Whenever I think of gardening I envision Mary Lennox, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s character, from the perennial novel, The Secret Garden. Mary, a product of the Victorian era where children are to be seen and not heard, stands in front of her well-heeled yet emotionally disconnected uncle/guardian and with a lump in her throat, sheepishly asks for “a bit of earth.” Mary intended to “plant seeds in—to make things grow—to see them come alive.”
That should be the vision of every gardener. Whether you are a rookie gardener or a Master Gardener, there is something invigorating about planting seeds and making them grow.
Mental and Physical Benefits of Gardening
1. Gardening Offers Outdoor Therapy
Throughout the novel, a simple “bit of earth,” gardening brings both healing and life to the emotionally troubled characters. Unexpectedly, friendships blossomed among the crocuses and “Daffodil lilies.” Even the cranky resident Misselthwaite Manor gardener Ben Weatherstaff’s facial creases loosen when he smiles at the garden in full bloom.
Much like Mary, I daydream about the garden even in February when blankets of frost still cover the soil. My taste buds wait in anticipation of vegetation that spans the colors of the rainbow. In March you will find me knee-deep in seed catalogs.
Evenings in early spring, my bedside light stays on late as I quietly deliberate on the most recent seed varieties. By May, I’ve unpacked my motley collection of vases from winter storage and reinstated my conglomeration of make-shift containers for this year’s flowers.
2. Connects You to Your Food
Growing your food instills respect for agriculture. “Eating is an agricultural act,” claims author, farmer, and philosopher Wendell Berry. The processes involved in getting food from the field to the table creates a connection to the farmer.
Before gardening, I arrogantly cruised the produce section of the supermarket with a critical eye looking for perfect fruits and vegetables. If I happened to grab a flawed apple, then I would indignantly return the imperfect fruit and continue to search for perfection.
Now that I grow and raise most of my food, I understand that flawless fruits and vegetables are not necessarily the purest.
3. Connects You to the Environment
As you nurture your garden, you will develop a keen awareness of weeds, insects (beneficial and detrimental), climate, and growth of plants. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm reminds us that “all gardeners realize that their landscape depends on something much bigger than themselves.”
Quite often when I work in my garden, I stop to wipe the sweat from my brow and cast a glance around my yard at the wonderment of creation.
4. Make It a Family Affair
Most kids love to be outside. If you have a child that clings too tightly to handheld electronic devices, then exchange a remote for a hoe. Eventually, she will come around when she fills her plate with food that she grew.
Gardening can cultivate gratitude for food and instill a love for hard work in your kids. You don’t need to live on a farm in order to garden. Community garden programs, urban garden projects, and Community Supported Agriculture Volunteer Programs offer gardening opportunities in almost every area of the U.S.
5. Better nutrition and superior taste: Tomatoes plucked from the vine provide more nutrition than under-ripe fruits and vegetables. To prepare for shipping, farmers must harvest crops like tomatoes before they ripen naturally. Early harvesting prevents ripening and bruising of the fruit during transport.
Once the fruit reaches its destination, it is sprayed with ethylene gas which induces the ripening process. Unlike the tomato ripened naturally, the prematurely harvested fruit is tasteless.
Tomatoes ripened naturally on the vine taste far superior to fruit that is picked before the ripening process is complete.
Tips For Gardeners
An excellent place for your garden is near the kitchen.
Test Your Soil: Before you break ground, test your soil to make sure it contains the nutrients that plants need. The test analyzes the levels of the nutrient contents or deficiencies of your soil. An evaluation of your soil costs anywhere from FREE (depending on which state you live) to $25. You can contact the local Cooperative Extension office in your state and inquire about a soil test.
Size: If this is your first attempt at gardening then go small, maybe the size of a kitchen table. For the gardening veterans, plant enough to feed you until frost.
Use my GARDEN PLANNER to help you plan this growing season.
2. Go With Simple
As you plan your growing season, keep in mind your level of experience and the time available to devote to the garden project. Plant vegetables that you like to eat and grow hardy, low maintenance flowers.
Novice gardeners should use transplants (organic preferably) purchased from a reputable nursery or garden center rather than start everything from seed. Keep in mind not every plant works best as a transplant. Slow growing plants like tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli (cold crop/cruciferous plants) work well as transplants.
Vegetable plants to start from seedlings or direct sow: beans, beets, carrots, cucumber, kale, onion, pea, radish, spinach, squash, and zucchini.
Annual flowers to start from seedlings: celosia, bachelor buttons, larkspur, cosmos, marigold, strawflower, and zinnia.
3. Zone In
The United States Department of Agriculture devised a Plant Hardiness Zone Map which divides North America into growing zones based on winter temperatures. Consult this map to determine your growing zone then plant accordingly.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Gardens change from year to year, much like fashion. Seed companies introduce new varieties of seeds every year. You can grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers in a graffiti of colors. Keep a gardener’s journal to write down your ideas and plans with each new year.
Every gardener faces challenges with weather or pest management. In your journal, record specific insect damage so that the following year you can devise a pest management plan like companion planting.
Jot down flowers that catch your eye and add them to your garden plan for next year. The Moleskin company offers a gardener’s journal that fits in my garden caddy. When I am in the garden, I pull out my journal and keep track of the progress of the performance of new varieties of plants.
Resources for Gardening:
Share how gardening has benefited you. What are your greatest gardening challenges?