By Emily Malloy
Many of life's undertakings have been transformative for me: marriage, motherhood, athletics, music, just to name a few. Some were extracurricular, some vocational, but all life-altering. As inconsequential as extracurriculars may seem to a person at any stage of life or vocation, I would argue that they are immensely important. Few extracurriculars, however, have been as transformative for me as gardening.
Gardening has enabled me to undergo physical, emotional, and spiritual reformations. To be able to properly toil has changed my perspective of what it takes to go into a garden (in addition to the physical effort that is a form of exercise and my body's exposure to Vitamin D). The exuberance I experience watching a garden I planted grow is a tremendous source of joy. Lastly, a life of gardening is one of cultivated appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the created world; a world in which God the Father gifted us, his children. This is why I always encourage others to try this time-treasured hobby.
Gardening can feel like a challenge to undertake at first, but truly, it is a joy. I have built several gardens from scratch over the years. At the beginning of each project, it can feel overwhelming. Once I establish my footing, however, I become immensely glad I began. Joy is found both in the process and in the result.
No matter the current stage of your garden, it is always good when planting something new to take into consideration the basic principles of gardening.
As with any new endeavor we undertake, knowledge prior to the execution of any task is key. One doesn't simply pick up a baseball bat and expect to instantly have the perfect form that would enable a home run after the first pitch is thrown. It takes a honing of one's personal skills--and practice--to perfect the art of the game.
Fortunately for us, gardening is more akin to baking than baseball.
Unless one is in recipe development, the particulars of food chemistry do not need to be known to the home cook. One simply follows the recipe, and-- should the recipe be sound and followed correctly-- all should turn out well with the baked item. The same goes with gardening. Thank goodness.
We benefit a great deal from what has already been figured out by horticulturists and cultivators. Granted, effort is still required on the part of the home gardener, but not in the sorting out of difficult sciences. All that we need to do is follow the simple "recipe" or instructions. The foundations for gardening, whether we strive for a kitchen garden, cutting flower garden, or anything in between, are the same.
Sun and water are the two most important elements to having a successful garden and two keys to unlocking the joy of gardening.
All that is required on our part is a bit of perception and diligence:
(1) Perception of the light of the area that will be planted;
(2) Diligence in the maintaining of the plant or seeds with the watering once planted.
What does doing this actually look like in real-life? It's simple!
It means taking a day to take notice of what the sun does in that particular area you want to plant. Are there trees in the way, making it fully or partially shaded? Or is it in full sun exposure? This will determine which plants will do well in that space. Here comes the part that will put even the most hesitant at ease: each plant tag (or seed package) tells specifically what kind of light the plant needs to survive. Often times, it will state when it can be planted where you live. It also will tell the watering needs of the plant, which leads to the next portion: diligence.
Once the sunlight is noted and the proper plants are planted comes the part that I believe is the biggest source of mistakes: watering. I would change the name of the majority of non-green-thumbed folks to non-watering folks. Most gardens fail because of a failure to water! If it's not a rainy day, make sure to set an alarm as a reminder to go water plants (or seeds) as they become established after planting. It is good to water a little bit every day until the plants seem robust (unless it rains, of course) or unless the tag indicates the plant should fully dry out in between waterings.
A note on the "what-ifs":
I have found that folks wanting to undertake the hobby of gardening get "lost in the weeds" over the large and varying what-ifs that could come up along the journey. I tend to have the posture to only worry about those things as they arise and not become overwhelmed by those possibilities at the outset, as some of these issues may not even happen.
Moreover, most of these issues that pop up can easily remedied: soil PH or consistency (remedied with working in fresh purchased soil), pests (endless remedies available), acts of God (I have felt these acutely this year as trees have fallen on my gardens and torrents washed away seeds). It needs to be acknowledged that yes, things happen as we are working in cooperation with the created world and some things are out of our control. But there is always a remedy to any gardening ailment. But for most first time home gardeners, these aren't issues that need to cause worry when beginning. If you're concerned about your soil, just purchase a bag of top soil, work it into the existing dirt and you now have an easy starting point.
To conclude, the two most common questions answered:
The two questions I receive most about growing flowers are: (1) What is the least expensive way of beginning; and (2) Should I plant seeds or established plants?
The answer to the first is simple: the least expensive way of beginning a garden is by planting seeds. It is requires very little investment (seed packages average about $4 and typically contain about 25 seeds) and a full plant comes from one little seed. I also wait for end of the season sales for garden centers to purchase healthy looking perennials. I have purchased gorgeous well-established hydrangea paniculata bushes for 1/3 of the price by simply waiting until August. This is a gamble in that end of the season sales are often slim pickings, but it is still possible to strike gold.
Pictured: Love in the Puff Seed that has a naturally occurring little heart.
To answer the second question: the advantages of planting potted plants is that it requires less time waiting for the bloom. Some plants require years until the first bloom appears. I personally do a mixture of both. Planting seeds that eventually grow into little green shoots poking through the earth is a joy. Simultaneously, it is helpful to have see more mature plants in the garden to ease the burden of the wait for the seedlings.
Now that you know two simple keys to gardening and some of the joys that can be had in the process: what to plant? Ah, the eternal question! Here are a few links to websites featuring short and sweet lists of plants according to their sun exposure needs: Shade loving plants; Full sun loving plants; Plants in between. But, of course, inspecting the tags as you walk around the garden center also is a helpful jumping off point of where to begin!
Here's to new joy in life!