So you want to start a garden? Awesome. I’m so glad. Every garden makes the world a better place. It might sound silly, but it’s true.
Soil, water, light, seeds/plants. That’s all you need. Gardening can be as simple as one container on your porch or as complex as a multi-acre spread.
Here are 5 things I wish I’d known when I first started:
1. PLACEMENT & SCOPE OF GARDEN
Pay attention to your yard/area you want to garden.*
Typically a sunny spot. Bonus if it’s south facing, because that generally gets the most sun. (Google maps can help orient if you’re directionally challenged 😉.)
It’s helpful to have a water source near the garden space. I make sure my gardens are by my house and/or easily accessible by a hose.
For the garden scope-- What do you want to plant? Flowers? Veggies? Plants that come back every year (perennials)? Plants that stay green year round (evergreen perennials)? Plants you need to plant each year like many vegetables and cut flowers (annuals)?
*if you don’t have a yard, you can use containers on a porch or in window boxes. And/or, you can look up Community Gardens and sign up for a space.
2. SUPPLIES? THERE’RE SO MANY OPTIONS…
A local hardware or farm store will have what you need to get started. A variety of seeds, plants, compost, tools, and watering implements can all be found in person. And typically, employees are happy to help if you don’t mind asking.
Online stores have good options, too, these days, and can offer more specialized products (such as organic, non-gmo, etc.). In general, I stay away from Amazon because of quality control, (unless someone I trust links to a product) even reading the specs and Amazon reviews has steered me wrong.
I buy some plants from my local nurseries and I order most of my seeds online through Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s Select Seeds, and Baker Heirloom Seed Co. (more on why I choose these companies here)
For basic every day use, I have a trowel (hand spade), hori hori knife (for digging weeds, I have this one), gardening gloves of some kind, and snips for harvesting. I spend tons of time in my garden so I have a hip belt that carries all these supplies as well as seeds, pens, and other miscellaneous items. The hip belt (or equivalent) is helpful, but not necessary, especially when just starting out.
3. FIGURE OUT YOUR GROWING ZONE
I have a whole post dedicated to growing zone and average frost dates here.
It’s helpful to find these out to know a general time frame of your growing season and when you should plant.
4. WHAT SHOULD I GROW?
Anything you’ll eat, share, and/or enjoy.
That’s it. That’s all I recommend. When first starting out, it could be helpful to buy local vegetable starts and/or only try a couple plants. Ask yourself, what are popular vegetables/fruits that I enjoy eating? Make a short list and then google it to see if it grows in your area or what it would take.
And don’t forget about flowers. Besides being gorgeous, flowers help attract beneficial pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
5. USE RESOURCES— YOU HAVE MORE AVAILABLE THAN YOU THINK
Local libraries have gardening books & resources available. I cannot state enough how underutilized libraries are.
Local extension offices have Master Gardener programs that offer garden support to community members.
Join a local garden club! Gardeners love sharing knowledge and local clubs offer great ways to learn more about gardening in a specific climate/region.
Follow fellow gardeners on social media. It is especially helpful to find others who garden in your same region and zone. I follow hashtags like #zone8bgarden or #pnwgarden because I live in zone 8b and in the Pacific Northwest.
Need extra support? Hire a garden coach. A little time with a garden coach goes a long way to focus planning and trouble shoot problems.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind:
1. DONT BE AFRAID TO START
Ease into it. Pick a few things to grow and just do it. What's the worst that can happen? You can always try again if it doesn't work out. Truly. It's low stakes here in the garden world, especially if you're just starting out.
2. START SMALL & GROW FROM THERE
Your first garden(s) don't have to be gigantic, perfect, or "Instagram worthy". I grant you permission to start small and grow— or not grow — over time. A small garden is still a garden. And you can always add more throughout the season.
If you want to do more next season, great! Plan for that. I’ve always had the best luck growing things when I add a little bit each year.
3. HEALTHY SOIL IS EVERYTHING
Use compost. Create it and/or buy it. Stay away from harsh chemicals like herbicides and pesticides.
Stay away from Roundup (brand name) aka Glyphosate. It’s so tempting to use it when dealing with weeds because it’s so effective. But it’s effective for a reason because it kills everything. It has TERRIBLE chronic toxicity symptoms. And it is so widely used in the US that much of our food has glyphosate on/in it. Glyphosate is a known endocrine disrupters, increases cancer risk, increases issues with our gut microbiome, and much more. Many countries have banned its use. There have been so many studies on this and anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something or is being paid to tell you differently. This is a hill I will die on. I won’t often be preachy in this space, but I will with this topic.
4. YOU WILL “FAIL” AT SOME THINGS
Good. That means you’re learning. Gardening helps me remember that in life, “failing“ is a great way to learn. I do not have a green thumb. I don’t just magically keep things alive. What I do have is persistence and a desire to garden (I love it and it gives me beautiful flowers and food! Win win). I also know I will mess up and I’m ok with it. This gives me the freedom to try again or even wait another season or two.
The first years (yes, plural) I started tomatoes from seed, they never took. I couldn't figure it out and we always bought plants and got some from a neighbor. After a few years of not even trying (which was perfectly ok-- you don't have to start plants from seed ever if you don't want too!), I did end up trying again (I wanted a lot of tomato plants and that would have been way too expensive to buy!) and I succeeded. This year, I've grown over 80 tomato plants from seed and they're thriving in the greenhouse and will be planted out in just a couple of weeks.
5. BE PREPARED TO LEARN TONS OF LIFE LESSONS ALONG THE WAY
Gardening has made me more patient, a better planner, less focused on instant gratification, and so much more. Each year, I learn something new, and each season, I’m reminded of lessons I need to re-learn.
Ok. Those are the tips I could think of that helped me when I started out. They're also things that are still helpful to me now. Happy Gardening!