I have been gardening for about four months now, including the time I took to research and learn before actually putting seed to soil. I have grown things in the past, mostly tomatoes, but this is the first year I’ve really taken the time to venture into the world of gardening. Before now, I’ve always been too afraid to have a big garden because I’m usually away from home on and off all summer/fall long, which obviously isn’t ideal for being able to probably tend to plants, though I always hoped to be able to grow some of my own food one day. Not traveling or constantly being around people has given me the time to put emotional effort into other things, like starting a garden. I think it has also given me a source of distraction from being on my phone a lot more than usual, and also gives me a reason to be outside and feel more connected to nature, which can be a reflective and healing space, and also offers some stillness in a time when everything seems to be moving so quickly.
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way so far, and if you’re new to gardening like I am, maybe some of these things can help you as well.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out and emotional attachment:
I decided to build my own raised garden beds in early April, which proved to be a fun task (to my surprise), and I was so excited to try planting by the moon that I planted my nursery-bought transplants as soon as the full moon came around. I thought it was close enough to the final frost date that they would be okay, but I was wrong. It got very cold at night and windy/stormy during the day, several days in a row, and all four plants ended up dying. This was definitely a lesson in both patience and awareness of weather conditions. If I would have waited just two or three more weeks I probably could have avoided it happening. But because it did happen, I’ve also learned to trust my gut more when it comes to caring for plants, instead of trying to follow all of the guides to T (although they are helpful to a certain extent).
Another thing I didn’t anticipate was the emotional attachment. When those plants died, I felt genuinely sad about it. I had some seedlings that didn’t work out around the same time and I was even more upset about those because I had started them from seed and watched them sprout, only to not thrive. It sucks, but I learned a lot from those mishaps and have enjoyed getting to see the success of other plants all the more.
Opposite of the emotional attachment are the days I feel unmotivated to go water everything. There are just some days where I get distracted by other things, only to remember the responsibility of caring for the garden. I think responsibility is a good keyword, and is among the lessons gardening can teach. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to be a bit unenthusiastic about garden tasks some days, but if anything, it has given me some routine during this irregular time.
Be prepared when sprouting seeds, having problems with leggy plants:
This is a problem I wasn’t expecting to run into when I decided to experiment with growing from seed. I usually just buy transplants from a local nursery, but I was very tempted to buy a bunch of seeds when I was researching, so I wanted to at least give it a go. I decided to use an indoor light since I already had trouble with my outdoor transplants due to weather. The main problem I had with my seedlings was legginess, which can sometimes be salvaged if corrected early, but I wasn’t sure what the culprit was at first. Legginess in plants mean that their stems are too long, there’s uneven growth, maybe there’s not as many leaves as you imagined, or in general the plant just looks a bit off. I ended up figuring out that I wasn’t putting them close enough to my indoor light causing them to stretch. It was a pretty easy correction to make once I figured out what was going on, and I know now it is very preventable, but I think it was a good lesson to learn nonetheless. Since we’re into warmer weather now, I plan on starting most of, if not all, of my seeds outdoors.
More expensive than I thought:
I spent more money on my garden than I’d like to admit. With wood for garden beds, soil, seeds, gardening tools, it all adds up very quickly. This is probably a common mistake first time gardeners make, but from now on I will try to be a bit more crafty when gathering materials.
Making sure you are close to a water source and/or have a good watering can:
This was something I actually put a lot of thought into before building my first garden bed. I found an area to put my bed that is sunny, flat, and has well drained soil. There is access to a water source, but it is a little farther away, so I had to get a longer water hose. Needing the longer hose doesn’t bother me, but I decided to get a watering can to make things a bit easier. I really like this one from Target. I’m building another garden bed soon and plan on putting it in a more convenient area.
Stratifying seeds for spring/summer planting:
I really want to grow lavender this year, and I am so glad I did my research before just planting some seeds, because I learned about stratifying. Stratifying seeds is basically a way to stimulate the dormancy phase seeds go through before they are able to germinate, by putting them in a cold place, like a refrigerator. Here is a more in depth explanation and how to of stratification in this video.
Along with the failures, there has also been some very unexpected growth..literally. I randomly decided to plant a potato I had sitting on my counter (organic) in the ground one day, to see what would happen. I didn’t really have any expectations, but next thing I knew, a couple weeks later, I saw a sprout of something coming up (I had actually forgotten where I planted it), and it was that random potato, actually sprouting. It’s already quadrupled in size and it has been so great watching it continue grow everyday. I did the same with some tomatoes, in the very garden bed my first round of plants froze, and they are all doing really well! It just goes to show that gardening doesn’t always have to be so meticulous to work out well.
Noticing new plants everywhere I go:
There were some wild plants growing around my yard that I wanted to identify, and I happened to stumble across a pretty good plant identification app to do it. The plants ended up being invasive, and turns out, there are a lot of invasive plants growing around my yard. It was a bit frustrating to find out that all of these pretty things growing might also be a potential hazard to my own garden. This just means I need to be more cautious of where I put my garden beds and how much cardboard and/or landscape fabric I use. The good thing to come out of it is my new found interest and appreciation for plant identification. I like to take a lot of drives, and I live in a pretty rural area, so more than not my vehicle is my family’s side-by-side. I used to find myself staring at the trees as they passed by (when I’m not the one driving, of course) or at the sky, or the ground, not really looking at anything in particular. Since gardening and getting more into plant identification, I find myself being more focused on the side of the road where the flowers grow. I like to stop if I see something I think looks pretty or interesting and use my app to learn about it. My favorite find so far was gaillardia pulchella (otherwise known as “indian blanket flower” or “firewheel”) The legends linked to this plant are very interesting and something I might not have cared to search for before. Paying more attention to new plants I see has also given more personal meaning to “stopping to smell the roses”.
Overall, I’m very exited to continue learning about gardening. I am feeling more confident to go through all the seeds I have and get some more seedlings going!