Read, learn, garden, learn

Books on gardening are great, but remember, each garden is an experiment of one. Read and learn, garden and learn, and experiment with a variety of plants. Most of all, keep it fun.

On occasion, growing up, I would help my mother in the garden, weeding, digging potatoes and picking beans. This work wasn’t done particularly willingly or voluntarily. That’s too bad, because she knows a lot about gardening. I could have learned from her, while sharing the many joys of growing vegetables and flowers.

My own desire to garden came considerably later, in my early 30s. I’ve learned most of what I know about gardening through research and doing.

I continue to read and enjoy gardening books, but with a more jaundiced eye and the confidence to sort through information, rejecting advice and decrees I don’t find useful.

With experience, too, I’m increasingly inclined to experiment – I’ll plant something later in the season than recommended, or grow a variety not typically expected to overwinter in the mountains. I like to watch and see what happens.

After all, seed is cheap. Presumably, there’s always next year … and another garden.

I believe some experienced gardeners and garden writers make growing plants sound overly complicated and difficult. That’s too bad, because I suspect there are those would-be gardeners who are needlessly intimidated, frightened away by lists of must-do and must-not-do.

Moving vegetable families around the garden, not growing them in the same section for a few years, is recommended to prevent disease and the buildup of insects.

I remember, as a new gardener, developing elaborate schemes for rotating crops, then fearing I’d gotten it all wrong when I’d stumble across something like this:

“A crop rotation must consider in what condition one crop will leave the soil for the succeeding crop and how one crop can be seeded with another crop. For example, a nitrogen-fixing crop, like a legume, should always proceed a nitrogen depleting one; similarly, a low residue crop (i.e. a crop with low biomass) should be offset with a high biomass cover crop, like a mixture of grasses and legumes.”

That is actually English. With a couple of decades of gardening now behind me, it even makes some sense. But, it’s not exactly user friendly.

Yes, it is important to understand mono-cropping, because planting broccoli or some other vegetable every single year, in exactly the same place, elevates the likelihood of disease or insect infestation.

This, too, is true, however: Those of us who garden in relatively small plots don’t need to worry as much about crop rotation.

Rather than taking a dive down this rabbit hole into increasingly intricate crop-rotation plans, I now focus on diversity. Mix vegetables and flowers in the garden beds: here some marigolds, there a broccoli or two; here some carrots, there some lettuces; here some zinnias, there a few beets.

My garden beds grow multiple crops, sometimes across all four seasons. Whenever possible, to prevent exhausting the soil, I shovel compost or dump bucketsful of goat manure into the beds.

Diversity in the garden helps to prevent pest buildup, with the added benefit of attracting beneficial insects. Continually building the soil keeps the canvas fresh.

Easy, isn’t it?

I wish I could tell myself, that younger gardener … relax. Just do the best you can. Enjoy.

Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald. She wishes she were in the garden.