You love gardens. You have always loved gardens. You have appreciated the gardens of others since you were a child. You daydream about gardens at odd moments, and some gardens are like old friends you return to when you need a lift to your spirits. Gardens have helped you through some tough times in your life. You’d like to create one that might help someone else. You decide that you’d like to try to write a garden of your own.
No one who has actually created a garden will smile without guile and tell you, “It is really quite simple. Anyone can do it.” The very first hurdle blocking your garden path is both common and surmountable. You have seen the images of beauty queens holding heavy bouquets of roses, or of a red-cheeked toddler near a pile of paunchy pumpkins, or of watercolor blossoms and saturated harvests posted on Instagram and Pinterest.
You do understand that these prizes and awards shows give no hint to the months and years of solitude and hard work that are required to produce a vision you have in your head, yes? It does not serve you at all to wonder what might happen to your garden after you create it. And yet, for virtually every gardener, this is an over-riding concern. Most of your garden’s future will be decided by weather and luck, and none of it can happen until the garden exists, so why even think about that now? Your job is just to make the best garden you can.
Your best first step is to make a basic blueprint for your garden. You can change it later, of course, but it’s beneficial to have an outline of your intentions. Otherwise, you may find yourself wandering around your acreage without a map. This wastes your time and leads to dead ends. What genre do you want this garden to be? Are you using raised beds? Will you need irrigation? First person or third? Present tense or past? Where will the sun hit in your garden? Where is the shade? You don’t need to know everything at the beginning, but you do need to know what your main sections will be, and have a clear idea about where your garden begins and ends. You can work out the details as you go, but a bird’s-eye view of your garden is helpful.
It is also a good idea to check your tool inventory. This requires some lucid self-knowledge. Do you write best on a computer? At a library desk, or in bed? With music or silence? There is no right or wrong answer here. You can write on a Big Chief tablet with a crayon, if you wish, but know your own needs and support your best work habits. If you get your trowels and tools at the 99 Cent Store, they will break early on. This is guaranteed. You will become frustrated if you can’t immediately replace them with better ones, and before you know it two weeks have gone by and you still haven’t gone to Home Depot. Then you may feel you can’t begin till the school year is up, or the summer is over, or the final frost has come and gone, and then another year has passed by, and you? You still do not have a garden. Go to Home Depot at the beginning. Granted, it is a scary place, but just do it. Set up your work space. Prepare for success with good tools and a plan. Do you want a garden or not?
Divide your garden into smaller sections. Look at your outline for guidance. If you expect your entire yard to become some wild paradise, you will be overwhelmed before you begin. Work on one area at a time. If you buy too many plants at once, half of them will die in the trunk of your car, and haven’t we all had that happen? Think ahead, but not too far ahead. Do plant more seeds and seedlings than you expect to actually need, however. If you have more than enough at the beginning, you can thin out what is less successful and make the whole garden better. Create perfect smaller areas that you can then join together. Feel free to admire your finished work as you move on. It will serve as your best encouragement for what comes next. You can do this.
The beginning can be quite difficult. You will feel much like you are watering dirt, but there is promise in that soil. Keep at it. Eventually, the seedlings will take root. You will begin to see patterns in your garden, and you’ll know instinctively what works and what doesn’t. Don’t waste too much time trying to make the struggling parts better. You have to trust nature some here. Some of your ideas just won’t flourish in this garden. Maybe you’ll have another garden someday where you can use those. But for now, let them go. Even the very best garden can’t grow everything.
After the great rush of inspiration dies down and the excitement of planning and selection passes, there will be just you and the dirt and the sun and the rain and that weeder and hoe you got at Home Depot. It will become almost boring, this gardening thing. Even if you think you’ve made peace with delayed gratification, you will need all your determination now to keep going. It might help to set a schedule now. Some successful gardeners insist you must work every day, but other gardeners do not do this and their gardens come out just fine. The thing is, you will never lack reasons to not do your gardening. Try to keep some momentum going, if you can. Other obligations will often interfere, and if you ignore your garden for any real length of time, you will forget where you were in it. It will be overtaken by weeds. Your wonderful ideas you were so excited about will wither away. This is when it really, really feels much easier to quit than to keep going. Do not do it. An abandoned garden is a source of sadness for everyone in the neighborhood. An abandoned garden is worse than no garden at all.
Contrariwise, the constant self-admonition, “I must get out in the garden” can do more harm than good. You don’t always have to schedule a full day in the yard. You can sneak up on your work. Every gardener has had the experience of going out to get the mail, spying a weed, pulling that weed, then the one next to it, and before we know it, two hours have gone by and we’ve gotten some excellent work done. Surprise. Do just a little. Just begin. You can stop if you hate it. Go for ten minutes.
You’ll learn to push yourself through the rough patches. You won’t see them coming, and then suddenly the soil is will be hard and rocky, and you’ll have to scrape and flail around for a while. Keep going.
Then there will also be days when your hands seem to easily sift through soil that is cool, roots that are loose, and virtually no weeds at all. Consider this day a gift. You never know what a day of gardening will bring. That’s the fun of it. Every day in the garden is different.
After sessions when you have worked very hard, you’ll feel a little dazed at the end. You’ll be surprised that you haven’t lost weight, because even when it looks like you’re not working hard, gardening takes strenuous effort. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they don’t know what they are talking about. They’ve obviously never tried to grow a book.
You may have curious and caring friends who ask for a tour of your garden. Be cautious here. Not everyone knows where to step in a new garden. If you grant every request, you could end up with trampled plants and feelings. You can keep your garden private as long as you want to. You can keep it private forever, if you wish. But if you are willing, it’s lovely to have friends and family and even strangers appreciate your work.
What you’ll discover is that the real joy of having your own garden is in the work, itself, not the end product. It is wonderful to have something to share with others, but the real reward is in the few hours each day that you get to spend in a special place of your own creation, planning it, nurturing it, weeding and watering it.
When the gardening season is finally over, you’ll feel sad. Do not despair. The world can never have enough gardens and gardeners.
And now you know how.
by T.L. Wagener