Is 2015 going to be your year, the year that you are going to make that dream of a first garden into a reality? Growing a first garden can be a scary proposition, one full of expectations and unknowns.
Your first inclination might be to run to Pinterest for inspiration. The site is chock full of beautiful pictures and ideas that can provide instruction and creativity.
Don’t do that. Don’t even peek.
Instead, use your own ideas and preferences to begin planning. Make your garden your own, and you’ll find it easier to love and care for. Even better, right now is the best time to think about and plan for your garden because there’s enough time to get a headstart on the season. If you are in our zone, Southern Michigan, or a comparable area, take this advice to heart too: there’s still plenty of time!
Here are the three main things to consider at this stage of the gardening game:
Start with what’s handy. Maybe you already have a spot for your garden in mind. It could be a place where a garden was grown before or a new spot that seems right to you. If you are picking out a spot, you’ll want to pay attention to the amount of sun that area receives. For kitchen gardens in general, you want to maximize the sunlight your plot will get by planting in the areas that get the most sun hours.
If you don’t have space of your own, don’t despair. Gardens can happen just about anywhere. Container gardens are a shortcut for homeowners and apartment dwellers alike. Containers will do well on balconies, decks, along sidewalks or drives, even set out in the yard.
If you have no space at all of your own, don’t resign yourself to being garden-less. It’s early enough in the season that you can come up with a work-around. Do you have a friend or neighbor who gardens, one who might have a little extra space or who might even be interested in sharing gardening responsibilities with you? You can also investigate community gardens, which offer plots for the gardening season for rental fees.
Start small. This is always my best, most sound advice. A great garden doesn’t have to be a large garden. Reign in any grandiose ideas, and focus instead on making a small successful garden. The garden that you can take care of is the very best size.
For a first garden, a plot of about 4 feet by 4 feet is plenty to work with. Next year, you can certainly expand your garden, but a garden of reasonable size is the best one with which to begin.
Start with what you love. Do you want to grow flowers, vegetables or herbs? Or some of each? There is no right answer to what a person should grow in a first garden, but choosing to grow what makes you happy is the best approach. Don’t grow plants that are reputed to be “easy” or “prolific” if they aren’t things you love. If you or your family aren’t going to eat cucumbers for example, what’s the point of having a bumper crop? You’ll need to take into account what thrives in your climate and how easy or difficult something is to grow, but your preferences should be the overall guide to selecting plants.
If you haven’t gardened before, think about starting with seedlings which you can purchase later in the season, often from a farmers’ market or a gardening store. Look for healthy plants with sturdy stalks and firm leaves that are not “pot-bound”– that is bursting the seams with tangled roots.
A successful first garden starts with reasonable expectations and plans. Grow a few different plants that you love and enjoy as you begin gardening, and you’ll end up with a garden that you like. View your garden as an on-going experiment that you can learn from and improve each year — because time does go fast! — and you’ll be on your way to growing a great garden that reflects not someone else’s ideas, but your vision and creativity.