Advice From a First-Time Gardener



Usually, I write to share my gardening loves and experiences. We’ve been thinking about new gardeners and how best to give them the tools they need. Jennifer, our marketing manager, has just started gardening since working at Botanical Interests, and I’m excited about her progress! So I thought, who better to give advice to a novice gardener, than a novice gardener herself? I think you’ll find her thoughts on hope and patience helpful no matter what level gardener you consider yourself.  — Judy

My grandfather gardened and my mother gardened; I, however, did not. But I love to cook, so the thought of running to my backyard for fresh ingredients just before dinner was very exciting. Working at an awesome seed company didn’t hurt either.

Last season was my first garden. My space isn’t big–only a 6′ x 7′ raised bed, but I was determined to get the most out of it. My season started out strong; all the seeds germinated (thanks, Botanical Interests!), so I immediately thought I was “a natural”. I took pictures of my seedlings and showed them off to Judy and our horticulturist, April, like my preschooler does with her macaroni necklaces. Imagine my disappointment, though, when mid-season, slugs skeletonized my pea leaves, my herbs were wilting, and I had only a handful of tiny tomatoes, which had blossom-end-rot to boot. I did have some success with Bunny Tails grass, growing the cut fluffs at the top, but it was certainly not the dramatic flowerbed I had planned. And while I did harvest four zucchini, two handfuls of Sun Gold tomatoes, and one sprig of cilantro, it again was certainly not the glorious bounty I had imagined.

But I am not a quitter. I was excited again this past spring, but a little more determined and “grounded” (pun intended) about my goals. Even though we’re only at mid-season here in Colorado, my garden is already growing better than last year. Here’s what I learned:

Stay hopeful. Some plants are more forgiving than you may think. If it seems like you killed it, try more or less water, fertilizer, or sun. More water and sun revived even my wilting herbs. And, of course, there’s always next year! Which brings me to my next lesson…

Be patient. New gardeners always hear this. I’m not exactly a patient person, but nevertheless, it’s true. When I’m in awe of another’s beautiful and bountiful garden, I remind myself that that garden has probably taken years to perfect. And speaking of perfecting…

Focus. Improve one thing at a time. Because I was fruitless and bloomless last year, this year I focused on amending my soil with phosphorous (that’s the middle number on the fertilizer container) so that I will get more out of what I sowed. And last but not least…

Use your resources. I know that I’m lucky to work with a slew of garden nerds, but ask any gardener–chances are they love to talk plants. They’ll share their immeasurably valuable experiences, especially how to grow in local conditions. Last shameless plug–I refer to the helpful information our seed packets regularly, and it works!

garden pepper tomato bean

I have to admit, I’m still not doing everything right this year, but I do have gorgeous, bright yellow sunflowers, and lots of budding jalapenos, tomatoes, and green beans, and I wake up every morning wondering if something new grew overnight (that actually happens, by the way). So even if you’re like me, impatient and most definitely not a natural, you can sow one seed and turn it into a salad, sauce, or bouquet, and that on it’s own is pretty spectacular.

2 thoughts on “Advice From a First-Time Gardener

  1. I have been gardening for years and make mistakes every year. Partly it is because I do try to grow something I have never grown before or use a new technique. This means a lot of “failure” and also that over time I have learned a lot. To me it is a feature that there is always something more to learn. In general it is a good plan to have narrower raised beds so you can reach into them without stepping into them. I failed at growing celeriac from seeds this year but with the help of bedding plants from my nearby Agway I may have a great harvest of 90. They look amazing right now. It often takes me several tries before I am really successful with something new.

  2. I have been gardening for the past 4 years and each year has been an adventure! Nothing is sprayed with chemicals of any sort and I sweeten my soil by using worm castings. One year I got the bright idea to use mammoth sunflowers at the edge of the garden for my pole beans to climb on. It was a good idea gone bad! Mammoth sunflowers grow very tall and I had a hard time picking those beans from off the ground. We use disposable pie pans and fishing bobbers for noise makers to scare of the birds. I found that planting corn is a waste of my tiny garden so that will have to be bought from some other farmer. This year I have planted a watermelon plant and am anxious to see if I get any fruit off of it. Growing garlic always does good in my garden and nothing messes with those plants. Just keep on trying different plants and enjoy anything you can pick fresh!

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