SEATTLE — Sometimes starting something new can be a challenge because it can be a bit of a dilemma where to begin — and gardening is no exception. And the science behind growing plants can be as complicated or as simple as you’d like it to be, so don’t let it get you down or intimidate you. I often tell people that the Master Gardener training classes I took through Oregon State University taught me how little I really know about horticulture.
The basic purpose of a garden is to enrich your personal environment, and hopefully enrich our overall environment at the same time. Gardening can take place nearly anywhere with the basic ingredients, whether you have a tiny patio, small or large backyard, a single window sill or acres of property.
Now, how you define a garden might be the best place to begin for beginners. Whatever you’re looking for, from tasty flavors and healthy veggies to tons of sweet smelling blossoms or even protection from elements like wind, sun and rain, make sure to determine what you want the end result to be.
“Just take a deep breath,” Allen Larsen said.
Larsen runs the Fred Meyer in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. The avid gardener said they field lots of questions from gardeners just digging into the hobby. He encourages beginners to not be afraid to ask questions.
“Come out here and figure out what captures your attention and captures your imagination,” he said. “Is it going to be a flower garden or a veggie garden? Or is it going to be a hybrid garden?”
Larsen and I agree that starting small is your best bet for the truly novice gardener. In my experience, overwhelming yourself with too many plants or too big a space can lead to frustration. Small successes generate confidence to tackle bigger and more ambitious projects down the road. And when it comes to tools, you don’t need to spend a ton of money either.
“You don’t need a whole shed full of tools,” Larsen said. “There’s so many simple tools that can be multipurpose. [The basics are a] hand spade and a hand rake. You can do that with a pretty limited budget.”
Plants do have basic needs that you need to remember to pay attention to, such as water, sunlight and good soil. Reading labels on plants will tell you how much of each a particular plant needs. Make sure you read labels on fertilizers and pesticides carefully — and use both sparingly. You can hurt your plants and the environment with too much of either.
Surrounding plants once they’re in the ground with mulch — or in some cases wood chips — has several benefits. They hold in soil moisture which saves you on water and inhibit weeds from popping up which saves you frustration and time yanking out unwanted invaders. And decomposing compost and/or wood chips provides soil nutrients as the season progresses, so in the long run you might not have to worry about fertilizers if your soil is enhanced naturally. Ultimately, it’s a nice shortcut to a cleaner end result and look.
It was the names of plants that always made me the most nervous and frustrated. I really loved one of the tips that I got from one of my Master Gardener instructors. She said that if you make up nicknames for the plants in your yard — you’ll remember them. Down the road the more you garden, when you eventually need to look something up on a particular plant you’ll find out what they’re really called and then the actual name will stick in your head.
One example was the plant in my side yard at my old house in Portland that I called the “Alien Spaceship Plant” because that’s what it looked like to me. Down the road I found out that it was actually in a family of plants called “euphorbia,” and the name stuck. (Full disclosure — I had to look up how to spell “euphorbia.”)
And while you might think you’ll make mistakes from time to time, don’t worry — we all do. Seasoned gardeners just call them “learning experiences.” Happy gardening!