, and what needs to get crossed off for now? Another way to pair down your list is to do a little research¬†to find out what will grow well in your zone and season, like we talked about in Part 1. This is very helpful info to have! I am purposely holding off on planting a few things till later in the season because they need more heat to grow (watermelons for instance). So, till then, I’ve got an open space in my garden that I can fill for a few months with carrots!

Widdle that list down to what works best for your particular garden, your¬†season of life, and what you will enjoy most. Don’t have enough sunny space for all those veggies on your list? Grow what you have space for. Don’t have time to deadhead cosmos all summer (I learned this the hard way last year)? Don’t plant many–or consider cutting them off your list altogether. Don’t have the budget for raised beds this season? Start with a few pots! Or get creative and try these unusual garden planter ideas. My best advice is to start small. You can always add more later in the season–or in future years!

FullSizeRender-2All of our seeds spread across the dining room table!

Now, let’s dig into some seed and supply sources. This is not an exhaustive list, and you may have great sources I haven’t discovered yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts too! : )

Some of my favorite garden supplies and sources:

Numero uno on my list are the magical garden beings called Master Gardeners! Have you heard of Master Gardener’s before? I did not know this service existed until just a few years ago when I was trying to figure out how to deal with the hornworms on my tomato plants, and I met one at a garden shop.¬†Master Gardener programs¬†(also known as Extension Master Gardener Programs) are¬†volunteer¬†programs that train individuals in the science and art of gardening. These individuals pass on the information they learned during their training, as volunteers who advise and educate the public on¬†gardening¬†and¬†horticulture. Do a quick Google search to see if your area has this program–they likely do! I’ve met several Master Gardeners at garden fairs and local events, and they are a wealth of knowledge.

6A9C634C-BF18-4714-88D0-3FB9DDABD3BFI store my seeds in the bottom of our refrigerator in Mason jars to help them last a little longer.

Seeds: 
Burpee¬†(I have often ordered a few weird wildcard veggies from them like On-Deck Corn. We’ve grown it three years in a row and love it!)
Floret Flower Seeds (my favorite flower seeds and bulbs)
Park Seed (another favorite for flower seeds)
David’s Garden
Renee’s Garden
Botanical Interests (lots of heirloom seeds)
Southern Seed Exchange Catalog¬†(You must get a printed version of this catalog. It’s so beautiful and informative!)

IMG_6744Mail-order veggies from Burpee above. They always arrive in great shape.

Supply sources:

First, I love local garden stores! I do shop at some of the big box stores that carry locally grown plants (Lowes often has lots of local growers highlighted!), but there’s something magical about going to the smaller garden shops. One of our favorites here, For Garden’s Sake, even has goats, chickens, and alpacas that you can visit. Local garden shops are often run by passionate gardeners who get excited when someone asks a question or needs advice. Use the resources in your area–you might even make a new friend or two!

A few supplies we use and love:
Greenes raised bed kits — We have several of these and they come in all different sizes. SO fast and easy to assemble!
Tomato ladders – These things are the best!
Tomato cages
Nitrile-coated garden gloves – Great if you have roses or pokey veggies like cucumbers.
My Joyful Garden planner

I do have a few trowels and clippers, but I often end up using soup spoons, Grace’s craft scissors, and my bare hands! You don’t need fancy tools to grow a garden. And larger sticks from your yard make great tomato supports too!

IMG_6603At our local garden shop getting some perennials for the front yard. Grace is more excited about the rocks!

Gardening books I own and love:
Cut Flower Garden
Square Foot Gardening
Carrots Love Tomatoes, an excellent resource for companion planting
The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
A¬†favorite children’s book I read when I was a child, and now read to Grace, The Reason for a Flower.
And I haven’t purchased this book yet, but I’ve had my eye on this one.

And here’s a great post about trellis ideas!

Do you have a favorite gardening book or resource? I’d love to hear!

IMG_9857A peek at our seeds today! Big Max is getting BIG!

Seed starting.¬†Depending on where you live, starting seeds indoors can help extend the length of the growing season for many plants. If you have hot summers like we do, it can give you a headstart on growing things that don’t love the heat. And, it’s just fun! We didn’t start any seeds indoors last year because we were a little busy caring for two little new babies. But, this year, we jumped back in!¬†This year, we started tomatoes, peppers, some zinnias, sweet peas, and pumpkins. After trying unsuccessfully year after year, we are determined to grow a pumpkin in 2017!

To start seeds indoors, you mimic the conditions needed for a seed to germinate and sprout outdoors: warmth, water, darkness, and once the seed sprouts, light!

FullSizeRender-8Following Erin’s instructions for starting sweet pea seeds. So excited about these!

You don’t need a grow light like we have (we purchased¬†this one¬†several years ago and it easily stores away in our front hall closet when we’re not using it) to start seeds indoors. You can simply use empty egg cartons, some plastic wrap, and a bright window. See this tutorial for more. And be sure to read this awesome post for more seed starting basics.

69D04D97-C7F0-48B5-AC1E-E9923BCAE89CTomato seedlings in paper cups.

How to make your own raised garden beds.¬†I built two new garden beds last year that still look great–and all for about $40 each. I went to Lowes and picked out a couple untreated cedar planks, had the nice gentleman there cut them for me into eight sections – four 2′ sections and four 4′ sections. I got a small roll of landscape fabric, a box of 2″ long nails, and I already had a 1″ x 2″ board at home that I sawed into eight sections to bolster the inside corners of my garden beds. I built the boxes in a similar way to this tutorial, then used a staple gun and attached the landscape fabric (helps keep weeds and critters out) to the bottom of each bed before placing them where I wanted them. I filled them all with soil, and that was that! These two beds took about an hour to construct.

IMG_9228Our new garden bed, and my cute little gardener in her PJ’s!

There you have it! Like I said, this is Gardening 101. There’s so much more I could share, but I hope this gives you a great start in growing some fun things this year.

In the next and final post of this series, I’ll share our own garden plans with you, a sample starter veggie garden plan for those of you who want a great place to begin, as well as a few tips on houseplants and gardening with kids! (And there may be a huge gardening giveaway too!)

Your turn! I’d love to hear what you are planning to grow this year. What supplies or seeds you are considering?¬†Feel free to ask any questions you have, too!

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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!):

cultivate-book-text-lara-casey

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‚Äôs grace, my hands followed. I began to feel an insatiable desire to nurture what I had been given‚ÄĒand 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.

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Inside a seed is something powerful: potential. And potential is scary, isn‚Äôt it? It calls us to grow‚ÄĒto 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.

cultivate-book-text-lara-casey

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‚ÄĒand 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 :¬†)¬†

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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! : )

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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 : )

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