What I Wish I Had Known Before Starting a Garden – Gardening Advice from a Seasoned Gardener

Maybe you are new to gardening and wondering where to begin. Or, maybe you’ve been gardening for as long as you can remember and will relate to the gardening advice you read here. Either way, we bet you will pull a nugget or two of wisdom from this seasoned gardener’s column. After growing her own garden for more than twenty years and coaching others on how to garden for nearly as long, Susan has picked up a few gems to share.

Susas garden
Author's garden. Photo courtesy of Susan Martin

I was one of the lucky ones. Both my mother and father loved to work outside, and from the impressionable age of four, they had me out there working in the yard alongside them. I’ll admit, I wasn’t too excited about pulling weeds (a weekly chore once I was old enough). But the memories I made planting our family’s vegetable garden with my father and lining the front of our house with flats of impatiens alongside my mother every spring are among my most prized possessions.

Growing up in urban Detroit, neither of my parents were raised in homes with gardens nor by parents who enjoyed the outdoors. Everything they taught me about gardening, they learned from their own experience after they married and created a home together for our family. Now, their grandchildren are teaching their own children how to grow a garden.

I would like to share just a few of the bits of the gardening wisdom I gleaned from them with you here today. Whether you are a budding gardener or have been dabbling in the garden for many years, I hope you will relate to at least one thing from my family’s garden to yours.

dirty knees gardener with hydrangea
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Gardening advice: There is no such thing as a brown thumb.

It’s true! There was a time I recall thinking I had a brown thumb, too. Like any skill in life, practice makes perfect. Would you be good at speaking a foreign language if you hadn’t studied it? Would you be able to run a 10K if you rarely even went for a walk? I promise, your brown thumb will start to look a whole lot greener once you make the time to learn how to garden and apply some earnest effort.

No matter how long you have been gardening, you will fail sometimes, but you will succeed more often.

Even with a lot of practice, sometimes things just happen in the garden. No one can control Mother Nature. Sometimes, she will bring too much or too little rain. She might usher in the coldest winter air in a decade, killing a few plants. You might plant a beautiful new perennial in an unsuitable place, necessitating a replacement the following spring. There are always lessons to be learned from the garden. The more you understand what your plants need to thrive, the more often you will succeed. Success tends to breed more success.

Across the Universe Recipe
Photo Courtesy of Proven Winners
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

It’s good advice for life in general, but also for those who are just starting out growing a garden. Will the first container or border you plant look like it was designed by a professional? Maybe not, but you will build on that experience and every year will better than the last. Keep moving forward.

Gardening is a process, not an event.

From the time you plant your first container, till a plot for a new vegetable garden, or renovate a tired looking foundation planting, the process of gardening begins. The act of tilling and planting may be events on your calendar, but tending a garden and learning how to make plants flourish is a lifelong endeavor. Once you’ve gotten bitten by the gardening bug, you might find you miss it when aren’t able to work outside. You will start to connect with friends, neighbors and your community through gardening. You’ll feel refreshed by getting some healthy exercise working in the yard. Gardening is a beautiful lifestyle – one you can share with and model for others.

Before you begin, learn the basics.

Just as if you were to take up a new sport, you would first need to learn how the game is played. Before you ever put a shovel in the ground or buy your first plant, familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of gardening. We’ve made it easy by putting all the basics of sun, shade, water, hardiness zones, soil, fertilizing and pruning into our Gardening 101 article.

Mother and daughter in the garden
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Make gardening a family activity.

We’ve written about starting a garden with your kids, and it’s worth revisiting since much of that advice is the same for anyone who is new to gardening. Start simple. Keep track of what you do in the garden. Respect nature. Eat what you grow. I wish this article would have been around when my parents were just starting out gardening with their own young family. My life would likely have followed a much different trajectory if they hadn’t decided to make gardening a family activity all those years ago. I am so thankful they did!

Drawing a garden plan
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Follow these 10 steps to start a garden.

We have often been asked by new gardeners where they should begin and how they should go about establishing a new garden. Oftentimes, they’ve arrived at our garden center without taking any of the necessary steps that come before purchasing plants. Would you believe that planting is step 8 in the 10 step process of growing a garden? Here are the 10 steps you’ll want to follow to start a new garden.

Where you shop for plants matters.

We may be biased, but we are also experienced gardeners, so we know that where you shop for plants matters, particularly when it comes to plant quality. Even the best varieties of plants can fail if they are poorly grown. Set yourself up by purchasing properly grown, healthy plants to start so they may have the chance to flourish in your garden. Here’s what you should know before you decide where to shop.

Since 2004, Heidi and Rod Grasman have been growing the annuals, perennials, shrubs and vegetables you’ve come to love from Garden Crossings, located in Zeeland, Michigan. As a Proven Winners Destination Garden Center, we are one of the only retailers in the U.S. who offers 100% of the Proven Winners shrub and perennial lines as well as 90% of the Proven Winners annuals. We ship nationwide and welcome you to visit our retail garden center from spring through fall.

Unlike some larger nurseries and mail order companies, Garden Crossings is solely owned and operated by our family. We grow almost everything we sell ourselves and partner with a few select local growers in West Michigan for some specialty items. We inspect every plant we ship before it reaches your doorstep to ensure you receive excellent quality plants every time. If you have any questions or concerns, we are here to help.

Thank you for trusting Garden Crossings for all of your gardening needs!

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