Every time the seasons change, the wind blows the trees around, or I set the table for dinner, I start thinking about what I am going to be growing in my garden or on a tree in the backyard the next chance I get. Yet just like a grocery store list, I find myself going blank on what I want to plant when it comes time to order seeds or stake out new garden space.
With that in mind, I want to take a few minutes and share some helpful ways to get a handle on what you’re going to grow in your green space.
What do you want?
It sounds silly, but just taking a few minutes to honestly ask the question of what you want to come from your garden can be a great start. That’s only the beginning though, the next question is not only what you want from your garden, but what you want from your garden…for the kitchen. Then it’s what you want from your garden to share with your children, your neighbors, and how your garden can be an even more pleasant sanctuary in your own life.
Answers to this question can be as simple as snap peas in spring, or as intricately nuanced as a classroom to teach your children about nature that also holds space for alone time for coffee on Sunday mornings. You can’t answer the question until you give it some thought, and you can’t get started building until you have those answers. Take some time, think it over and make your list.
This is your garden, dream a little bit!
When do you want it?
Part of gardening, as any gardener will tell you, is learning to play by the broad, sometimes flexible, rules of Mother Nature. The simplest way to bring your list of wants closer to the reality of the garden is to simply look at the list you just made and note which seasons those things will be possible in. For example, if you live in the colder climates, you might be able to teach in the garden year round, including lessons about plant dormancy, etc., but you won’t be harvesting tomatoes from your garden in January, not in the northern hemisphere at least.
The trick here is to take the list of possibilities that you have opened up to and then make them a little more real by looking into just what they will be like as parts of your life. Look up the growing seasons of the vegetables or fruits that you picked on the internet. Find out how many years it takes for your new favorite fruit tree to bear fruit. Information makes your garden elements more tangible, less distant. Seasons shape the context where your garden meets your life.
Where will you put it?
With your garden wish list made and your very real world understanding of how those wishes can come true throughout the yearly cycles, you’re ready to space it all out. How many feet of snap peas should you plant? How many snap peas are even in a foot of snap peas? A lot of would-be gardeners get tripped up and feel a bit overwhelmed when they get to the numbers of plants per square foot, etc, but there’s no need for that. The two most powerful tools to cut through the fear of spacing problems are Research and Adventure!
Research into the spacing of the plants you want is easy to do with some quick googling for terms like: garden spacing for …, or row spacing for … plants. You will find lots of opinions, usually each a little different from the rest, that will give you some general sense of where to start.
This is where the Adventure comes in!
Even if you read every single article and blog post about growing exactly what you want to grow, and they all, by some cosmos defying coincidence, agree on exactly how to grow it, you still have to take the plunge and try it yourself. No two plots of soil are exactly the same…ever…anywhere! Just like gardening teaches you the rules of Mother Nature’s game, you must also accept that every season is a risk, a call to adventure that you willingly accept using the best knowledge that you have at the time to hope for the best outcome.
Now, Go Dig In!
There you have it, another example of how gardening is a place to see the basics of life reflected back in our work with Nature. In your garden, just like so many other important things in life, you put some thought into what you really want, what you hope for, then figure out what that means and what it would really take to make them happen before making a place for them in your life. With plants, we usually think of that space as which few inches of earth they will occupy, but, again like other parts of life, the more we accept their complexity, their character over time, and the full potential we have to share life together, the better off we all can be.