There’s one in every neighborhood. A garden so lush and pretty that cars slow down as they pass by, a thriving mass of flowers and vegetables that miraculously has no bugs, rodents or weeds. Who are these perfect gardeners, and how do you get to be one of them?
It’s not as hard as you think, if you’re willing to do some planning and invest in the structure of your garden before you plant it out. You’ll quickly find that the most attractive and useful gardens are the ones that combine flowers, root vegetables and leafy vegetables. Much like the victory gardens of the past century, a productive and beautiful garden is a feast for the eyes and the stomach!
Know What Plants Grow In Your Climate
It’s easy to research what grows best in your local climate. First, go online to find the USDA growing zone for your location. Then, find the nearest university to you that has a botany or horticulture program. These programs will have the most trustworthy data available on what’s going to work in the soil and temperatures of your area.
Plan Your Garden Space
Study your yard for a week or so. Notice what parts of it get at least six hours of full sun per day. Those are the parts you’ll want to turn over and till. Sun is best for fruits and vegetables, while part shad or full shade is ideal for flowering hostas, mosses, violets and many types of ground cover.
Read up on the space requirements for each plant you choose. You can do this at the seed rack in a garden center. The information is on the back of the seed packets. Don’t be tempted to plant things closer than the instructions demand. Plants that are crowded are not as productive and are more prone to disease and insect problems.
Learn what to plant and where to plant it. For instance, potatoes are from the same family as tomatoes, and should never be planted next to each other!
Know Your Area’s Wildlife and Structure Your Garden Accordingly
Attractive and functional, fencing does much to keep critters out and crops safe. If your budget doesn’t permit a decorative fence, use heavy-gauge chicken wire and train flowering vines to climb it. Place hanging baskets of petunias, begonias, or any colorful annuals on the fence posts. Their color will attract bees and butterflies, which are important pollinators for vegetables!
Prepare the Soil
Buy or rent a tilling machine and till the soil to a depth of at least one foot. Add a three-inch layer of compost or aged horse manure and till again, dispersing all those rich nutrients throughout the soil. If your soil has a lot of heavy clay, add generous amounts of peat to improve drainage. Now you’re ready to plant!
Plant Your Veggies
Following the instructions on the seed packets, plant out your rows of peas, beans, corn and carrots. Buy seedling kohlrabi, beets, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard and broccoli. Space out hills of cucumber, melon and squash. Plant marigolds, onions and garlic at intervals as a natural insect repellent. It’s worth it to note that groundhogs, deer and rabbits don’t much like these plants, either! Plant herbs in large pots of sterile potting soil, not in the ground.
Plant Your Flowers
Plan on a mix of tall and short, annual and perennial blooms so that you’ll have three seasons of color. Spring is great for irises and lupines, Missouri primrose, forget-me-nots, daffodils, tulips and a host of bulb flowers. Summer is ideal for sunflowers, zinnias, dahlias, lilies, phlox and roses. Fall is prime time for asters, cosmos and nasturtium. Structure your garden so that you have cut flowers for all three seasons!
Once your garden is established, add decorative and functional structures, such as stone walkways, a curved arbor, a potting shed or small greenhouse. As you get more experienced with what works and what doesn’t, explore plant propagation, interplanting complementary species and succession planting to extend your harvest times. You’ll soon be learning how to root cuttings and grow plants by layering!
Finally, enjoy the fruits of your labor with all your senses, and never worry if something doesn’t grow the first time you try it. Remember, “gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!”