How Does Your First Garden Grow?


Has anyone ever told you that “You need professional help!”?

We all do.

In launching my first home garden I decided to get all the professional advice and help possible.

I haven’t yet planted the thing but I’m already dealing with a lot of “fertile ground.” I read all the classic books and I tapped into our local experts. I thought it would be helpful to share a distillation of what I’ve learned, okay what I’ve been told, so far.

I’m sharing the garden with my neighbor Karen. She had gardens for over 30 years in Massachusetts. She’s ecstatic that the soil here is not so rocky and the weather milder. She teaches me patience and caution, though. “Are you sure we should plant so soon?” “Won’t that plant need full sun?” “Bamboo, are you kidding?”

We brought in local garden and landscaping expert Jeanelle Myers. She writes Dan’s Papers “View from the Garden” column. It’s a popular column because it’s specific to our microclimate, and it offers very practical advice on growing plants and maintaining a lawn organically.

She sat down with us and offered tips on where to buy what. She stressed the need to support growers of organic, heirloom seeds. We’ve purchased $160 worth of organic seeds so far—all Jeanelle approved. There will be no Genetically Modified Organisms in our garden (unless my son’s teenage friends count).

What we didn’t bargain for was just how practical Jeanelle can be. After a few versions of a garden plan drafted in pencil on graph paper Karen thought she had the final version in hand. Jeanelle took one look at it and said, “Hmmm.” Then she completely realigned and revamped its layout, maximizing our use of the space. Of course she was right. What were we thinking when we lined our raised beds up  against the deer fencing?

I went to a talk and tasting given by Rick Bogusch of the Peconic Land Trust. Most of what he talked about I already knew about herbs and cooking. But it served as a good reminder that herbs and spices are precious, irreplaceable things and that if you ever want to impress someone you should memorize some Latin names.

Peter Garnham gave a talk on growing seedlings indoors that blew my mind. I was doing everything by the book—all wrong. Next year I’ll take his advice and hook up some fluorescent lights over an adjustable table.

Tess at the Cauliflower Association convinced me that a 1-1-1 mix of potting soil, manure and compost could bring a dead plant back to life and was therefore the ideal for the garden. Sounded good—so I bought a bag of each and used that mix to fill two large planters. (Please don’t tell my husband that I brought a bag of manure home in our van, I promised him I’d never do that. He’s such a city slicker. Though he did at long last do me the favor of peeing on our compost heap, maybe he’s loosening up.)

We brought in Renato Stafford of Homegrown to take a walk through our space and share his thoughts. He confirmed that we’d placed our garden in the best spot for sun. He cautioned us against placing our proposed fruit trees so close to a building. We’re seriously considering having him install one of his hoophouses this fall—so that we can grown greens all winter long.

The Rustic Wedding Chic Showcase at the Hallockville Museum brought it all together—homegrown, not perfect, done with feeling, just about anything goes.

95 days until local tomatoes!

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