5 Learnings from a Greenhorne Green Thumb
One of the initial things that first got me into gardening was food. Growing my own food was always a dream, but living in a rental house, it always seemed like a pipe dream. That and my complete lack of gardening knowledge had me doubting my ability to ever grow anything. About 4 years ago I started working in an organic cafe and it blew my mind. The food I was now eating was so incredibly fresh because we bought local and seasonal produce. It looked home grown, straight from the garden and it changed my entire attitude to life. How could I have possibly forgotten how food is supposed to be grown and eaten!? And that was it. I went out and bought a tin raised garden bed. Filled it with bags and bags of soil (keep in mind I have never gardened before) and planted a tomato and 4 zucchini plants. Honestly, I was tickled with myself. I had no idea what I was doing, but I spoke to my veg every day. The only thing better than watching a tiny zucchini turn into a plump monster, was eating that bad boy. I took a picture. It’s now in my accordian picture wallet filled with pictures of my garden… that’s how much my obsession has grown… (pun fully intended).
So, before you think - “There’s no way I can garden!” I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, you totally can too. We can be novices together and create a garden revival. Maybe we can swap veg someday?
Here are five things I’ve learnt so far:
1. Soil is like the foundation of a house, but for your garden. It’s basically your gardens own little micro world. I want you to imagine the hustle and bustle of a tiny bug town, all working to keep things moving. Healthy soil means good nutrients, good microbes and good bugs all working together for your plants. Different kinds of plants need different kinds of soil. Some plants like gravelly soil and others like lush, dense soil. Do your research on what you want to grow and accommodate them in that soil. Put the time in here and save yourself a whole lot of hassle trying to fix poor soil with a bunch of expensive products. Trust me, it sucks. A good way to buy soil in bulk is to go to your local landscape supplier and get a good quality mushroom compost. It’s about $35 for half a cubic metre (this will almost fill a box trailer). To buy that much good quality soil in a bag from Bunnings would cost hundreds. Save yourself some dosh and check out your options. Some local landscape suppliers even lend their box trailers out for free when you buy from them. How about that?
2. Plants want to grow and will grow in just about any container as long as you replicate their natural habitat and growing conditions. I have plants growing in old tea tins, in old baked bean jars and even an old stump I nicked from dad’s house. Plants will do everything in their power to grow, it’s just our job to assist them. Make sure you’re prepared to give them what they need. If you’re time poor, go for something like a succulent. They’re mega hardy and need next to no care. A succulent was my first casualty. I watered it every day. I killed it with love.
3. Keep a garden journal! Garden lingo still confuses me. It probably always will. Or, maybe one day, I’ll slowly morph into that cool old lady down the road, pruning her roses and calling all her plants by their full Latin name. Until that day, however, I’ll continue to wade through the marshes of information and put whatever I can scrounge up into practice. And this is where the journal comes in handy - “Entry 22: attempting to ”thin seedlings“ assuming that means to get rid of smaller seedlings to make room for the bigger seedlings? It seems too harsh and I want to cry a little bit.” This actually did work. The bigger seedlings went nuts when they had more leg room and now I understand.
4. Learn by doing. Gardening is a craft and to truly understand it, get in and have a go. Sure, you might get swarmed by green ants when you unknowingly torpedo their nest trying to pull up that horrendous runner grass, but it’s all worth it when your poppies pop and your snapdragons snap. Don’t be afraid. If in doubt, Google and YouTube are tremendously helpful. Also, if you’re out walking your dogs around the neighbourhood and you see someone with all the garden gear on, frolicking around with the butterflies in their lush garden - go and talk to them. Chances are, they’ll love to teach you some things. Gardeners have a love for watching things grow, of course they’re going to want to help spread that love. If they’re not cool, pretend lassie is tugging you away and jog on.
5. Growing a plant from a seed is by far the coolest thing ever.
Completely daunting and terrifying, but amazing when it works. It’s also 100 times cheaper (and that’s not a hyperbole), plus the variety you can get is so much more extensive than what you can find in a plastic little pot in your average nursery. Have a crack. I’ve been experimenting with those little jiffy peat discs and so far, they’ve been a treat. When I plant seeds, I like to hedge my bets and put a quarter of the seeds in whatever container I’m growing them in and another quarter in some of those peat discs. The other half I save incase both of those fail so I can try again. It’s impractical to put 500 seeds into 36 peat discs. I’ve done it. You end up culling a lot when you could have saved them.
I could go on, but now it’s time for you to go and make mistakes, to write them down and then to move on to great successes and watch a pot plant multiply into a vegie patch. The main piece of advice I would give you, would be to have a go and to watch out for gardening Yoda’s and grill them extensively for their hard earned knowledge. It could be you one day getting pressed for garden know-how and imagine that! You’d see a little of your newbie self in those sparkling, keen eyes and you’d think, “Ah yes, we’ve hooked another one into the gardening life!”
Until next time,
Written by Lauren Eshman