10 Ways to Become a Great Gardener
It's easier than you think!
If you want to become a great gardener, you can. It’s
really not that hard. Here are 10 things you can do that will help you achieve
1. Take classes. The flower shows are starting up, and they all have classes with speakers who have been selected for their knowledge and life experiences. Yes, it’s great fun to wander up and down the aisles buying things and ogling flowers. But take a break: get off your feet, sit down and attend a nice talk. Bring a notebook and take notes.
2. Read good gardening books. Yes, the internet has millions of people who want to tell you things. But real books that are published by reputable publishers are dependable in ways the internet may not be. Go to a bookstore on a cold February day and spend an hour or two in the gardening section. Buy a book, and bring it home.
3. Improve your soil. Okay, you can’t work on this one now. But, come spring, think about what you can do to improve your soil. Adding compost or aged manure is a great way to improve your soil. Chemical fertilizers are, at best, a quick fix.
Decades ago I turned a field of brambles and alders by my brook into a vegetable garden. I cut down the brush by hand, mowed it, and dug out roots. But most importantly, I had a farmer bring in truckloads of aged manure. I worked it into the soil, and then did it again the next year. And the next. And so on. Now my soil is rich and black, and my potatoes voted me their favorite gardener many years running!
4. Pay attention. Being a great gardeners means that, in part, that you spend lots of time in the garden, and that you really look at what is happening. Are there insects laying eggs on the underneath side of leaves? If so, are they good bugs or bad bugs? Are new tomato transplants showing signs of dehydration on Day 2 in the garden? Of course you may not know the signs of dehydration. But gardening is not rocket science. You can figure it out.
Colorado potato beetles can often be controlled by hand-picking them.
5. Go on garden tours. Most garden clubs sponsor a tour of their best members’ gardens in the summer. Join a garden club – you can do this now and attend lectures and slide shows. Then, come summer, go to as many “Open Garden’ events as you possibly can. See what a mature specimen of a tree looks like. Ask questions. Find out who did their stonework, or what local nursery has the best perennials. Need someone to help you in the garden? Ask your host if she can make a recommendation.
Garden tours offer new ideas
6. Learn to plant seeds. Start seedlings indoors in flats and nurture them until you can plant them outdoors in late spring. Starting from seeds does a couple of things: First, success at this gives one great confidence. See that tomato? I grew it from a seed. You really feel like a serious gardener, which is important.
Onion seedlings need to be started in early March
Second, starting plants from seeds
allows you to have many more plants. Starting an English cottage garden from
scratch can be expensive if you buy every plant as a mature perennial at $10
each. Last year I planted a packet of hollyhock seeds and got 100% germination.
I then had 32 hollyhocks to fit in my flower beds for about $3. They bloom in
their second year, and I can’t wait to see them this year.
7. Learn how to divide perennials. This is a way to create more plants for free. But you must do your homework and know which ones can be divided, and when. Go back to #2 and read up. A book like Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s The Well-Tended Perennial Garden will give you that information.
Hostas divide easily, giving you plenty more plants
to prune trees and shrubs. This is a skill you must have if you want to be a
great gardener. Trees and shrubs are the bones of a garden. But an un-pruned
tree is as messy as an unmade bed.
Think of pruning as sculpting. There are some very basic rules that you can learn from a book, or you can take a class. Trees and shrubs are healthier and more beautiful if you prune them. And anyone who tours your garden will compliment you if you’ve done a good job pruning. Pruning season will soon be upon us.
Leasrn to prune!
9. Take chances. Not every plant I buy will survive in my climate, or with the soil that I have. But if I love a plant, I will buy it, and see if I can make it flourish. I use the baseball guide: if I kill a perennial 3 times, it’s out! Trees and shrubs, I often give just 2 tries. I have had 2 peach trees die in cold winters, and I have given up on the idea of growing my own peaches. One lived 5 years before a bad winter killed it.
I killed many of these Eryngium (Sea Holly) before I finally fot the soil right.
away plants and vegetables. I think of my grandfather as a great gardener. He
had a regular vegetable route – as a widower he visited the widows in town each
week in the summer, sharing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and flowers. They all
loved him. Give plants to friends and acquaintances and they will sing your
praises every time those flowers bloom! And you really will be a great
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