I’ve been a gardener now for almost 2 weeks, and I’m really starting to get it….which is to say, I’m starting to get what it is to be a newbie gardener: green and spongy. As it is with learning any new skill, this beginning part is so exciting because it’s when the learning curve is the steepest and excitement is at its peak.
You might be thinking: why would I take tips from a 2-week-old gardener? I’ll tell you why — for the same reason it is so important to learn from kids — because the perspective is so fresh and current. I remember when I was breastfeeding for the first time, and while it was crucial to me to have the support and wisdom of experienced breastfeeders — both live and in books — it was equally as crucial to talk with moms who were at the very same stage as me: the awkward hard stage. There’s just nothing like the beginning — of anything — but once we are seasoned, so soon we forget.
So here they are: my top 5 tips for starting a garden and hoping it’ll grow:
1. Grow something easy.
You might remember that I went out and bought a 2-pack of mint starters before realizing, in fact, half my backyard is covered in mint. Indeed, this little herb does like to grow. You can try to stop it, but it’ll likely be in vain. That makes it a great starter pot for your herb garden. I planted that two-pack in a decent-sized pot and I swear, two days later it had doubled in size. It’s more prodigious than most weeds. And thus, it builds confidence. If all my other plantings fail to thrive, I won’t be a complete gardening failure. I’ll have plenty of mint. And that’s good for the ‘ole confidence.
2. Incorporate some gardening vernacular into your speech.
You might remember I did a lot of the yard prep and planting when my mom was in town. She had no sooner picked a shovel up off the ground than she started spouting gardening idioms like weeds — they were spilling out everywhere! Gardening does bring out the joker in many of us, I’ve noticed. My personal favorite was when she found an old hoe in our garage and upon testing it said, “this isn’t my favorite hoe I’ve ever met but it will really be your friend in the garden.”
There are thousands of gardening idioms that we like to throw around all the time and they take on a whole new meaning once you are really planting things. Calling tools by their proper names and acting like you know what you are talking about just makes the whole proposition so much more fertile for laughter and confidence both. Upon weeding, I actually heard Rob say, “I love weeding! I love just getting in there and tearing it from the root!” I rest my case.
3. Hire a professional.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting a bit of help from some experienced gardeners. They need not be “professionals” per se, but someone who has actually brought something from seedling to string bean is very helpful. Gardening is a lot about trial and error, as everyone’s yard is so different. Having some of the trial spawn from time-tested advice can be a boon to the possibility of an actual harvest.
I was so grateful to have someone tell me I need to, for example, purchase some gloves. And to show me how much dirt to turn when I’m turning dirt. And to point out the difference between a weed and a plant-that’s-supposed-to-be-there. My mom was great help with this, and so were the good folks over at Garden Fever, here in NE Portland.
4. Hire a non-professional.
If you can get your hands on a child under the age of 5 to accompany you in your gardening project, I highly recommend including them. There truly is nothing like a child’s sense of wonder — especially in the great outdoors. From a child’s perspective, what’s not to love about a garden? It’s got all the necessities: dirt, water, and lots of tools and containers. Include your under-fiver and I think you might notice, as I did, just a little bit more the wonder of it all: the beauty of soil, the miracle of water, the utilitarian nature of everything, the simple and ultimate pleasure of interacting with the earth.
5. Eat what you sow — immediately!
One of the advantages of starting with an herb garden is it offers itself to you in edible form pretty quickly. I popped some heads off the basil plant about 5 days after it went in the pot. I don’t think it had grown much, but I needed to taste the fruits of my labor. And my goodness, was that the best basil I’ve ever tasted — I was so proud you’d think I’d given birth to the stuff. Getting to eat what we’ve planted — even just a taste — reminds us what this is all for. Sure, it’s about the process and the politics and the footprint and the beauty, absolutely. But it’s about tomato-mozzerella-basil salad too…and the cornucopia to come. Cross your fingers.